OUR MARCH OF PROGRESS HAS HIT THE WALL

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Aren’t humans awesome?! Look at all the flashy, shiny, blingy gadgets we now have at our disposal! As we are constantly being told by those who tell us such things, we are living in unprecedented times thanks in part to all this vast array of technology at our beck and call (this assumes obviously that all other times were, at best, boringly precendented).

We are living in an era where over 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month (Guardian, 22 Jan 2011), an era where every day over 80,000 hours of video are loaded on to YouTube, an era where we check our phones over 30 times a day, an era where we not only have hotel comparison websites but we have websites that compare hotel comparison websites. Allah only knows where this fractal-like craziness will end.

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This constant and ferocious advance in technology, along with the ever growing tsunami of online information, means we are spending more of our time texting, emailing, blogging, tweeting, retweeting, snapchatting, instagraming, tumblring, flickring, facebooking, meme-ing, whats-apping, google-plusing, iPhoning, instant messaging, liking, commenting, trolling, illegally downloading, and let’s not forget that all those important selfies do not exactly take themselves. Never before have you had so many different ways to find out that no–one wants to talk to you, and that you yourself don’t really have anything to say.

As we live more and more of our lives digitally, some may see all of this as steps in the right direction towards a digital utopia. The latest advert from Samsung has the tag line ‘Who knows where progress will take us‘. Whilst none of us really know where all this is heading, forgive me for not jumping for joy every time Apple release a newer, slimmer, slightly faster version of some widget. For whilst there is no doubt that technology enhances pockets of our lives, I am fearful of the long term direction of all this online virtuosity. I feel like we are staring into an electronic mouth of digital madness, constantly overwhelmed by data overload, non-stop upgrades, pressure to keep up-to-date with the latest viral trends, and the desire to broadcast every moment of our lives 24/7.

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Below I have listed several reasons why I think our technological march of progress may have hit the proverbial firewall. Long live the digital revolution? Only time will tell. Anyways, enjoy!


We are progressing technologically, but regressing spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally…

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. – Martin Luther King Jr

The West is suddenly infused with self-doubt…From under the floorboards of Fortress Modernity the West’s moral foundations are slowly crumbling. Contrary to its mantra, not all progress is good progress. – Kate Wilson

Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Kuwait. – A Whitney Brown

Most ten year olds today have an iPad. When I was ten I had an imagination. – Anon


We are surrounded by technology, whether we like it or not, so our futile resistance is indeed futile…

Every section of our lives has a sudden splurge of technology all the time that we have to deal with…All parts of technology, all parts of your life, have some sort of new development that you are supposed to keep up with. – Dara O’Briain

[We are surrounded by] developmentally detrimental Western technologies that now hijack our cognitive faculties by reducing the world’s complexity to clickbait and listicles. – Maria Popova


We need to be very careful about spending too much time online, or else ‘reality’ can get very blurry…

I fear that we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value. If the next generation socializes more online than in the so-called real world, and if they have no memory of a time when the reverse was true, it follows that my peers and I are the last to feel the static surrounding online socialization. The Internet becomes “the real world” and our physical reality becomes the thing that needs to be defined and set aside. – Michael Harris, from his book The End Of Absence, winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction

In this period of media-driven pseudo-opposition in the form of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Beyoncé or even Bernie Sanders, it is increasingly difficult to make the distinction between image and reality, especially when the production of images and symbols is controlled by dominant forces with an interest in keeping us all stupid. It is only through ruthless criticism and a commitment to struggling beyond the accepted paradigms that we can penetrate the BS and engage in a politics that is truly subversive. And that kind of politics will not be brought to you in living color in the safety of your homes while you stuff yourself with poison foods and spirits to dull the mind. – Ajamu Baraka


We all think we’re experts now, especially us Muslims, but in reality we are donkeys carrying books…

We used to know how to know. We got our answers from books or experts. We’d nail down the facts and move on. But in the Internet age, knowledge has moved onto networks. There’s more knowledge than ever, of course, but it’s different. Topics have no boundaries, and nobody agrees on anything. Yet this is the greatest time in history to be a knowledge seeker…if you know how. – David Weinberger, author of Too Big To Know

Islam stresses the importance of attaining knowledge through a teacher. A teacher is vital if you want to learn, someone you can physically sit in the same room with who can guide you. This is one of the reasons why the Prophet (S) was not just given knowledge, instead he had a ‘teacher’ in the form of the angel Gabriel who taught him knowledge.

