Op-Ed for Thursday, 8 January 2015
Facebook and push-notifications are slave-drivers, no? If I don’t log in frequently, messages and notifications pop up. Every group I join creates more notifications, so either I must choose to no longer join new groups, delete groups as I join new ones, or spend time turning notifications off in which case I don’t know what happens in the groups I join. Fun. If I only sign in a couple times a day, I certainly don’t have time to check all the notifications or messages. Repeat confusing cycle.
So yes, even those of us not on social media much are affected. Yet, like the ice-cream you may have had at your grandmothers, don’t we all want real people, real interaction, real affection? But we have social media. Or, rather, digital society. Hmm. Ironic.
There are seven ironies of social media that, with varying degrees of seriousness, can be found in all kinds of social media and reduce your quality of life. I know this is not only an unpopular message and not only a subjective message (to some), but is also an ironical message in itself, for I’m preaching from my little soapbox of a blog. Yippee.
I hope you’ll consider what I have to say, though, especially in light of our post from New Year’s Day way back Then when you still hadn’t failed miserably in your New Year’s Resolution(s).
Media Ecologist Quentin Shultze reminds us of Alexis de Tocqueville and Václav Havel warning that “moral responsibility” is “a prerequisite to democratic life” (Habits of the High-Tech Heart, 17). He continues, “Unless we cultivate virtuous character with as much energy and enthusiasm as we pursue cyber-technologies, our technological mindedness and habits will further unravel the moral fabric of society” (17). Is he right? Consider this question as it pertains to:
- your personal Self—who you are, what it means to be you, how you are secure or insecure in what and who you are, etc.
- the time you spend on a smart phone, tablet, TV, or computer
- the way you communicate (text vs. note, skype vs. personal visit, etc.)
- how you feel after using technologies, or when you hear them chime or vibrate (and if you’ve never considered how you feel, it’s time to start…)
Each of the above bullet-points is impacted deeply by our use of digital tools, especially social media. To the point of this post:
There are 7 ironies of social media and the way we use technology today that, as each builds upon one another, fundamentally alter how you think of yourself and others and, thus, how you treat yourself and others. Moreover, awareness of these ironies can lead to you making important changes in how to treat and communicate to others. In turn, this effects how you please the Lord.
Consider the first two here and, over the next two Thursdays, we’ll give ironies 3-7.
7 Ironies of Social Media: 1-2
1. ...the Actual becomes Virtual
Social Media thrives on connectivity. But of what to what? Is it possible we’re actually never further apart than when on social media? Can the human being sustain itself as human when it digitizes itself? If you’re an evolutionist, perhaps so. The Singularity sees no inherent value in the permanence of Flesh and Bone. And while it closed its doors in 2006, the Extropian Institute lives on in cyberspace (of course) in the efforts of many thinkers and scientists devoted to “Transhumanism” (read more about this movement here, here, and here). “H+”, as Transhumanism is often known, is the (here loosely defined) idea that the increasing merger of tech and flesh is not just beneficial, but imperative for Man to advance and fulfill his capabilities, even surpassing them and becoming something more. In other words, the fusion of Machine and Man is the next, necessary, and important phase of our evolution. We must embrace it. Max More, founder of Extropian Institute, put it like this:
We can attain higher peaks only by applying our intelligence, determination, and optimism to break out of the human chrysalis…Our bodies…restrain our capacities.
To many such thinkers, the Body is optional—unessential to what it means to be Human—or perhaps, if not optional to our existence, peripheral. To some degree, they see us purely in evolutionary terms. You can (at least) applaud the consistent thinking of this syllogism:
Premise 1: No Flesh is essential to Human nature.
Premise 2: All Human nature is changeable.
Conclusion: Therefore, all changeable (human nature) can become non-Flesh.
I’m a Christian, however, and reject the inherent Gnostic quality of such philosophical movements and syllogisms. I believe what the Scripture teaches me: from dust I am, and to dust I shall return, but I have been endowed in God’s image, including knowledge, righteousness, and holiness—including body/spirit. Yet one day—at the Judgment we all must face—my body will be reconstituted from its molecular nothingness (you know, if it rots long enough!) and will live again, body and soul joined anew into eternity. Yes: pure hogwash to others (like Darwinists).
