Dangers of Our Modern Age

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In 1957, C.S. Lewis wrote an encouraging letter to a young author whose first book had been written at the age of fourteen. Jane Gaskell’s Strange Evil was described by the Times Literary Supplement as “a fantasy of macabre and gorgeous nonsense.” The review even alluded to Lewis himself in its description of the novel.

Judith, who poses nude for a living, is carried off to a C.S. Lewis-ish land where a monster called Baby conducts his reign of terror and where one extravagantly gory battle follows another.

Miss Gaskell is eloquently fascinated by words, the longer and more lush the better, and her book reveals an undoubted talent for fanciful description.

Gaskell went on to become a journalist. She also authored several more novels, and ultimately became a professional astrologer.

But, returning to the young girl and her first publication . . . Lewis considered the young girl worthy of encouragement.

My wife and I have just been reading your book and I want to tell you that I think it a quite amazing achievement–incomparably beyond anything I could have done at that age. The story runs, on the whole, very well and there is some real imagination in it.

The idea of the gigantic spoiled brat (had you a horrid baby brother once?) is really excellent: perhaps even profound. Unlike most modern fantasies your book also has a firm core of civilised ethics. On all these grounds, hearty congratulations.

Lewis does, however, offer a suggestion for how the book may have been improved. “I hope you will not think it impertinent if I mention (this is only one man’s opinion of course) some mistakes you can avoid in future.”

In a fantasy every precaution must be taken never to break the spell, to do nothing which will wake the reader and bring him back with a bump to the common earth. But this is what you sometimes do.

The moving bar on which they travel is a dull invention at best, because we can’t help conceiving it as mechanical. But when you add upholstered seats, lavatories, and restaurants, I can’t go on believing in faerie for a moment. It has all turned into commonplace technological luxury!

This concept is noteworthy for writers—especially writers of fiction, for whom imagination is an indispensable ingredient. We must avoid elements that derail the story, as inappropriate technology can sometimes do.

Beware of the Temptation

I suspect most writers today experience technology as a more concrete threat to their vocation than the inopportune example Lewis was noting. It’s not that we include too many or too few mechanical or scientific references in our work. The problem is that we are so distracted by the wonders of the world in which we live, that we never get around to putting the pen to paper.

Some of us can lose ourselves in the internet or social media. One fascinating read leads to another and we wonder “where the time has gone.” Vast programming “on demand,” is ready at a moment’s notice to occupy (or, sometimes, numb) our minds. And even when we do sit down at the keyboard, emails and messages interrupt our concentration.*

Technology, of course, is not only dangerous to writers. It can distract any of us from what is most important in life. How many hours have we squandered when we could have spent our time with family or friends? Why do we prefer to anesthetize ourselves with digital opiates, rather than helping a neighbor?

Not long ago, Christianity Today conducted an interview with Richard Foster. Foster’s 1978 book, A Celebration of Discipline, has been extremely influential in calling believers to lives of deeper simplicity and prayer. In their article they mentioned a revision in the preface that speaks powerfully to me.

Oh, for the day when all we had to do was turn off the television if we wanted solitude and silence! . . . we are bombarded by the broad distractions of constant noise, constant demands, constant news. Everyone, it seems, wants us to be accessible 24/7 and to respond instantly to any and every request.

Neuroscience studies are now showing us that the neural pathways of our brains are being rewired accordingly, so that our physical capacity for sustained attention is decreasing.

We, of course, complain endlessly about our wired world. But—let’s be honest—we do enjoy our technological gluttony. There is, however, a better way to live.

I’m going to close this post with a personal prayer. Feel free to join me in it, if you desire.

Gracious Father, forgive me my trespasses, and deliver me from the sin of technological gluttony to which I so often surrender. Draw me away from the table of excess, and lead me on that better path . . . the way that leads to life, and to you. Amen.

* Many of these distractions can be significantly decreased by setting your software to provide fewer “notifications” when various things occur. For example, I recently had to reset my iTunes because the program was throwing up a message every time a new song began.

When I am listening to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings, I don’t care to be told that “The Foot of Orthanc” is coming up as the strains of “The Road to Isengard” are fading away.

16 thoughts on “Dangers of Our Modern Age

  1. Very nicely done with much inspiration to be found in this presentation of yours to the novice writer or I dare say to any well accomplished one! To keep the imagination going and never give up hope that what you may have to say is going to capture someone’s attention and you never know what that will mean in terms of how far reaching and how wide an audience appeal what you dream with your own imagination can have when the sky is the limit and beyond; where some of the best of the trade may also notice your arrival into this world of the imagination! They who came before you wanting nothing more than your continued success will have many a word of wisdom to pass along to you making your journey onward to higher and more profound accomplishment a certainty!

