Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Astounding Discovery: The Lost Screwtape Letters


I have written before about the great value I have found in reading The Screwtape Letters, (which also seems to be available for free download as an ebook here) a powerful work of human nature by C.S. Lewis that I try and reread around Rosh Hashanah time. As luck would have it, I have gotten my hands on a recently discovered, previously unknown letter, which has only now been discovered, perhaps through a faulty Internet Service Provider. (Apparently, they're now using email.) After exhaustive research, I cannot fully vouch for its authenticity, but I share the letter with you nonetheless.

To: wormwood@pergatory.org
From: exec-vp@pergatory.org
Date: August 27, 2012
Subject: Using a Smartphone for work

My Dear Wormwood,

I am gratified to learn that your subject has recently received a smartphone from his work. Like all implements, this new gadget is nothing more or less than a tool to be used for our purposes, or to bolster the cause of the enemy. I find myself astounded at the myriad of applications our enemy has instigaged in a desperate attempt to minimize the damage these phones can do to their cause. Audio lectures, texts available – I recently learned that they are even developing an application so that a person can study the entire Talmud with a single device.
Contrary to what you might think, these are not negative developments for our cause. Quite the opposite. There is no more titillating experience for us in our work than having your subject use his phone for what he considers to be spiritual purposes, when in fact he achieves almost no benefit at all. Encourage him to download a lecture on a heavy text so that he can listen while he jogs. What emerges is the quite amusing situation in that he thinks that he has spent an hour studying while he runs, freeing him during the rest of his spare time for leisurely pursuits such as watching a baseball game (or, preferably, a situation comedy), when in fact, we know very well that he has not really studied anything at all. At best he has heard the material, and absorbed almost nothing. This is the ideal first step as you slowly reel him into your grasp: to have him feel like he's engaging in valuable, worthwhile endeavors, while in fact he is doing nothing of the sort.
Yet, the smartphone presents a far more delectable opportunity for our purposes. I am not referring to the possibility of his accessing pornography via the phone. That cheap thrill, of course, can be of some value to us, and there are a few rare cases where tempters succeeded in using the pornography to instill a deep sense of guilt that distanced their charge from the bright light of the enemy into the shadows of our Home. Yet, if you wish to tempt to pornography, you will need to steer your subject towards a real computer. No, the smartphone presents even more delicious opportunities for those in our line of work.
With his new phone, your charge will instantly be connected with a myriad of services and websites that previously required him to sit at a computer. He will find himself under a constant barrage of emails from work, friends and other acquaintances that you must convince him to attend to immediately, without delay. Remind him, after all, that he must be constantly available, or he'll be considered a second-rate employee by his boss. Also encourage him to download as many social networking applications as possible, including Facebook (we're still working on that award for Mr. Zuckerberg) but also Google Plus, LinkedIn, and as many applications as possible that share silly pictures, funny quotes, and other useless information.
These applications offer many great benefits to our cause, of which I will share two:
1. They blessedly rob your charge of any free time. One of our greatest dangers is the mere possibility that those under our care spend time in reflection and contemplation. As I have written to you in previous letters (that you have clumsily ignored to this point), our greatest enemy is our subjects' ability and desire to think; to look around the world and contemplate the mystery of the Universe; to wonder about eternal questions. At these moments, our counterparts – when they are wise and quick – lead the man down a road we cannot follow – leading to potentially disastrous consequences.
For this reason, we must thank our Father daily for the curse (blessing to us, that is) of these devices. Armed with such a device, your subject will never, ever have the time to think or contemplate anything. Stuck on the line at the grocery store? Remind him that he's wasting his time, and that he could be spending this "wasted" time doing something far more useful, pointing to his Smartphone. He'll never bother to ask why scrolling through endless vapid comments on Facebook is useful. After all, it's on his Smartphone. (I do love that name! People who use them consider themselves smart! Fantastic!) Get him into the habit of taking out the device whenever there's a lull in his day: on the train to work; during meetings at work; before you know it, you'll have him using the phone during the "boring" periods at religious services – again a win-win for us: he thinks he's praying, while we know that he's answering his email.
2. Yet, this is only a secondary benefit of these wonderful devices to our cause. The main benefit these devices offer us is that they can, when used (by you) properly, drive a subtle, critical wedge between your charge and his loved ones.
You must, ever so slowly, instill in your man a sense of insecurity that causes him to constantly check his phone for updates. As his sense of self-worth diminishes, he will find himself needing to check for new messages with increasing regularity. And, the more he checks the phone and finds comfort from the messages of others, the less self-assured he will become. If you play your cards right, he will begin to evaluate himself solely on the number of "likes" that he receives on a picture he shares, and the number of Facebook friends he has amassed, irrespective of how many of those people he knows (or even cares about).
Moreover, as time progresses, he will begin to think of these virtual relationships as "real", and ignore the very real people in his life. Imagine him sharing a meal with his mother at a local restaurant. As his mother attempts to conduct a conversation with him, she finds him constantly glancing down at his phone to check for updates and messages. She will (assuming her tempter hasn't fallen asleep) blow up at him because she can't get in a word without him checking "that damn phone". You can then, quite easily encourage him to respond with equally righteous indignation, as you insist in his ear that he was, "listening to every word she said." Thus, you have used your phone to distance your man from his beloved mother, and gotten him to blame her for it in the process!
In a way, Wormwood, you are fortunate. Had such tools been available during my tenure, many more of my subjects would have certainly found themselves in our Father's house, and I would have received my well-deserved promotion many centuries ago, instead of having to wait for my previous superior's unfortunate repeated blunders (in which I deny any culpability) that allowed me to achieve the prominent position I now enjoy.
Don't get any ideas. Smartphone or not, you're nowhere near my pay grade. And, I am watching you.

Affectionately yours,
Screwtape