On their first encounter Gabriel asked the Prophet to read and he replied that he could not as he was illiterate (hence why he is known as ‘the unlettered prophet’). He was asked twice again and twice he replied in the negative. Gabriel then actually hugged him. I remember a talk where an Islamic scholar said the reason why the Prophet was hugged was so that there was physical contact, in this case heart to heart. It was this contact that then made it possible for the Prophet to suddenly gain the ability to read and comprehend the message of Islam.

The internet, however, is not a suitable alternative to an actual teacher. The vast array of information and misinformation can cause misunderstandings that have murderous consequences, such as the birth and propagation of ISIS.

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Also, Islam makes a distinction between information and understanding, between data and comprehension. In Islamic terms a person who has memorised information but not the understanding behind that information, is considered to be the same as a donkey carrying books. The internet means that any donkey can now carry a vast array of ever increasing books. Any donkey can overnight turn into Shaykh Google Abu YouTube Bin Yahoo. Classical Muslim scholars spend their entire lives researching Islam, travelling across the world just to have the honour of studying under the greatest scholars of their time, they compile their life-long dedication to knowledge into volumes of works that will last for hundreds of years, books that will teach future students of Islamic knowledge. Compare this to the online students of today, the type of person who has just spent 30 minutes Googling some articles and now thinks he is able to refute what some ‘scholar dude’ said in the past.

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…and Google is making us stupid, to the point where we can no longer immerse ourselves in ‘deep reading’…

In the classic article Is Google Making Us Stupid?, the brilliant Nicholas Carr states that we no longer can immerse ourselves in deep reading due to the distractive nature of the Internet and all of its hyperlinks:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. – Nicholas Carr

An interesting rebuttal of sorts to Carr is offered by David Weinberger:

When most people say that the Internet is making people stupid, they exempt themselves: it’s those other people — the ones I disagree with — who are being made stupid. Carr on the other hand applies the critique to himself. He says he wants his old brain back. – David Weinberger

Jonathan Franzen shares similar views to Carr:

…I’m easily distracted and modern life has become extremely distracting. Distraction pours through every portal, especially through the internet. And most of what pours through is meaningless noise. To be able to hear what’s really happening in the world, you have to block out 99% of the noise. The remaining 1% is still a lot of information, but it’s not so much that you don’t have some hope of fashioning a meaningful narrative out of it. – Jonathan Franzen

These distractions have gotten too much for singer Ed Sheeran, who made the following recent announcement:

Hello all. I’m taking a break from my phone, emails and all social media for a while, I’ve had such an amazing ride over the last five years but I find myself seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes so I’m taking this opportunity of me not having to be anywhere or do anything to travel the world and see everything I missed. To my family and friends, if you love me you will understand me buggering off for a bit, to my fans, the 3rd album is on its way and is the best thing I have made thus far. See you all next autumn, and thank you for being amazing. Ed x. – Ed Sheeran, Dec 2015, in an Instagram message


We all now have a different meaning of ‘friends’ thanks to Facebook…

The recent documentary Sara Cox On Friendship is well worth watching. In it Sara Cox talks mainly to teenagers about their very real addiction of always wanting to be online, in some cases their virtual online persona being more important than their physical offline selves. The documentary also looks at the idea of what we mean by ‘friends’:

Psychotherapist Simon Jacobs said: ‘There is a real problem with using Facebook and not actually having interaction with people. ‘We need to see a person and have that consequential feedback and how we are impacting on them.’ He added that liking messages and sharing pictures ‘creates a virtual world where you believe you are getting that interaction but you are not, you are not getting what it is like to be in the room with someone.’ He said people can become addicted to social media in the same way that they can become dependent on Class A drugs. ‘With a Facebook addiction, you are doing something that in your estimation is going to make you feel part of the group, and like you belong and are valued, so you get a little hit from that,’ he explained. ‘It is the same sort of hit you get from a Class A drug, it may not be as extreme but the same process is happening, the same dopamine release.’ – from a Daily Mail article about the documentary Sara Cox On Friendship

In other words, Facebook friends ain’t real friend:

Having friends who are only on Facebook is like having loved ones who live in Chernobyl. I miss them, but I’m not going over there. – Michael Kupperman

