I started re-reading Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and the big idea is the the medium of television actually drives and trivializes our entire cultural conversation. The medium always affects the message. He wrote that 30+ years ago. I think we need to revisit this in terms of social media, especially the short form of Twitter, and the democratizing of the video sound bite with Tiktok, etc. we are losing the ability to think deeply, to communicate, to listen long to one another.
Back in 1985, Postman wrote that the hairdresser an image consultant had replaced the speech writer for our national leaders. I wonder what he would say today? and since the average person now has the potential for an international audience, what would he say to the rest of us? It definitely seems image management is more important than truth and content.
Here is a thoughtful essay on the fact that the leisure we all desire is actually fraught with significant dangers and temptations. Mark Kingwell (the author) is obviously a scholar and his writing cuts across the standard short-attention-span variety of prose that flows in the gutters of the internet (translation: this is not an easy read).
In any case the article is thought provoking and profound. He concludes with something significant. What to do with our time when we don’t have to work to put food on the table? That question brings up the greatest question all: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here anyway? He writes:
“More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship’s microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.
The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.”
And this thought about our social media addiction is the best line I have read in while:
“We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me.”
One of the deepest diseases of human nature is lying. And I am talking about something far more subtle and destructive than bearing false witness to a teacher or police officer in order to get out of trouble. One of the darkest elements of broken humanity is to lie about who we are. To create a false identity and then try to maintain it. The need to hide our pain and sin behind a mask of smiles and virtue.
The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word for a person that wears a mask. It originates with the Greek theater, where actors wore masks to disguise not only their identity but even the sound of their voices. A hypocrite is a kind of actor that pretends to be someone they are not. Traditionally this concept has been reserved for people pretending to be moral, for example religious people, public leaders, or politicians. But the concept is broader than preaching abstinence while practicing indulgence. It includes those of us who stay in character once we have left the stage. The hypocrite is essentially an imposter. We are disgusted to find out that people we respect because of their public persona are actually using their image to cover up a life of corruption and debauchery.
Well, it appears that what was once reserved for politicians and the religious is now a growing temptation for the masses. Perhaps it was there all along. But social media has provided a window into the ubiquity of human deceit. This article in the New York Post discusses growing darkness that lies beneath the surface in social media. The author cites some extreme examples, but anyone with a Facebook account understands this. We are subject to two related temptations: To lie about our own life while believing and comparing ourselves to the lies that our friends are telling. This is no joke.
Maureen Callahan, the author of the article in the NY Post cites an example of Zilla van den Born. “Last year, she uploaded a monthlong series of photos taken on her travels in Southeast Asia — scuba diving, praying in a Buddhist temple, sampling local cuisine — then revealed those images were all the work of Photoshop. She had hidden in her apartment the entire time, duping even friends and family.”
Wow, how bad does life have to be to want to do this? For those of us old enough to remember the ancient world of 10 years ago, all of this is pretty frightening.
Technology is the great magnifier. It has the potential to draw out and magnify the dark side of human nature. And can do this by several magnitudes, all while maintaining the filtered image of a smile.
Here are a few important parts of the article. The whole thing is worth reading and very important.:
‘Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Houston, has spearheaded a similar study [concerning social media].“The idea came to me when my little sister, who was 16, wasn’t invited to a school dance,” Steers, 38, tells The Post. “She told me about logging on to Facebook the very next day and seeing all these pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited.”
“Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms” was co-authored with two other social psychologists and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology last year. Steers cited the work of social psychologist Leon Festinger, who, in 1954, came up with “social comparison theory,” the idea that we measure ourselves in relation to others’ failures and successes.’
Again Callahan writes,
‘Then there are those who aggressively seek out admiration and envy. Google “GoPro proposal” and you’ll get 428,000 hits — people who planned and recorded the moment they got engaged, then uploaded it for global consumption. Some couples live-stream it. Others stage-manage the “set,” then hire professional photographers to capture the moment.
“The engagement thing is so creepy,” says Chelsea Fagan, 26, whose website, The Financial Diet, covers the impact of social media on young women. “There’s this weird arms race now where everything has to be a moment, no matter how private. We always get a lot of responses with weddings and engagements — women spend a lot of money to look ‘Pinterest perfect.’ ”
It’s not just weddings or special events, though. Social-media users spend exorbitant amounts to look like their daily, everyday lives are spent eating the finest food, wearing the most on-trend designs, living a stylish, well-appointed life — no problems.’ (emphasis added)
Do we need any more research confirming that we are VERY distracted As a culture? Do we need more experts warning us about the danger of being constantly wired? Do we actually need someone to tell us that being distracted hinders students from learning?
