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Bill Moyers & Marty Kaplan “Press the Pause Button” on Technology

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. He was a recent guest of Bill Moyers on “Moyers and Company.”

In the midst of all of the criticism levied against the Catholic Church these days (and we must admit, a lot of it is justified) I find myself smiling again and again as the secular world continues to “discover” these amazing truths about life that the Church has known for …. oh, say 2,000 year perhaps?

While praising the wonders and benefits of modern technology and the new social media presence in our lives,  Kaplan was lamenting the shadow side of the pervasiveness of the technology in his life.  His solution? To regularly “proclaim a fast” from media. Turn off the TV, shut off the computer, turn the iPhone OFF (not just to “mute”). He finds himself less distracted, less nervous, more effective when he has periods of hitting the pause button in terms of technology.

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Marty and Bill were primarily discussing technology, communication, big business, big money, democracy and politics The full transcript can be found here.  Yet, in the midst of the conversation (it starts at about 33:30 on the video) was this segue into the idea of a media fast presented below

(emphasis mine btw.)

BILL MOYERS: But the internet is also awash with contaminated, unsubstantiated toxins that if you just take them into your system will mislead you too.

MARTY KAPLAN: Yes, and every once in a while I feel a need to go on a media fast. Because the stuff is so toxic that if you pay attention to it, it has to be harming you.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve done that recently.

MARTY KAPLAN: I have indeed.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do?

MARTY KAPLAN: I went to the high desert. And I spent a week paying no attention to television or to the internet or to the newspaper. And I didn’t have a political conversation.

BILL MOYERS: You were on detox?

MARTY KAPLAN: I was on a media fast. And by the end, I felt great. The challenge was taking that wisdom of the mountaintop back into the valley of the shadow, which is where we all dwell.

BILL MOYERS: But you had to come back.

MARTY KAPLAN: I did indeed.

BILL MOYERS: And what happened when you came back and there it all was waiting for you?

MARTY KAPLAN: It was being exposed to a poison and I wanted to numb myself the moment that I was exposed to it. It’s hard.

As Dennis Prager would say, “Waaaaaaaaouw!”  As in, look what I just found! The benefits of occasionally fasting.  Sounds like something I’ve heard before.

Kaplan and Moyers seem to realize the significance of what they were saying especially at the end.  The idea, and advantages, of fasting are somewhat intuitive from a human perspective and Kaplan even writes about it here. But he also said that he had to “come back… taking the wisdom of the mountaintop into the valley of the shadow.” (ala Psalm 23:4 perhaps?).

This is a key point. Retreats, fasting, quiet, the Ignatian idea of self-examination are all good ideas and beneficial but the benefits can’t be selfishly held onto by ourselves. The benefits need to be shared with others; the goodness needs to lead to charity. But you knew that already.

And, although they might not give credit to the Desert Fathers or put a Catholic spin to it, I sense that Kaplan and Moyers know this too.

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