Immigration, Technology, and Distraction

By: Chris Johnson

“When making plans for the weekends, more Americans are trading real-life social interactions for at-home digital entertainment, whether it be video games or television, according to Labor Department data,” the Federalist reports. “The data reflects an accelerating trend since lockdowns: more and more Americans are seduced by cheap dopamine hits from the couch.”

As we’ve been warned for decades, Americans more and more are seeking relief from the struggles of everyday life in the solace and distraction of our digital devices. Whether through pornography, video games, or just regular social media, more of Americans’ time and energy is being sapped every day by the virtual worlds we carry around in our pockets.

But while Americans seek moments of escape from the real world in favor of the one on the screen, people from around the world experience the digital world differently.

I’ll never forget my mission trip to Guatemala a little over a decade ago. I remember anticipating our plane’s touchdown, flying over Guatemala City and the jungle around it, and catching glimpses of more remote villages.  From above, the city looked so different from American cities: the tin roofs, the patternless colors of adobo houses. The shoulder high piles of trash on the street corners. The thought hit me as we descended, “why did God drop my soul into a newborn’s body in Michigan, rather than have me be born here?”

I’m so grateful that he did, and my keenness towards His grace grew sharper as I spent more time there. We were building houses in a little village called La Reina near Volcán de Fuego (which erupted in 2018 and destroyed much of the village). They were little, 12×15 or so, one room, adobo houses – steel framed so that termites wouldn’t destroy them. As we worked, we had the opportunity to see inside a neighbor’s home.

As I passed through the bedroom (this lucky woman had several rooms in her house), the tv was playing. In fact, my favorite show – Psych on the USA Network – was on. So, I stood there for a moment, watching my favorite show on a tiny little TV in an adobo house which didn’t even have glass in the windows, as the characters had a conversation (dubbed in Spanish of course) in front of a Santa Barbera, California – which is where the show takes place – mansion.

For a moment, I caught a glimpse of how the third world must see the way we live. They get our hand-me-down clothes, they watch our TV shows, listen to our music, nowadays (not yet at that point) they watch our Instagram videos and TikTok reels, and then they look up from their screens and see… not that.

It is no wonder that so many dream of coming to America.

That’s what I mean when I say they experience the digital world differently. While we may escape reality in the distractions of virtual experiences, they must look through those devices as a window into a better world – one they can get to in about three months of hard traveling.

Recently I’ve dug a little bit into what migrants experience during those months of travel. Often when we think about our immigration problem, we’re considering the border. We look at how migrants negotiate fence lines, and checkpoints, and the Rio Grande, and the desert, and immigration officials, but we don’t think about how those people got to the border.

Whether it’s crossing the unmapped jungles of the Darien Gap or riding the North bound train through Mexico known as La Bestia (the Beast) or dodging immigration officials and cartel members along the way, the trip is long and dangerous.

It really is incredible, what people go through to get here, drawn, in part, by the digital content we create which, if we’re honest, usually only presents the very best moments of our lives. Few of our ugly moments are uploaded to Instagram or Facebook, so Americans’ best times are the picture that the rest of the world has of American life, for the most part.

Of course, not all digital content is vapid self-promotion, thankfully, and some of it can even give us a glimpse into what the road is like for migrants as they journey from Central America to the United States. YouTube has several series of folks documenting the dangerous trip, I can recommend those done by Bald and Bankrupt as both enjoyable and educational, although it’s clear that we would disagree on how to deal with the immigration crisis and he also uses foul language.

What stood out to me in those videos was how those living along this busy route appear to be part of a culture of helping and encouraging travelers in their mission to enter the US illegally. Railway workers tell migrants which trains will be coming through slowly enough to hop on. Folks throw food and warm clothes onto to the top of the train to support the riders. People warn the walkers that immigration is ahead and they need to find another route to get around them. The Nicaraguan president apparently purposefully does not require passports from nations like………knowing that citizens of those country will use Nicaragua as the starting point for their journey to the United States.

And technology not only serves to draw people to migrate illegally, it provides the means for them to do so. Human smugglers no longer need to accompany their cargo, at least not all the time. Instead, they can send them coordinates or directions to the next stop or safehouse. They can even accept payment over the phone.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any grand solution to all of this. I don’t even know of anyone trying to make policies targeting these issues, or of any suggestions towards policies they might make.

But what stands out to me, is that while foreign nationals are looking at their devices, dreaming of being here in the United States, and using the technology to plan a miserable, uncomfortable, dangerous, even sometimes deadly trip to get here, Americans are using the exact same technology to distract themselves from the lives those migrants dream of.

“…Trading real-life social interactions for at-home digital entertainment… seduced by cheap dopamine hits from the couch.” That’s what we do with the blessings we’ve been given, we distract ourselves from them.

Whatever happens with the border crisis, Americans need to take responsibility for ourselves. God has blessed beyond what we even have the power to appreciate and we must not let that go to waste.


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