Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The 6th chapter of the Powers book, ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a good life in the digital age’, starts with a story about finding joy in watching old videos online, and how it’s not as relaxing as a stroll outside because it’s still hooked up to the distracting buzz of the internet. [This chapter is in a section titled :“Beyond the Crowd: Teachings of the Seven Philosophers of Screens”] People find it hard to escape their busyness, the same as they did 2,500 years ago in the days of Socrates. They crave it, and when they are without it, they seek out ways of staying busy.

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, advisor to Emperor Nero, believed that the primary mission of philosophy should be to offer people practical advice on how to live better (pg. 108). Fend off the crowd to cultivate inner self-sufficiency (pg. 110). Seneca observed 2 aspects of restlessness; first of which is the ceaseless need to travel, and the second is way people consume information (pg. 111). Seneca noticed that [after the invention of written words] people started gobbling up literature, racing from book to book, never taking the time to develop familiarity with the ideas of great writers.  Just sampling, never processing, and becoming obsessed with reading without much contemplation.

Apply this  ‘crowded connectedness’ to the 21st century, and focus on ways to block out the distractions that our mobile gadgets eagerly provide, inducting us into ‘crowd mode’. I find it fascinating that the invention of written language ~2,500 years ago had the same impact that mobile devices have today. Mobile devices distract us so we never really absorb new information, but still feel the need to frantically consume copious amounts of information.


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