“We are becoming the servants in thought, as in action, of the machine we have created to serve us”. ~John Kenneth Galbraith
I was recently on my way to a gig when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. We began to chat and she said, “I’ve been seeing you on facebook. You seem so busy. That’s awesome! Congratulations!” I was taken aback for a moment.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that I’m not the only person, who gets on facebook and sometimes feels like everyone else’s life is so much more fabulous than mine.
And, to be clear…my life is the opposite of busy. I’m a songwriter, and a jewelry maker, and as you can see I write these essays. These are all activities that require quiet time. I don’t have noisy kids that need to be carted everywhere, or messy relationships that need to be sorted out. For the most part, I live a fairly quiet and uneventful life. To me, life is about balance.
I’m not interrupted incessantly by texts messages and notification. I don’t watch or look at the news everyday. I’m a quality over quantity type of gal and I’ve never been too impressed with information overload. Which, given our gilded age of technological advancement; and the seemingly, universal celebration of “the glory of all things information” is a genuinely inconvenient predilection to have.
It’s seem’s like there’s a premium these days on being busy. Everywhere I go, I hear people lamenting about how busy they are; and most don’t elaborate much about what they’re busy doing. Like it’s some massive faux pas when asked what you’ve been up to, to say, “Oh ya know, taking time to smell the roses. I sit outside a lot, drink coffee, listen to birds sing, and make stuff”.
For a while now I’ve thought the problem was just me. After all, I can be, well, a little particular. I kept wondering why I can’t just stand up and fly right and embrace the movement like everyone else?
Why can’t I develop an umbilical attachment to my smartphone? Why can’t I find witty repartee to share and tweet for every benign moment in my life? When I go to dinner with friends, why am I almost always the only one, who doesn’t have my phone on the table? Why can’t I look at selfies as sharing rather than see them as a public billboard that says, “Really, I don’t even have a friend to take my picture right now?” And why, oh why, can’t I believe that my life in 2 sentence, one hundred and sixty character snippets, is truly interesting to other people?
Really! I want to drink the Kool-Aid! I really do! Life’s easier when you drink the Kool-Aid. I’ve learned this the hard way. I remember once when I was a teenager being at a party, where I was the only one not tripping on ‘shrooms’…trust me when I tell it was not pretty to witness, and that’s a lot of what this feels like now.
But, now, I’m not sure it just me. My epiphany came in two parts. The first is the recent conversations [over the past few months] I’ve had with almost everyone I know, who almost unanimously report feeling more, and more, disconnected and isolated; and not knowing why? When by all standards we are by far more connected.
The second, is the recent, rapid, accelerated, mutation of facebook “social network” to facebook “social advertising agent” (and socio-economic experimental database). Where we can now “sponsor” our posts for hard earned cash or fall to the waste side of “obscurity” if we are unwilling to drop coin. All of this insidiously coupled with the subtle shift in facebook’s user format into two different news feeds ‘most recent’ or ‘top story’. It doesn’t really take a brain surgeon to figure out why these changes were rolled out at the same time.
What I’ve noticed about social networks is that it seems like there are particular personality types that thrive and succeed on them. It requires a psychological finesse with a healthy dose of bloated self-importance; coupled with an engaging sense of humor. It requires understanding, how to be just enough about yourself that viewers want to be about you; while at the same time appearing just enough about others [or world peace, or inner zen, or anything that appears altruistic] that people are convinced that you care about something other than yourself. The kind of personality that’s more comfortable projecting who’d they like to be rather than just honestly being who they are.
I say viewer because to some degree that’s what we are becoming to one another. This kind of engagement is the opposite of intimacy. But when mastered, you can be fooled, or fool people into feeling, [at least for an instant] that maybe they are experiences something better than intimacy: instant, gratifying, attention. All it requires is maintaining a consistent, relatable, endearing, responsive persona.
It’s like there’s this strange vortex, where we can’t quite see yet, the line between our natural human urge to want to be liked; and our live’s as one long, continual presentation where we are neither genuinely liked, nor disliked but rather we are disdained, ignored or admired. It’s as if we’re all becoming micro-corporations even when the only thing we’re selling is ourselves.