A much colder way of looking at this would be to say:

5,000 friends on Facebook. 1,500 followers on Twitter. 500 people at your wedding. 5 people during hard times. 2 people at your burial. Alone in your grave. – Anon

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Social media is taking all the magic out of existence…

I hate Twitter. You love it, don’t you? You got Twitter? It’s brilliant. Your virtual online Utopian futuristic society. Direct communication between any individuals. Unfettered by government, you know, interference. Freedom of information. Arab Spring. We love Twitter. I hate Twitter. The only good thing about Twitter is if I have a mental breakdown and forget everything that ever happened to me, I could gradually piece my life back together by putting my name into the search engine in Twitter. Because about every 90 minutes, one of you feels obliged to do an update of where I am and what I’m doing. (LAUGHTER)…I hate Twitter. It’s like a state surveillance agency run by gullible volunteers. (LAUGHTER) It’s a Stasi for the Angry Birds generation. (LAUGHTER) If you’re an F-list celebrity, it makes your life impossible…You’re paranoid all the time being spied on…Internet, Twitter. I hate it. It drives you mad. Facebook and all these message boards…You go, “Look at us, virtual online Facebook friends, Twitter community. Virtual online Utopian vision of tomorrow’s better…” WHAT ARE YOU? You’re like rats fighting in a ditch. (LAUGHTER) Over some piss. (LAUGHTER) – Stewart Lee, from his stand-up show Carpet Remnant World

Twitter and Facebook and MySpace; all that stuff makes you warped. We’ve all basically given ourselves data entry jobs. I’ve actually heard people say things like, “Aw shit, I have to update my Twitter.” Really? You have to? That’s a big priority for you? – Louis CK

Your daily Facebook posts about your kid are diluting the potency of the life being a miracle concept. – Abbi Crutchfield

You know something is truly stupid when it becomes popular on Facebook. – Mark Leggett


More of us are living more of our lives online in our own ‘echo chamber’, which is not good…

The big worry is that when we’re given lots of choices of what to read (or view, etc.), we’ll tend to read that with which we already agree. This further confirms our current beliefs, and perhaps results in our moving to further extremes. This is called the “echo chamber” argument, and it is most famously associated with Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor currently in the Obama White House. Assessing the danger posed by echo chambers is very difficult. All I’ll say here is that we should assume it’s a real danger, and we should work against it as parents, teachers, citizens, and participants on the Web. – David Weinberger

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The old adage “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his shoes” should be updated to “don’t form your opinions till you’ve ventured outside your own echo chamber.” – Anon

Yes, it can be argued that echo chambers existed before the internet, that they are a part of human nature, etc, but it is fair to say that the online world has enhanced and increased this concept. Social media allows us to construct an online world that fits perfectly to anyone’s delusions. In other words, the internet has now become a 24 hour full on paranoia breeding ground, an egotistical echo chamber of social media, the perfect creation for those who love the sound of their own opinions, alongside those who live under the dark shadows of the “tyranny of the Like.”

Singer and song writer David Byrne suggests that the echo chamber is getting worse:

How do folks continue to ignore facts? How have people’s viewpoints become so insular and isolated that any contradictory information never even penetrates the bubble? How did we get to a point where dialogue is impossible? And I’m not just referring to this presidential race, but to many other areas of discussion as well. Am I imagining this or has the echo chamber, where one only hears what one agrees with, expanded in scope and at the same time had the effect of increasing that anger and the inability to have a dialogue? – David Byrne

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Some more quotes on echo chambers:

It’s funny, because we live in the information age. Information is actually more available than it ever was, readily and easily. I was born in an age when there were still door–to–door encyclopaedia salesmen. And yet somehow in the information age, it seems it is harder than ever to get information into people’s heads. I don’t mind if someone has genuine ideological differences. But I do take offense when people have their own set of facts. I’m not the only one to point this out, but it is amazing the way the Republicans can run against a completely fictional Barack Obama. I saw it on the news just yesterday, something like half the country – and I don’t mean just Republicans – half of everybody thinks he’s a Muslim. Forty–nine per cent say he’s a Christian. Now this is not something that’s really in dispute. You can easily look this up. And yet they are stubbornly ignorant, they refuse to let any air into that bubble. And so you have them running against the president, who basically in their view wants to take away your guns, even though he’s never said anything about that; is coming for your Bible, even though he’s always spouting spiritual nonsense; wants to get between you and your doctor, even though that’s not at all what the health care bill does. They talk about him redistributing your wealth when he only wants to raise taxes on rich people 3 per cent, which is what Clinton had. It’s a far cry from what the tax rate was under Eisenhower or Nixon. They constantly talk about he wants to slash defence, even though he’s done nothing but raise it. He takes his cues from Europe, there’s no evidence of that. It’s complete fiction. And that’s because, partly they can get on those chat rooms and they just hear themselves in an echo chamber. – Bill Maher

