Andrew Sullivan On Breaking Our Addiction To Online Information

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The constant stream of gossip, photos, videos, updates, tweets, news and information online has been a growing distraction for many people. (Unsplash)
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The constant stream of gossip, photos, videos, updates, tweets, news and information online has been a growing distraction for many people. Smartphones mean that people can connect with this digital world anywhere, at any time.

Andrew Sullivan, contributing editor to New York Magazine, argues that this constant distraction is an addiction, and that it’s hurting our lives and relationships. Sullivan discusses trying to break his addiction to online information with Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson.

Interview Highlights: Andrew Sullivan

On losing touch with the “regular world”

“Until I realized at some point, you know, it’s a zero-sum question, this. We’ve deluded ourselves — at least I had deluded myself — into thinking that I could have my cake and eat it too, that I could be online but still in my regular world. Over time I realized, you know, that’s just not true. You are where your attention is. If you’re involved in the web, you’e not actually with your friends, you’re not with your spouse, you’re not with your kids. You’re somewhere else.”

“That means you’re not really having a relationship with them, and if you only have relationship with abstract entities online as opposed to actual physical, awkward, flawed but fascinating human beings, we’re really making our lives much shallower than they need be. We’re missing out on lives. It struck me this is a way, in the end, of not living.”

On facing our existential questions and anxieties

“…What surprised me — it shouldn’t have, really — was that when you remove slowly all the distractions that you’re using, you come face to face with what you’re distracting yourself from. And that can obviously mean many different things for different people. We all have deep and underlying questions and anxieties in our lives. We also all have, at some level, an existential dread, a sense that we’re here and we die. And the modern world has conspired brilliantly to enable us to forget about that constantly as if we’re not actually mortal creatures, and that we don’t have to ask ourselves what on earth are we doing in this universe right now, because these questions are of course terrifying.”

On overcoming the addiction

“I think it requires real self-discipline. And we just, as a society, I think, this piece was trying to say, ‘It’s time to try and master this.'”

On how information consumption relates to the 2016 presidential election, and thoughts on the race

“I’m terrified. I really believe that one of the candidates, Donald Trump, is a unique threat to peace in the world, to civil peace in this country and possibly to our entire liberal democratic system. I’ve never come across a character quite as dangerous or as menacing as this person, who’s evoked the kind of passions that he’s evoked. And who, if he were to win, would have nothing to restrain him … and who has expressed the desire for a kind of authoritarian government. He’s a wannabe tyrant, that people seem to want as a tyrant, and so much is at stake.

… Many elections have been extraordinarily important in the past. This one is really, I think, for me, life and death for this republic. And the danger of this man, his unpredictability and instability, and, to put it bluntly, fascistic tendencies … all these traits that we must know by now from history are deeply dangerous. He’s really close to coming to power in this country than any time in my lifetime. And so I wanted to disengage … but I can’t. On my iPhone I have a an actual icon that can give me the latest polling results for everything, and I’m checking it three or four times a day, as a way to sort of, kind of comfort myself. … Maybe he’s got under my skin, but I’ve read enough history, I know enough about how government works in this country to be deeply afraid.”

Guest

Andrew Sullivan, political commentator and writer for New York Magazine. He tweets @sullydish.

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