Antisocial media: the isolation of over-connectedness
May 19, 2016
I spend a lot of time online. Too much time, truth be told. I’m considering taking a serious social media hiatus this summer, with a house full of children and a backyard filled with wading pools.
And maybe this time I won’t come back.
I don’t mean I’d stop blogging. Just that I’d stop with the other stuff. The posting and cultivating an online presence. The consuming of news culled from anonymous “relationships” on Twitter, the ingestion of a never-ending stream of content and beauty, captivating though it may be, from a thousand different sources on Instagram. And the everything on Facebook, that deepest-seated enemy of human productivity. (At least for this early adapter.)
I don’t think the human mind was much designed for endless scrolling. And it’s making me stupid.
Stupid, and discontented.
I know that’s a crazy thing to say given that I am, in fact, a writer who depends upon the internet to promulgate her work. The irony is not lost on me.
But the internet, increasing, is becoming less of a tool for me and more of a master. I’m stuck in Q1 with inboxes from multiple platforms overflowing, demanding daily attention, and then, tired from so much reacting, I sit and I scroll, mindlessly consuming and consuming and consuming until suddenly, it’s 10 pm and I’ve read some fascinating things about artisanal cheese-making and travel tips for the summer season but I’ve also seen a lot of pictures of weird celebrity awards show couture and pictures of Scandinavian living room furniture groupings. And bohemian paint colors.
So poor me, I work online and the online world is working me over. Boo hoo, right?
Here’s the thing; I believe that God has called me to the work I’m doing now in this little space, telling truths and distilling teachings and connecting cultural dots…and I also believe He is calling me to something bigger and, for me, much, much more challenging.
And it’s my neighborhood.
It’s the real world.
It’s my friend across the street who has given me bags and bags of adorable girl’s clothing and sippy cups over the years, and has never heard a word from me about Jesus.
It’s the guy at Costco who compliments me on my kids’ behavior, despite the number of them, and who gets a vague half smile and a half answer when he presses, wanting to know if we’re “done” now.
It’s the girl in my mom’s group at church who is really hurting, who doesn’t have a dozen girlfriends and sisters at her beck and call and is hungry for real fellowship with a living, breathing human person.
Those are all areas where I’m so much more comfortable hiding behind a screen.
I frequently field comments along the lines of “I’d never be brave enough to say/write that…” but the truth is, it’s easy to be brave online. Just like, I imagine, it’s easy to be truly horrible online.
The cost is modest. The stakes are low. And while it takes a certain thickness of skin to speak truth to darkness, it takes a far thicker skin to say it in person, in love, to someone in real relationship with you.
I love the online community I’ve found in the Catholic blogosphere and through connecting with other women. And some of those relationships are undeniably real, though limited in their depth and scope. But the ones that have grown and developed have involved taking further steps: phone calls, voxes, in-person meet ups while traveling. Participating in a deeper way in each other’s lives. So while they may have been planted in social media, they’ve bloomed in reality.
Social media has an ability to bring people together. But it also has a chilling segregating effect, enabling little intellectual ghettos, little echo chambers, to coexist almost entirely unbeknownst to one another, helping to foster the illusion that everyone else is like me, everyone else understands this.
And we who live under the dictatorship of relativism are hard pressed to find common ground, with all truths being subjective and all options being equally valid, to converse in a truly productive fashion with those who hold differing opinions.
If we disagree mildly, it’s inconvenient. If we disagree strenuously, we turn away from one another in disgust, branding the Other a bigot, a hater, a whatever-phobic.
There is no room for relationship. We’re all so utterly detached from one another, thanks to our screens and our self-imposed lines of segregation drawn across our newsfeeds and curated, click by click, by our own preferences and points of view.
When I encounter my neighbor, smiling awkwardly from behind her own garbage can as we drag our blue beasts to the curb, we exchange bland small talk about the weather, the downed tree limbs from the recent storm, the impending end of the school year. I don’t know what she thinks about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts, or who she’s going to vote for in November, or whether or not she’s considering taking her kids on a mission trip to Malaysia or if her marriage is in trouble. I don’t even know how old she is, to be honest.
And we scurry back inside, comfortably at ease from the up-closeness that breeds such a particularly American kind of discomfort. It’s the same reason I don’t know a thing about the girl who makes my favorite cappuccino down the street at Peets, but in Italy, at All Brother’s Bar outside St. Peter’s Square, I had Tonio’s email address and knew his children’s names. He would take Joey in his arms and bounce him behind the counter as he pulled shot after shot of sweet black gold, filling orders and calling out greetings to his patrons while bouncing a blonde toddler on his hip.
I want that kind of life again.
(I want that kind of coffee again, while we’re on the subject.)
I want the kind of forced closeness and relationship that seemed to come so effortlessly and so inevitably in Italy, where my language skills were so limited, but my relationship skills were challenged and strengthened just by grocery shopping.
And I don’t want to romanticize things because boy, we had our struggles there, and I would have given a dozen friendly baristas for one close mommy friend or a sister down the block in Rome. But there was something utterly communal, in the deepest sense of the word, about how we lived there.
And I want to live that way again.
And I think I can…or at least, I think I can make a go at it. I’m sure we’ll never find another Tonio, not in suburban Colorado anyhow. But I think I can slam the laptop shut for the bulk of the daytime hours and wander out into my neighborhood with my phone holstered safely in my bag or, better yet, left to charge alone on the counter. Maybe I can walk the 15 endless feet that separate our two driveways and invite Steph over for a glass of wine on the porch. (The introvert in me recoils in terror)
Maybe I can answer in the most powerful way possible the question of what’s wrong with this crazy world we’re living in? with the one thing that’s ever really changed the world: a sincere gift of self.