This country is not overrun with rebels and free–thinkers, it’s overrun with sheep and conformists…We have a very polarised electorate now. And the problem is, they don’t need to ever hear anything outside of their own echo chamber. They do not want to have their views challenged. There are a lot of things that people have not examined or re–examined or ever sat down to think about. – Bill Maher, from the BBC documentary Frost On Satire

Social media is evolving into a cold and conservative place, a giant echo chamber where what we believe is constantly reinforced by people who believe the same thing, and when people step out of line in the smallest ways we destroy them. – Jon Ronson


Much of Facebook and Twitter is ‘virtue signalling’, where people show off to their friends about how righteous they are…

According to Urban Dictionary ‘virtue signalling’ is:

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There was a time when Britain had a form of Christianity in which pride was considered a sin. Maybe that is part of why some of us find all this virtue signalling obnoxious. It’s just showing off. For some of us it is both ridiculous and irritating that people who say that they hate Ukip actually believe they are being more virtuous than others who visit the sick, give money to charity or are kind to someone lonely. But the widespread way in which people now proudly boast suggests there is no shame, no reflection. And because of this lack of awareness, it is more common. Twitter lends itself very well to virtue signalling, since it is much easier to express anger and scorn in 140 characters than to make a reasoned argument. Russell Brand is perhaps the ultimate incarnation of modern virtue signalling. He is bursting with anger and outrage. My goodness he must be good! – James Bartholomew, from the article Hating The Daily Mail Is A Substitute For Doing Good

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The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. – James Hamblin, from the article My Outrage Is Better Than Your Outrage

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The internet has killed the truth…

New rule, we can all stop asking the question: why isn’t our government functioning? Why? Because truth is dead and the internet killed it. Now remember back in the early nineties when we read about this new thing called the internet that could put the totality of world knowledge right at our fingertips? And then someone discovered it could deliver free porn and we quickly had something else at our fingertips. But bare breasts on the internet are not the problem, at least some of those are real. The problem is that somewhere along the line the information superhighway became bullshit Boulevard and truth was roadkill…Americans used to get their news from actual news organizations, now they get it from chain emails and chat rooms and Facebook posts written by lunatics and sadists. Before the internet you only have to put up with your right wing uncle on Thanksgiving. Now he’s forwarding you proof 24/7 that Hillary led the Benghazi attacks and Obama was Bill Cosby’s pharmacist. The street-corner nut with the sandwich board used to be laughed at. Now he’s linked to. And that’s what’s so great about Facebook: you’re not telling lies, you’re just sharing them. And any way lies are the new truth. Yes, more than ever people today are living an entirely fact free lifestyle…This is new, that liars have stopped caring if they get caught. – Bill Maher, from his show Real Time With Bill Maher


Modesty has died a death as we are too willing to share everything about ourselves, and I do mean everything…

Olive: When did teachers become privy to idle adolescent gossip?…Teacher: That would be when everyone is putting everything up on Facebook. I don’t know what your generation’s fascination is with documenting your every thought, but I can assure you they’re not all diamonds. “Roman is having an okay day, and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof!” Who gives a rat’s ass? – from the movie Easy A (2010)

Facebook has made us all celebrities in our own little world. We’re constantly documenting ourselves, taking photos of our food, our shoes, ourselves, and letting people know where we are all the time. We’ve become self–obsessed and I do worry about my own narcissism. – Monique Roffey

