Op-Ed for Thursday, 15 January 2015
In case you’re just tuning in, this is part 2 of a 3-part series on the ironies of lives that heavily use social media. As they used to say, knowledge is power. Guns are power, too, but if you don’t know how to use the gun, it’s just a heavy nut-cracker.
If you’d like to get caught up, last week’s post can be read here. So what are reasons 3 and 4 for why the “Instragrammed Life” is a life that unwisely embraces irony?
3. ...Context Gives Way to Chaos
No politician can be successfully elected unless he memorizes, “They took that out of context.” While “they” may or may not have done so, the Instagrammed Life is one that is decontextualized. Pictures, statements, etc., exist in no context except the world you, or another human, have created in social media that may, or may not, be accurate to the real world. And you can’t really know which it is. In short, Instagramming and living in the virtual world increases decontextualization. The result is an increase in subjectivism. The result is a high risk of chaos.
At its heart, what you think and feel and believe is irrelevant to the truth of what is. If Truth is really out There, whether you are there with it or not changes nothing about Truth.
It really is unfair to turn anyone’s speech into a soundbite or a piece of writing into a blurb. The idea behind a “book blurb” is somewhat ridiculous. On the one hand, you wouldn’t want to judge the content of a book by its cover art but you probably would judge it by the blurbs and recommendations. I do this all the time. This isn’t immoral per se. We don’t have time to read several chapters before we decide to buy more. We need book blurbs. If they accurately summarize and contextualize an author’s work, and only if this is done, they are valuable because they direct us to what is true and away from chaotic interpretations that vary like the stench blowing over from a garbage dump on a windy day.
It would be better for a book to have no writing and only a giant “?” on the cover than to have a comment or two from the book ripped from the context in a way that diminishes meaning rather than advances it.
This is the key question to ask: is truth advanced, or is it retarded? At least with a giant Question Mark you would pick the book up in curiosity and wonder what you’ve found. That’d be better than chaotic blurbs directing you away from a conduit of truth in valuable books.
Social media isn’t the New Satan for Decontextualization. However, it does decrease context in three ways, thus increasing the risk of choas in meaninglessness:
⋅ It bifurcates people from their personality, replacing the personality and (sometimes) the people with emoticons, reduced language, and aesthetic blandness. Think about it. What best represents your joy: your laugh, or “LOL”? And let us not forget the ultimate: ROTFLOL/LMFAO. Only one transfers onto social media. Besides being a horrible Miley Cyrus movie, “LOL” is an inaccurate blurb describing a genuine reality, ripping the latter from the context of the Person. You can see this nowadays by people saying, “I literally laughed out loud.” Nowadays, we have to make sure you know we mean it. Literally.
Schultze says, “Perhaps the most important question should be whether our cyber-practices are making us better persons and our society more civil and democratic” (18). On his February 17, 2009 broadcast, Bill O’Reilly said on The O’Reilly Factor, and I think he was right,
“The Internet has made cyber-bullying an industry.”
It certainly is extremely easy to bully and destroy from a distance. It is very hard to do so, in the same way, in person. The Internet’s essence is disembodied and decontextualized. Thus, the more time you spend in the digital realm, the greater a chance you have of dehumanizing yourself and others since you do not have to face or reckon with the person on the other side.
⋅ It fosters shallow thinking. Studies have shown that the attention span needed for prolonged and carefully sustained thought is reduced by the amount of time you spend on social media. Even the medium of Digitalia itself could tell us this. Quoting Robert MacNeil, Neil Postman says,
The idea… “is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required…to pay attention to no concept, no situation, no scene, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 105).
So, while we think our lives are increasingly well-lived, we are actually reducing the likelihood we’re thinking about reality with sustained attention, which inevitably means we don’t live life well. Now, maybe you don’t care about that. I knew a girl once who, in her own words, didn’t “want to think” when she watched TV. Well, so be it. But don’t dare claim you’re then in service to the Lord of All, Jesus Christ. Because where your mind goes, so goes your heart. And where your heart goes, so is your faith and religion.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:1-2).
We can argue with Paul, but doing so is tantamount to arguing with God, unless you reject that what Paul said then is what God says to us now.
If you refuse to submit your mind to Christ, to whom are you submitting it? We all gotta serve somebody.
⋅ Promotes aesthetics over content. It is striking how careful arguments won’t be heard if the packaging sucks. It’s been said Nixon lost the first televised debate to JFK during the Presidential election cycle of 1960 because he looked worse, and that people who listened via radio rather than watched the debate on TV believed Nixon won the debate. Translate that to a blog page, or news page, and we subtly reject or accept arguments based on aesthetics. Ever felt like pretty people get more attention? Yeah, same principle.
4. ...The Embodied is Exchanged for the Ethereal
You dial Skype (it’s dialed…right?). They pick up. What is really happening? You’re bridging time and space for a connection, right? Sort of.
Skype is little more than the most advanced and complete disembodied communication instrument we have. Like it’s distant ancestor, the hand-delivered message, note, or letter, Skype allows people not inhabiting the same space and time to communicate. At its best, Skype allows this in real-time. Skype, too, though, is still not multi-dimensional like a letter or note. You can add perfume to a letter, triggering an entirely different set of emotional responses than could Skype. You touch the same paper your loved one touched so far away, putting pen to paper just for you. Skype doesn’t do this. In its essence, Skype reduces the dimensions and sensations previous forms of communication could convey. What we’ve gained in seeing, and in some sense hearing, part of the other person has cost us some, too.
I’m not arguing Skype is not helpful or good. Only that it is incomplete and has ironies inherent within it, especially that it takes what is embodied in personal communication and sensory perception and reduces it to limited sight and sound. It takes what is most embodied and reduces or exchanges it for something else. As Ty Kiisel puts it,
“Technology is intended to enhance our ability to collaborate, not replace the need for personal interaction.”
At times, I’d like nothing more than to hear and see the voice of a loved one. Soldiers on the battlefield hearing their baby—whom they’ve never seen since he was born while they were deployed…this is all priceless. Like I said, Skype serves a valued purpose.
But when it becomes a tool upon which we depend….
Scripture constantly presupposes an embodied, personified community.
Pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… (James 1:27)
It’s impossible to visit virtually. To Skype (or Instagram or some other digital arena) is not to “visit” the way Scripture intends. When the personal touch is impossible—or in the possibility that it might be preferable—Skype and the like would be acceptable. But Scripture sets forth a standard by which all else is to be measured “success” or “failure.” And if you really disagree, prove my point by answering the following question: would you pay $1,000 to watch on TV the Superbowl, World Series, Stanley Cup Series, or your favorite band? No, we didn’t think so. You pay money to be there, and you do so because you know it’s completely different.
Scripture sets forth an embodied presence because God made us in such a way that adjacent bodies impact one another differently than those that are not. This has been proven conclusively with infants whose mothers reject them or ignore them. I wonder why we grow into adults who forget this lesson. I also wonder what you’re teaching your children by bringing your mobile phone and social media accounts to your supper table, conversations with others and your kids, and to your marriage bed. Do you even think about it?
To recap, what I’m calling “The Instagrammed Life” is a life so deeply infected with social media and the realm of Digitalia that you may not even know it, and even if you are aware of how thoroughly your heart and mind are intertwined to these devices, are you aware of these three ironies?
- the Actual Becomes Virtual
- the Real Becomes Fake
- Context Gives Way To Chaos
- The Embodied is Exchanged for the Ethereal
Please, give it thought. Comment here with any questions or arguments or thoughts. The conversation is, at least, worth having.
Come back next week for ironies 5-7 and our conclusion.