That, to me is at the core of why so many of us are feeling isolated in this sea of connectedness. We are viewers and posters. Whether it’s social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, youtube, chat rooms, whatever, pick your poison; but none of those activities are anything like genuine conversation or genuine engagement. And because of social networks, and text messaging, and dating sites, and instant entertainment at our fingertips 24/7; I think many of us are staying home more, and more, and gathering in real time, less and less. Unfortunately, instant gratification tends to disappear just as instantly; leaving us helplessly hungry for more.
We used to sit in kitchens, and porches, and bedrooms and dens, hanging out, talking, laughing, crying, confessing…we still do, but not nearly as often; and almost never are those moments uninterrupted by our devices anymore. More and more, we sit alone (even when we’re with people), texting, while we’re check something on a social network; while we’re doing our laundry; while we’re glancing at a tv; while we’re IM-ing with someone else; while we’re checking stats on the new on-line business we’re launching; while we’re reworking the marketing approaches to our new on-line business; while we’re ordering takeout. While we’re studying SEO’s. While we’re typing a proposal. While we’re touching up the photos we took from the outing we took last Sunday. While we’re editing a video. While we’re writing a song. While we’re re-working a budget. While we’re…
This, I’m pretty sure is what most people who tell you “they’re so busy” are pretty much doing. Multi-tasking, on top of multi-tasking, on top of multi-tasking, rarely giving any one thing our undivided focus and attention. Which begs the question are we busy? Or are we just running as far and as fast as we can from the human condition of loneliness; head long into a vacant chasm? Many of those things lead to tangible achievements [outside, in the real world] but I would venture to guess that if we break it down only a small percentage of those multi-tasked activities actually contributed to tangible activities and/or achievements.
From what I can tell. We are not being encouraged to have a conversation about this. Everywhere we turn we are being asked to ignore the question and just drink the Kool-Aid; imploring us not to be left behind. Not surprisingly, this message comes most strongly from the corporations that are most heavily invested in us embracing their products. I keep coming back to an advertisement I’ve seen a number of times for iPhone. Here’s a link to the ad on youtube: http://youtu.be/ODmfmUWqlSA
In it, we see musicians, and performance artists, dancers, scientist, athletes, choreographers all connecting, and seemingly being creatively inspired, and becoming their Best-ist selves through their devices; while a song (by The Pixie’s) with the benign lyrics of, “Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic, big, big, love” are couched in an infectious groove, with images that urge us to be part of the “movement”. I’m almost sold till the closing clip.
A woman is standing, in what we presume to be a school gym, with children sprawled out on sleep bags on the floor; as she magically projects an astronomically correct projection of the celestial sky with the names of the constellations on to the ceiling through her magical [iPhone] device. That one snip-it is the ad’s undoing. Because,when I see it all I can think is, “Why is that better than just turning the damned phone off and taking the kids camping?” Do we really believe that an artificial reproduction of the stars in a gym, is somehow more spectacular than witnessing the real thing? What are we really teaching them when we keep widening the divide and separating our children from nature? We’re teaching them to drink the Kool-Aid! Because the further those kids get from experiencing and understanding nature first hand, the more intimated they will become by it.
The most painful thing I see today is parents buried in their smart phones while their infant child sit, helplessly unstimulated, staring at their parents who aren’t looking back at them. Go to any airport, or laundromat, or anywhere people are “waiting” and you’ll see this. We think it’s just a second. It never is. It’s lots and lots of consecutive seconds, as a continual distraction. And what’s being communicating every time our eyes are focused on a phone rather than our children is “this is more important than you” and “this is more interesting than you”.
There’s also mounting evidence that this is hindering, the ability for our children to develop basic vocabulary, and rudimentary communication skills. Because, early language learning is heavily dependent on eye contact. What that’s going to translate too when these kids grow up is anybodies guess?
I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe there really is no way to stop the train. But I do think it worth talking about. In real time, face to face, where people have the time and space to muse, ponder, question and perhaps even change their minds. This is a dialogue that can’t be vetted intelligently via any communication device. Nor should this discussion be interrupted by them. Because, while we may care deeply what direction that train heads I can assure you, that the train has absolutely no concern whatsoever, where it takes us. It’s up to us to decide.