I love the Matrix movie. I’ve probably watched it three-dozen times since its release. (I had a college buddy who could recite every line of Chevy Chase’s movie, Fletch. I might be able to do the same with the Matrix!)
One scene intrigues me: when Morpheus or Trinity, in the Matrix would dial up the “operator,” in putting the phone to their ears, they would then dissolve. The pixels of themselves in the Matrix would get reorganized into the flesh and blood in the Real World. Of course, they never left the Real World physically, but mentally, they would “jack” in to the Matrix and do their thing–except that their thing only happened in the minds of humanity jacked in at the time.
This is why Morpheus calls the real world (the non-jacked in world) the Real World. Of course, the Matrix was actually a part of the Real World though it couldn’t be accessed except via computer. Neo would sit in what looks like a barber’s chair while Tank would shove a huge probe into the hole on the back of Neo’s head and voila: Neo closes his eyes to the Real World and opens them to the Matrix.
The Real World was a post-apocalyptic world and it was bad in every way. Those who lived in the Real World had been set free from their role in the Matrix: they are no longer “connected.” They were free but not everyone liked that: Cypher didn’t. He longed to get back in; the Matrix was the escape because in it one could do whatever came to mind: dress, eat, play or kill. Someone jacking in from the Real World curates his experience however he wants. Everyone connected to the Matrix had roles to fill, families, friends, jobs, etc. so there were some limits for them. But not for those set free–they could jack in and be anyone and do anything. (Cypher wanted to be someone important…”like an actor.”)
In our reality, none of us is captive to the Matrix though many, many of us seek to be jacked-in to escape the Real World. Our children–from the young Millennials through to the three-year old sitting in the dentist office with her own iPad–jack in to social media, multi-player games or YouTube for h.o.u.r.s. Just as the thought of a steak was alluring enough for Cypher to return to his pre-Real World slavery in the Matrix, the personally curated online experiences of our children draw them in further and further.
But there’s more. Michael Toscano wrote in First Things an opinion piece titled, “Ensnared in the Web.” He highlights the fact that “Big Tech” hires top neurologists, psychologists and behaviorists to create a product that stimulates an endless supply of addictive Dopamine. He writes of the “search” bar:
The search is presented to us as a tool for looking outward, but in fact is is a biopsy. It “extracts” our interests, habits, convictions, hopes, friends, purchases, politics, exact location and much more….The vast ocean of digital information which requires tools to navigate became the pathway for control.Michael Toscano, “Ensnared in the Web” First Things, May 2022.
On organizational levels, Big Tech is afflicted with the same tendencies of manipulation, greed and power that each of us has. Only armed with the right algorithm and we go where it wants us to go. And those most affected? They are the least wise and therefore most unsuspecting: tweens, teens and young adults.
Instead of taking the blue pill they turn on the blue lights of the screen. And no sooner than a swipe and voila! They are jacked-in. In the Matrix, to be jacked-in meant you were at risk of discovery by the Agents. Once found it was run or die. At one point Neo asked Morpheus what happens if one dies in the Matrix. “The body cannot live without the mind,” he answered. The one killed in the Matrix slumps in his chair in the Real World: his eyes closed, lifeless, breathless–captured by the Matrix never to be released again.
- How many of us have walked into our children’s rooms to see them: eyes reflecting the blue light, virtually breathless, apparently lifeless, slumped–captured by the online world (maybe) never to be released again?
What is there to be done? How many of us realize there is no neutral ground anyplace in Creation–including the Web? Do we instruct our children on its dangers? Do we believe there is danger there? Are we suspicious enough of Big Tech? The whole world is moving everything possible online in the vain belief that perhaps it can be a place of utopia. Free speech! Freedom to browse and surf! Freedom to comment! Freedom to vent and curse! Freedom to perform without risk–a place where “I can be somebody important…like an actor”!
The reality is that smartphones don’t belong in the hands of children. They hardly belong in the hands of young adults. Perhaps it’s true that parenting has never been so hard. It is two voices (hopefully) against a Legion of them: truly, what can be done? Pray. Pray for what the apostle Paul warned in Colossians:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.Colossians 2:8
Take your family to a confessing and faithful church. Put the kids in Sunday school and youth group. Encourage other adults to commit to friending your kids. Toss your kids outside and tell them to play. Limit the time they spend on devices and limit the places they can go when they’re on them. Go camping or biking or long-boarding. Educate yourself on the dangers of social media.
You can do it. They won’t like it but what do they know? We might not be able to reform Big Tech but we can educate our children and grandchildren and “play the man” like we’re supposed to do.