Pascal's Pensées: Week 25, Mommy Let You Use Her iPad Now Look at You


However sad a person may be, if you can persuade them to take up some diversion they will be happy while it lasts, and however happy a person may be, if they lack diversion and have no absorbing passion or entertainment to keep boredom away, they will soon be depressed and unhappy. Without diversion there is no joy; with diversion there is no sadness.


Marx famously said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." Today, I think Marx would say, "The Internet is the opiate of the masses."

We're still dipping into the long pensée on diversion, #136. And what Pascal shares above remains very true, more true now than when he wrote it. Things have gotten so much worse. Could Pascal have imagined how putting the entire Internet in our pockets would so fixate and consume our attention? Could he have imagined how AI algorithms would monetize and sell the attention of our children to the highest bidder? 

I don't know if you know or like the comedian Bo Burnham, but when I first heard his song "Welcome to the Internet" from his latest comedy special it rattled me as being both the truest and most disturbing thing I've heard in a very long time. 

(I'm not linking to the song because it has a lot of offensive content. So be very, very warned if you seek it out.) 

The song is basically a catalog of everything available on the internet all of the time. All meant to capture and hold our attention. The stuff we need. Stupid things we waste our time with. And, just one click away, dark and vile things. It's all there. All of it. Everything. Absolutely everything. Always available, all of the time. Even to children and adolescents, whose brains are still developing. And what shook and disturbed me about the song wasn't its perversity. What disturbed me about the song was that it was true--accurately and disturbingly true. 

Below are select (and clean) lyrics to give you a taste of the song's hard truth:

Could I interest you in everything
all of the time?
A little bit of everything
all of the time?
Apathy's a tragedy
and boredom is a crime.
Anything and everything.
All of the time.

You know, it wasn't always like this.
Not very long ago,
just before your time,
right before the towers fell, circa '99.
This was catalogs.
Travel blogs.
A chat room or two.
We set our sights and spent our nights
waiting for you.
You, insatiable you.
Mommy let you use her iPad.
You were barely two.
And it did all the things
we designed it to do.

Now look at you.

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