I wonder: is it perhaps a little Gnostic to spend so much time on the Virtual when we are embodied creatures? Yes. I think it is. Gnosticism is old. Christianity beat it once, and will again.
We live in tension, then, in a world that moves increasingly digital and urges us to do the same. The iPhone represents salvation for some, connecting loved ones to family members far away. But none of them, I believe, would prefer this to actual presence. Yet we act like this all the time in the ways we take what is actually us—thoughts, hopes, wishes, dreams, ideas, images—and project them into binary code onto a two-dimensional screen. The amount of time we spend putting what’s actual reality into virtual reality increases all the time, even while we continue to gather and worship a God who became flesh.
Such tension is staggering, and I often wonder how it can be maintained by anyone as years tick by. Perhaps this is why many find the worship of the Church anemic, insubstantial, and why Protestant services that have embraced ancient liturgies, incense, sweeping architectures, and intense colors and robes show an increased attendance, at least for a while. People inherently know there ought to be more to worship than is offered in the virtual and transient. They’re looking for gravitas, and (perhaps) the more they spend time on social media, the less they’re able to “taste” the weight of personal presence on Sunday morning. Yet inversely, the more they spend time on social media, the more they need Sunday morning!
We do this in more places than worship and social “outings” that are actually chat-rooms, etc.,: in the classroom (“A computer in every classroom—and for every child!”), in the workplace (the “cloud” and such), and with our libraries (kindle, etc.). We’re constantly exchanging presence for virtualness.
We shouldn’t be so reductionist, and we live against our nature as flesh and bone, 3-D creatures (with smells and sounds and tastes, too) the more we take what is Actual and make it Virtual. Perhaps we should be more at war with such thinking, cozying up as we are, inviting to our homes these doorways to the (ironically phrased) “virtual way of life“, carrying them in pockets, and leaving them beckoning us in every room and wall. Perhaps the iPhone 6 bending and warping when you put it in your pocket too often for too long is less ironical and more prophetic!
2. ...the Real becomes Fake.
You take a picture. It’s lovely…sort of. But it’s the best representation you were able to snap. Don’t stop there! Now you can make it lovelier. Of course, that makes it faker. You crop it, twist it, turn it, lighten the image, darken it, add a filter of some kind, put the haze-corners on it—anything to make it better than it was. What might have been bad art (but real) now becomes better art (but fake). I understand this is somewhat subjective. After all, we don’t begrudge a professional from using all the tools at his disposal to make a compelling picture become life-altering.
We have all had photographers change our perspectives on famine, war, and far-flung other-worldly creatures and places all through a carefully shot and cleaned-up image. I don’t necessarily mind this. However, at their best, they’re not taking a real picture and making it fake. They are eliminating the shortcomings of the film in order to capture what is truly there. This is the difference between your Instagram account and a genuine artistic photograph that seeks to bridge the gap between There and Here, the Past and the Present, in such a way that I can always have the There Here and the Past Present. Of course, if you don’t give a rip and just want a cool money shot, then hey: holla! Go for it. But you’re living in irony. And it’s fake. And that ought to give you pause for thought. After all, you’re spending an awful lot of irretrievable life in a world of fakery and shenanigans.
Now, we hope this has whet your appetite to return next week, and I want to be sure you understand what I’m doing and not doing.
I am not doing the following:
- digging into one or several Scriptural passages, proving a vital doctrinal point for everyday living. That’s what Fridays are for around here. That’s all we do on Fridays.
- saying technology will kill you. However, if you hear of a company called SkyNet, run. Don’t ask questions. Just run. Because that will kill you.
- claiming the only real life is a rural life away from the Web and Twitter, etc.
What am I doing here? I am…
- claiming that social media has an immediate, psychological, and sometimes physical impact on you, relationships, and especially, Christians who are inherently a people together.
- asserting the impacts it has are highly ironic for what they promise, and what they actually bring or do.
- thinking forwards—thinking philosophically—about what it means to be made in the image of God, how we use tools of our invention, and what they do to us, and why it matters, and what to do about it.
In short, I want you to think about what I have to say here. If that’s worked, I’m thrilled, and hope you will return the next two Thursdays for the remaining ironies of lives devoted and heavily invested in social media.
Now, please be sure to share, tweet, and pin this article all over the place, and by all means, do not think about the irony of that.