    But very interesting is the fact that early today when I was speaking with a stranger who happened to catch me outside near my home who had a question about the properties around my home, how the conversation went on due to his mentioning how his young teenage son was wanting to join the US Air Force and we both agreed that is a great foundation to build on whether one goes to college first or is in the enlisted ranks and achieving higher education simultaneously via correspondence courses! But then I turned to the area of faith in God and how today too many people have lost touch with faith or may not even believe in God the creator of this entire amazing world we exist in. I said how Einstein said he was “in awe every day” and told fellow physicists once that, “God doesn’t roll dice,” during a discussion of Big Bang! I then went right into the meat and potatoes of the conversation of how I felt bad for anyone that missed the boat so badly to not see into things enough to realize that the only thing that anyone can conclude in close examination of this life is how profoundly clear it is that so much order and balance could only come from a deliberate and conscious will from a higher power, a supreme being our Creator. But then I immediately went to the point of telling this man who was truly interested in all of what I was saying and in complete agreement that someone we can all learn wonderful things from is “C.S. Lewis” who was brought up as a Christian in England as a boy and after his mother’s untimely death he being heart broken and bitter rejected religion and became an atheist, but during his academic and writing journey that he came full circle and went on to become one of the most prolific writers and sponsors of Christendom! I told this man to tell his son and his other young children to go to C.S Lewis dot com to begin learning about that great writer’s journey and learn what he had to say about Writing and Faith! I said how Christianity is absolutely divinely inspired and delivered to humanity from God to establish a personal relationship with the center piece of His creation “humanity,” and that Christianity is God’s direct connection to Him and the pathway to our destiny! This nice man and father was taking notes of much of what I said and I felt like life is so amazing as this nice man gave me his business card and drove off, because I see the plan at work the more I believe and have faith all the time!

    Now I came to your “Writing” today and if this doesn’t beat all and tell me that God is working in mysterious ways; letting us know if we will have faith that there is always hope, and never to forget there is a master plan at work in our lives! And, as I said at the start we never know how far reaching or who might be reading what we write and express from our own imaginations! God Bless You and Yours.

    Lawrence Morra

    PS Isn’t amazing that the email notice about your Blog came to me late today; as early today before I met this man and we talked it had not when I checked my email before heading out, only after that meeting and mention of “C.S. Lewis” did the dots all connect!

    1. What an extraordinarily informative response to a post. It’s clear that the message resonated with you and that it was quite timely (serendipitous, even). I am delighted you found it encouraging.

      Thank you, also, for reminding us all how even the most transient of conversations with others can provide wonderful opportunities for sharing truths of eternal significance.

      1. Absolutely fellow writer and seeker of truth! I’m very thankful that you came along with this very interesting article when you did and I’m of course from my sincere and humbled position overwhelmingly thankful to God, without whose awesome eternal love none of this would be possible! I like Einstein stated he was; am in awe more each and every day!

    1. Decreasing attention spans certainly do demand more effort from us. Unfortunately, it’s worsened by the increasing appetite for entertainment. When we offer a message worth mulling over… without lots of bells and fanfare… we should be prepared for disappointment.

  2. Hi Rob,

    Yes, Lord help us, like anything we are given to manage wisely. Technology is a tool which has good uses, but needs self-control.

    Funny you mention this theme. It is one in my book. Do we loose our humanity and social ability because of too much technology? Where is the balance? I am counting on the Lord for it.

    Thank you,


  3. “we do enjoy our technological gluttony”
    People get addicted to the input sparking in the brain
    So mesmerizing, to have that instant arrival of information…and be willing to destroy so much to be instantly available 24-7 in reciprocation.
    Something very sweet and lucky to have experienced childhood and life before cell phones, computers, and intrusive, invasive technology. Do hope the new generation discover the luxury of no machines

    1. You’re absolutely right. As for “digital natives” recognizing the joy of freedom from machines… a handful do. Sadly, the majority treat it like some type of torture. But that’s what you would expect when people go through “withdrawal” when separated from their addictions.

      One thing we can do though–and will, if we are wise–is control the access of the young to these devices. I’m proud of how my children actively monitor the computer use of their own children. Technology is certainly powerful… but it can be bridled.

      1. Yes, important to remember which is the tool to be used in order toot become the tool.
        Quietly some schools have gone back to pencil and paper – no devices at school in early grades. They say kids have access to those at home and need to master the basics without them at first. Solid thinking.

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