Anders de la Motte says by sharing so much online we are giving away what the Stasi would have killed for. He is not a great fan of social media. “The East German secret police, the Stasi, used to have a motto: ‘To be really safe, you need to know everything.’ Their whole business idea was to have half the population listening in on the other half and reporting on whatever they were doing – records they were listening to, friends they were meeting, papers they were reading. And look at us now – all that information that they were prepared to kill for, we provide ourselves. It’s a bit mind-blowing sometimes…With social media, we seem to be tapping into some sort of ancient need; to be going back to being cavemen, outside alone in the dark and wanting to be invited into the cave to sit near the fire. There’s a hint of narcissism and desperation about it all that I’m sure has always been there but which has been brought out into the light by technology…When I was little, my sister had a diary with a lock that she hid under the mattress. She wrote what music she liked and which guys she had a thing for. Now we post the same things on Facebook instead. What happened? What reward do we get from a ‘like’ or a thumbs-up from people we hardly ever see? Why are we giving up our personal data so willingly?” – from metro.co.uk, 27 Nov 2013 (Anders de la Motte is an author of crime fiction)

As Muslims we have the Islamic concept of ‘purdah’, which is to veil ourselves and our actions, revealing only that which is necessary to only those deemed relevant. Add to this the saying (hadith) of the Prophet where he said that every religion has it’s own character, and the character of Islam modesty. Add to this the common prayer (dua) in Islam where you ask Allah to veil your sins on the day of judgement, as you so embarrassed by them. When you see what Muslims post online on a daily basis, it can be asked: where is your ‘purdah’? Where is your modesty? If you are openly boasting about your sins on Facebook, then how veiled do you think they will be in the next life? Just a thought…

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DIVORCED FROM REALITY. NOT ONCE. TWICE.

I recently came across two separate audio clips from Shakyh Hamza Yusuf that explore the concept of reality. In the first clip he talks about how Islam is a civilisation of knowledge, a civilisation trying to understand reality. He mentions how the Prophet, peace be upon him, would isolate himself to a cave just outside his beloved city of Mecca, away from the hustle and bustle of market life. Here he would spend hours, days even, alone with his thoughts, alone to contemplate the feelings in his heart, alone to try and find purpose to his existence, trying his utmost to come to terms with life, the universe, and everything.

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As I have blogged previously, in our very busy 24-hour lives, when was the last time we truly secluded ourselves in such a manner? When was the last time we went for a day without our iPhones and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram? Just a thought…

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On to the second clip which talks about how our modern obsession with mobile phones and photography is removing us further away from the reality that the Prophet was trying to understand, and ultimately what we should do about this (answer – put your phone down and pick up a book!).

Both clips are well worth a listen, each one being only about 6 minutes long.

I have blogged before about our obsession with mobiles, with quotes from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (here, here, and here). We are so obsessed with these small screens that our modern ears are now sharply sensitive to the beeps of mobiles, but almost deaf to the call of salah.

Anways, as always, enjoy!


Islam is a civilisation of knowledge. Franz Rosenthal, the great Jewish Orientalist and world-class historian, wrote a book called Knowledge Triumphant, in which he argued that he could not find any civilization in human history like the Islamic civilization because, he said, this is a civilization that put the pursuit, the acquisition, the development, and the transmission of knowledge at the forefront of its existence. Its very reason for existence was knowledge itself. And the Prophet was a seeker of knowledge. He was a seeker of knowledge. Why was he up in the cave? What was he trying to do in the cave? He was trying to know reality. He wanted to know reality. And the Prophet, what is the first commandment that he is given once that reality addresses him? “Read in the name of your Lord”…So at the very beginning of Islamic revelation is “Read in the name of your Lord…” – adapted from a speech by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf


I’m so sick of photographs. Stop taking pictures. Just stop taking pictures and start experiencing life…You can see the madness of an image based culture…We (Muslims) are a community of lowering our gaze. The Prophet never stared at anybody. If a picture is not staring, then what is it? Because you have permanently captured that person…You have to ask where it’s all going…Take the picture in your heart…It’s so troubling to me, all this stuff. I really believe that if the sahabah (companions of the Prophet) were alive and they saw how we behaved now, they would just be amazed at how divorced people were from reality…Plato writes in the Republic about why there shouldn’t be image makers, because image makers are divorcing people from reality. We are already divorced from reality one time. This (world) is not reality and once you go into the world of images, now you are two times removed from reality…I just think all this Facebook stuff, just stop. Just live your life, go for walks amongst trees…Read a book, that’s made out of paper, trees, it smells, it’s amazing, good company, it never talks back. You can never offend a book. The book might offend you, but you can’t offend a book. – adapted from a speech by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf