Living in a Self-Selected Universe

It is increasingly possible for many of us to live in our “own little world, ” in a kind of self-selected universe. For example, I don’t listen much to radio any more. Instead I have set up my iPod to download favorite podcasts. I also have loaded only the music I like. Satellite Radio also narrow casts a very specific genre of music or information. T.V. too can be cherry picked,  TiVo what I want and skip the rest. As for news, here too I can decide who informs me. I pick the blogs and websites that will inform me. As for newspapers and broadcast TV news, sorry the content is too uncontrollable. Even with blogs which might provide a variety of subjects, I can set up an RSS feed and screen what I really want to read. Cable news as well is fairly focused on rather specific niches so I can usually find what I want to hear. Cable TV in general also has increasingly narrow subject matters, there’s a golf channel and a Home and Garden Channel, the Science channel, History Channel, a cooking channel or two and let’s not forget EWTN.

The bottom line is that increasingly  I can very carefully control the content of my life, what will influence me and what will be my daily fare.  Until recently there wasn’t the kind of choice that we have today and we were stuck with three networks and whatever junk was on tended to have exaggerated influence. The news on these networks was usually quite left of center and gave the impression that everyone thought the same way. And to some extent they did. Networks had too much power. Beyond the news,  in regular programming one was often exposed to a daily fare on these networks of stupidity, dysfunctional families,  and sometimes crudely sexual content. The rock and pop music I grew up with also had a very monolithic influence on my generation and encouraged hatred of authority, promiscuity, drug use and generally unedifying behavior. Once again the limited selections made the “mainstream” stuff too powerful. But now I have options and can rather carefully craft the world I live in.

To a certain extent this ability to craft my world is wonderful. In terms of the moral life it allows a kind of custody of the eyes and ears. I can limit the influence of many and bad things that once were able to reach me. I can be careful of what I listen to and what I look at. Scripture says: A discerning man keeps wisdom in view,  but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth (Prov 17:24). Or again: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. (Prov 4:23-25).

So, on the one hand I can more carefully screen what will influence me and with more options I am more likely to choose that which is good.

But on the other hand if we begin to live in increasingly separate worlds what do we share? More and more I find that people mention events, and people that I have never heard of. To some extent I am proud of this for the emptiness of what works some people up amazes me. Some years ago everyone started talking about some one named J.Lo I finally asked who this was and after some moments of incredulous stares I was informed somewhat irritably that this was Jennifer Lopez. Unfortunately the full name didn’t help since I still didn’t know who she was and why I should care that she was breaking up with some dude. To this day I still couldn’t tell you a thing about Jennifer Lopez.

OK that’s a silly example. But the point is that many people live in increasingly separate worlds and the shared cultural experience is lost. This can surely affect Evangelization and the preaching task enormously. Perhaps I exaggerate the threat a bit and our self selected worlds are not that tightly sealed. But more and more I find it harder to understand what people are talking about.

I also find that many people don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about either. Often they have not heard of basic biblical figures and stories. Increasingly they are unfamiliar with Church teachings, feast days and basic theological terms. The clear challenge is that we have to get our message “out there.” But lately there are a lot of “theres” out there! The opportunities to communicate are enormous but so are the challenges as many people (me included) continue to live in a world that is more and more a self-selected universe which shuts out all unwanted influence and only admits what is pleasing and affirming but far less challenging and expansive.

The self-selected universe can greatly aid a proper custody of the eyes but it also runs the risk of becoming insular.

This humorous video clip is one of my favorite scenes from the Star Trek Movies (Voyage Home). In it to very different worlds collide. Kirk and Spock try to navigate in a world very different from their own. Spock especially has a hard time understanding what it going on and what it all means. They are from a different universe after all. Please excuse the brief profanities which are not being celebrated but rather are being critiqued.

47 Replies to “Living in a Self-Selected Universe”

  1. Selectively controlling what we are exposed to and selectively crafting our world is the only way some of us can maintain our sanity. The world and our country are very unsettling places to me right now, and shutting it out is the best thing I can do for myself, to some degree.

    I used to be a radio talk-show junkie, now I just tune in to an easy listening station. I rarely watch tv, and I can’t even read the newspaper anymore, except for the comics.

    On the other hand, I have more time now to spend in contemplative silence and prayer – that’s been a big plus. I guess I’m counting on the people around me who can stomach it to keep current on what’s going on and keep me informed about what I absolutely need to know. In that regard, I think I get the best news from the few blogs I frequent.

    1. Yes, I too have a similar experience and I only raise the question of insularity to ponder the limited of self-selection. By the way Jan, where you aware that we have been to the moon and back? 🙂 Some one told me that but it had not come up on any of my podcasts!

  2. Msgr. Pope, I hate to tell you this but unawareness of J Lo is more a sign of middle age than of choosing particular media outlets. 😉

      1. I’m already there! I remember looking at a crop of newly-minted nurses and thinking: These CHILDREN are going to be taking care of SICK PEOPLE? And I was then only 30!

  3. I too am a podcast/blog junkie. I have had some of the same thoughts am I insulating myself too much from the world? I have 4 teens that I am doing my best to reach with the gospel message but there is alot of “noise” out there to compete with and sometimes given my “little world” I don’t understand what it’s like. I have found an initiative by the vocations office of the diocese of Columbus, Ohio to be quite interesting. They have partnered with a marketing firm to start a facebook fan page and are really making an effort to draw in the younger generation to the church. It’s almost as if they are evangalizing a whole new continent. More information can be found at or the facebook page is called face forward.

  4. I am not so troubled by our self-selected universes. I think a hundred years age (maybe more) our “universes” were just as disparate, only not self-selected. The world is a lot smaller today.

    Also, I don’t think we will ever become completely insular regardless of how little we have in common on the surface. Under the surface, we share a common humanity and Creator/Father (for the baptised). My daughter may not know or care any more for Palestrina than I do for Lady Gaga, but we both love music as well as each other.

    1. Yes, thankfully there is overlap. They are not wholly parallel universes. As for your first point about us once being more seperate that is true but one might argue it also made us more bigoted. I don’t really tink so but I can hear the concern

  5. My son is 18 and he is constantly reminded me of how dated I am. I recently took the TV out of my house for 3 months. Needless to say, my son was furious, but the conversations we had during that time were great, very insightful. I now have allowed the TV to be turned back on. Guess what, he stopped talking. Even though my son thinks I’m dated, I don’t consider myself insulatory. I don’t think that’s a good idea when you’re a parent. I want to know what influences people (especially young folks) and what they are watching on tv, what they are reading, what they are listening to on the radio, etc. Then I can better evangelize. My faith is the greatest influence I have and it out powers any influence that the world has. So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t worry about these worldly influences, Jesus Christ is greater, but here again, I’m older and wiser. The young folks need our help and guidance in their thought patterns.

    1. That TV has a powerful draw, doesn’t it? My way of using it to my advantage is to watch interactive programs with them. With my boys, it’s Sunday football, and despite the PAINFUL season, the Skins, my boys and Sunday dinner were an enjoyable combo. With my girls I watch Top Chef (we try to make one of the recipes after) and American Idol- fortunately no Bikini Girl thus far!! We talk about what happened and it gives me the opportunity to tell my football-playing son, “If you had been in at wide receiver, you would’ve caught that pass!” and to my singing daughter, “Try singing that song for me.” It sees like, if I’m willing to spend some time in “their” worlds, they are ore open to “mine.”

      Also, my neighbors disconnected their cable so their kids would play outside more. They are over my house a lot. Before they disconnected the TV, the kids were out shooting hoops and jumping on the trampoline, but now they ask to watch TV when they’re here. So, I find myself in the role of TV monitor for someone else’s kids!!!

  6. I do agree that saturation in anything will likely influence choices, but I’ not sure we should completely shut ourselves off from from what we consider the voices/culture of dissent. I think it’s important to be exposed to opposing views and tastes. Now, I’m not suggesting that Msgr. download head-banger music into his Ipod, but if one is parenting and/or counseling children, perhaps a knowledge of their culture would prove useful in somethings.

    I wonder if this new trend of kind of cocooning ourselves (I, too, do this in some things) will create a culture that is less understanding of others. It’s important to stand in our beliefs but to reach out to others, we need to understand their beliefs too, and that may mean spending a little time observing the various elements that may have influenced them- just a thought…

  7. There’s something to be said for being “in this world” vs. “of this world” (John 15:19) I turned the TV off 4 years ago and got rid of cable service. I don’t miss it, other than the occasional diversion of Cartoon Network.

    Do I really need to know who won the latest political elections in Somewhereistan? Do I really want to know who the latest popular TV star is? How does it help me to know general trivia about popular x,y,&z? So on and so forth. Notice that all these questions are about “knowing” the facts of the world. I ask myself, what is my desired sphere of influence and what is my sphere of interest?

    My particular ministries are locally focused so I know about my intended audience, their interests, and their concerns, at least enough so to be able to relate and have meaningful dialog. I have found that when evangelizing the more insulated I am from the world of my audience and the less trivia I know, I find it very easy to be a completely committed and devoted listener as I learn about the person and learn from the person. This gives the other person comfort, importance, and even relevance in their world and opens up doors to communication and trust. I want to reach out to people and invite them to the world I know and the faith I believe in, and these open doors are the greatest gift to me. It is the same opening of doors of communication that helped bring me to my faith.

    1. By the way Erin, had you heard they ahd cancelled leave it to beaver? It’s great to be without a lot of TV. It’s not just the meesage its also the means that is problematic. TV is almost entirely passive requiring little esle from the viewer than to sit with jaw open. This is not a very good learning method. Further, the flickering and constantly changing picture makes us overstimulated which leads to boredom and short attention spans.

  8. Insularity runs us many risks, not the least of which is missing out on many things we might enjoy. I never knew I enjoyed jazz music until someone introduced me to it. Soccer always seemed silly until I watched it enough to understand. Similarly each and every thing I enjoy–there was a first exposure, which took me outside my comfort zone.

    When people ask how I can talk to total strangers, I reply that my best friend was a total stranger the first time we met.

    In my youth I realized there were problems with Protestant theology, but because of insularity I looked only within Protestantism for the answers (which, not surprisingly, I never found). It was only when someone invited me to the Catholic Church I found the answers I so long sought. My Catholic friends, on hearing my journey, tell me I was Catholic 25 years before I knew it. Without stepping outside my insulated comfort zone, I never would have even looked at the one true apostolic Church of Christ.

    Living an insulated life–whether self-imposed or imposed upon one–can only lead to stagnation. Growth only comes from stepping beyond those boundaries.

      1. Interesting too for me I found classical through rock music especially the Moody Blues who used a lot of Classical especially in their album Days of Future Passed.

  9. It is an undeniable fact that music died somewhere around 1990.

    On another note, trying to keep up with all the trends and fads is rather silly. Much of that is because the trends and fads are, themselves, rather moronic. Whether you go back to see older folks back in the 70s trying to look hip with long hair, sideburns, and open polyester shirts, etc. or whether you look at folks today with the unwashed uncombed hair look, tats, and piercings (including in all sorts of unmentionable areas), these fads do not, in fact, make people look cool, they make people look stupid.

    I was in Burger King the other day and this guy (with his semi-Goth friends) walks in with his pants practically down around his ankles. OK, that is a bit of an exageration, but they were definitely hanging down, not merely half-way down his rear-end, but down past it. I thought to myself, dude, you think you look cool? Come on, you look like an idiot.

    I don’t know if that is me keeping to my own self-selected universe. But I don’t feel at all bad about not wanting to be part of that greater universe.

    1. What is with the “pant down to there” thing? I takes a lot for me to resist the urge not to yank them up when I see a kid wearing their pants like that. I would imagine they will also look back with some bewilderment about what they were thinking, and I talk often with my kids about the fads that leave permanent marks- that tats, as you mentioned and certain piercings, like those big round discs they put in their earlobes (!?!).

  10. Thanks to you all for being part of my ‘little world’. I enjoy hearing what you have to say. And I have chosen this channel which makes it all the better for me.

  11. I like the idea of picking and choosing your own world. The problem is that in this country we live in a participatory democracy and if we don’t participate we will in up with a country that does not share our values. We are on the edge of that right now. The elections in 2010 will absolutely determine the direction we will be headed. We can’t afford to put our heads to far into the sand.

  12. With regards to what jan says, unfortunately even the comics have changed. They used to be much more fun to read, and had a light-hearted view on life. My Dad would read us kids the comics on Sunday morning.

    Now, however, many of the comics are focused on “social issues”, and have a darker sense of humor. They no longer provide that uplifting enjoyment.

  13. Not all rock music is bad. I do think in the United States it has gone downhill. I personally prefer European rock, because quite a bit of it is actually Christian in more ways than one. The European symphonic rock combines symphony and classical singers with your standard rock band. It has a big sound, and it sounds beautiful all put together. That is a huge part of my little world.

    I don’t watch much TV, except for the hospital shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House because they remind me of life in the ER. I used to get mad at people for asking me if the ER was like the shows until I realized it was true to a certain extent. If there is a show I particularly love, but can’t catch it on TV for one reason or another, I get it on DVD. I only watch the news, or read it online, so I am not ignorant to what is going on in today’s world. The news is very relevant to my job, as what’s going on outside of my little world usually affects my work in some way or another. I also like to read blogs (I follow this one “religiously” haha) to get a different perspective on things.

    I am probably strange in the sense that I like to get out of my little world. I like going to different churches, in part because I am shy and it’s good for me to meet new people, and also to see different cultures and perspectives on things. Watching the news, and seeing some of it in real life, makes me appreciate what I have in my own little world much more. It’s going to sound weird because I work in the ER and constantly work with a world of unknowns, but I definitely have my own little comfort zone and doing things outside of that terrify me. I am always afraid of putting myself out there when I meet new people, even more so now because I have been through a lot. But if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone, I would not have met so many cool people, or gotten to participate in blogs like this one!

  14. Twice I have stopped watching T.V. for a year. Now I watch some. It does provide some company for the home bound ( by necessity or choice) who have no relatives or trusted friends. But I limit my viewing to ” The Joy of Painting by Bob Ross, the 24/7 weather station and the occasional decent movie, and sports (very little), I do listen to Rush, Mark Levin, and the local Catholic radio station, and I sometimes listen or watch streaming video or audio of EWTN. I agree whole heartedly about ” keeping your eyes straight ahead and your ears plugged). In our wourld the temptations are all around us, you can’t get away from them. Perhaps if one burried themselves in a cave somewhere it might help. Personally, I don’t care if I’m up to date or not. Doesn’t J. Lo refer to J. Leno.?

  15. The only good rock or pop music today, Katherine, is that which is a throw-back to earlier times.

    In addition to the rap and hip-hop noise mentioned by the Monsignor, around about the early 90s (and I’m guessing that this was about the time you were born, but that is a whole nother matter), rock and the more general pop music basically fell off a cliff. Ever since then, music as a whole has been extremely monotone, repetitive, and bland, with a near absence of both melody and harmony. If I remember correctly, some of the trend-setters in this were The Police and Hootie and the Blowfish, which never exceeded about a three-note range. More in the modern-day, you have the bland U2 (but they go back many years as well). There are some exceptions today, but they are throwbacks having obviously been influenced by prior rock, folk, and r&b groups.

    Going to other parishes is good. Parish-shopping, not so much, but bouncing around once in a while is good, even when you end up going to parishes where you really don’t feel all that comfortable in — too liberal, too conservative, too modern, too traditional, too loud, too quiet, too many old folks, too many young people, good music, bad music, uplifting homilies, and homilies that bore you to death. It’s good going to parishes where you are confronted with people you otherwise might never have anything to do with because we have to remind ourselves that the Church is all one big family. And like any real family, there are people you like, others not so much. But they are all our brothers and sisters, so it is good to go worship with them once in a while, rather than sticking with “our own kind” all the time.

    1. addendum —

      Having said that too much music today is flat and monotone, there is the problem of many singers going to the other extreme, singing with wild swings from one end of the scale to the other, a style known as melisma, as if everyone were trying to copy Mariah Carey (which includes EVERYONE trying out for American Idol). It is all well and good in things like Gregorian chant, if kept within reason (although when they stretch that “Ah” into about 50 notes in singing “Amen,” it is getting to be a bit much), but in modern music, it gets real old real fast.

      1. I respectfully disagree on your comment of music today. I think that there are a lot of bands and singers out there that are wonderful, and a lot of the music that I listen to is not highly publicized. In fact, it is not even on the radio. You have to hear these singers in churches, or by word of mouth to even know that they exist. They have albums out, but they are mostly sold in Europe.

        Also, I was not born in the early 1990’s, but the late 1980’s. I am 22, in case you wanted to know, and while yes, I am young, I have seen a lot for my 22 years that I am not going to divulge all of which on a public forum.

        I do agree with what you stated on going to different parishes. I am very open-minded, however, because I am basically a newcomer to each parish I decide to visit, and therefore must either be completely independent and introduce myself or wait for people to approach me.

      1. You know I guess thats the point about music today, alot of it isnot highly publicized. Back in the day music was a real uniting things. We all listened to just about the same station (WPGC was pop rock in those days and WAVA was album rock in those days) (those days = 70s). We all sorta knew the same songs and there were regular groups that issued albums. Today there is a lot more micro-marketing and music is less a shared expereince. Or so it seems to me (edging toward old fogey that I am).

    2. Yes, for me music in the 60s and 70s was great and very diverse too. What we called Rock or Pop was really a very diverse genre from ballads like Edmund Fitzgerald to hard driving rock like the stones. ELO, Moody Blues et al combined classical riffs, there was slow dance and top tappers. Great variety really.

  16. If one is lucky, one has Sirius Satellite Radio and can leave it on the 70’s station all the time.

    edging toward old fogey that I am – I hit ‘old fogey’ on the 20th. It’s not so bad…

    Bender, what you shakin’ your head for?

  17. Bender, what you shakin’ your head for?

    Oh, I thought you were serious about Hootie Blowfish — I didn’t catch the sarcasm.

    It’s not like my musical universe is tiny — I like anything from the beginning of time until around the 1990s. In succession I could listen to Led Zeppelin to ABBA to John Denver to the Beatles to J.S. Bach to Shania Twain to Cab Calloway to Stevie Wonder to Frank Sinatra to Simon and Garfunkel to Hildegard of Bingen to Glenn Miller to Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash to the Bee Gees to Pagliacci to Evita to Godspell, from rock to folk to jazz to classical to country to opera to r&b to show tunes. But contemporary music? Fuhgeddaboudit.

    And Katherine, I can appreciate you liking music from Europe, but as they say, if it’s not Scottish . . . well, you know the rest. (Actually, I don’t know that there is any good Scottish music — a couple of bagpipe pieces, I guess, but anything else?)

    But Monsignor is right — today there really is no more music radio to speak of, music is marketed more for download than album sales, MTV quit showing music videos years ago in favor of stupid reality shows, and everyone listens to their music on MP3 players with their own personal earplugs, rather than people gathered around the record player or listening in the car while cruising around town.

    1. “and everyone listens to their music on MP3 players with their own personal earplugs”

      Soooo true!!! I recently implented the “no Ipod in the car for trips under an hour rule.” We were going to the grocery strore and all my kids would put themsleves into their individual Ipod bubbles. The radio is fine, and we take turns picking the station, though I have to do a quick switch when certain songs play. Even though the radio gets annoying (I swear they play the same five songs every hour), atleast everyone is together in the same bubble.

  18. Well (Guys and Dolls!) I think Don McLean has a lot going for him with his American Pie and the Day the Music Died. Finally checked it out on the web, and someone has related all the lyrics to musical historical fact. Just in case you’re interested. (The song wasn’t after the end for me; listened to it for a whole day, when I found it on the web!!!) One of the greatest pop-songs ever, I think!

Comments are closed.