I am convinced that we need to hear more about this for several reasons. First, the situation isn’t getting any better. Mobile devices are now universal, especially for the younger generation. But gradually older folks are jumping on board. There is no turning back.
Second, the longer we live with connected devices, social media, mobile phones, etc. the more “normal” our distracted state becomes. We become numb to the side effects, and even forget that an undistracted life is possible.
Third, this much distraction is bad for us. The longer we study this subject the more we realize that distraction is hurting our brains, our relationships, and our joie de vivre.
Here is what Larry Rosen has to say:
“Recently my research team observed 263 middle school, high school and university students studying for a mere 15 minutes in their homes. We were interested in whether students could maintain focus and, if not, what might be distracting them. Every minute we noted exactly what they were doing, whether they were studying, if they were texting or listening to music or watching television in the background, and if they had a computer screen in front of them and what websites were being visited.
“The results were startling considering that the students knew we were watching them and most likely assumed we were observing how well they were able to study. First, these students were only able to stay on task for an average of three to five minutes before losing their focus.Universally, their distractions came from technology, including: (1) having more devices available in their studying environment such as iPods, laptops and smartphones; (2) texting; and (3) accessing Facebook…
“So, what was going on with these students? We have asked thousands of students this exact question and they tell us that when alerted by a beep, a vibration, or a flashing image they feel compelled or drawn to attend to that stimulus. However, they also tell us that even without the sensory intrusions they are constantly being distracted internally by thoughts such as, “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook post” or “I wonder if my friend responded to the text message I sent five minutes ago” or even “I wonder what interesting new YouTube videos my friends have liked.” Three-fourths of teens and young adults check their devices every 15 minutes or less and if not allowed to do so get highly anxious. And anxiety inhibits learning.” (emphasis mine)
Kyle Vanhemert of Wired magazine writes about a new social media app (Beme) that is supposed to help us overcome the unreality of our staged, edited, and photoshopped lives on social media. The need is real and the concept has merits, but the review is critical on several fronts. The observation that struck me is a reflection on what has become “the curated self” and how that self is so often different from the real self. And how disappointed we are with our “real selves” and our real lives. Our homes, and our children, our dinners, and our vacations seem so “ho-hum” compared to uninterrupted ecstasy that everyone else enjoys.
“SOCIAL MEDIA APPS encourage us to share certain parts of our lives and particular versions of our selves. Judging by Facebook, you’d think everyone you know is in a happy, healthy relationship—it’s weird to post a status update saying you’re lonely or pining for your ex. Instagram’s no different: You share a pic of your meal at the hot new brunch spot, not the French-bread pizza you just warmed in the microwave.
“You might call this phenomenon the rise of the Curated Self.”
After noting several problems with the app, the author writes, “a more vexing problem might be something closer to the heart of sharing itself. Namely, that for most of us, authenticity is boring. Most of my meals aren’t worth showing off. Most of the sunsets I see aren’t particularly brilliant. This is why Instagram first blew up, after all: Its filters made our ordinary lives look extraordinary. This same appeal holds true for many of today’s most popular social apps. Life is usually more interesting when it’s edited and scrutinized before being rebroadcast.” (emphasis mine)
This makes me wonder if we even know what the real problem is and where it resides. Is everyone else’s life really such a bore that we have to lie about it? Or have we lost a definition of what is worthwhile in life? Are we immersed in deep and rich wonder, but to blinded to see it? And is social media feeding this great deception?
Earlier today my wife and I were speaking about social media. It can be marvelous and miserable. We both dabble in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc to varying degrees. But it is REALLY easy to be carried by the stream of pop culture and join in without thinking. So, we talk about social media. We talk about how it can be both amazing and horrible. We try to learn from our own failures (which are many) and even from the missteps of others. Sometimes when you see several people (or whole crowds) making the same mistake all at once, it appears as a pattern. A kind of constellation of immaturity and bad behavior.
It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media.
The constellation we talked about this morning is the tendency of some people to parade their bad decisions on social media. Sometimes it feels like I am watching someone get another “together forever” tattoo with the name of their new lover, written just beneath the one they ditched last month. It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media. The grand spectacle of folly that was once reserved for gossip rags and the Larry Springer show is now available to all of us. And not just as spectators, we can be on stage, or on the cover. But there is no one to sue for libel, because we wrote it. And, oh yeah, it’s true..
Many of the things I am now able to learn (forced to endure?) about my Facebook friends would have only been available to me in the past if someone had been trying to destroy their reputation through gossip. I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me! It’s not that I want people to lie, I just feel really uncomfortable when people gossip about themselves.
I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me!
And sadly much of this adolescent flaunting is presented with a measure of boldness. “This is who I am, IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY BAD DECISIONS, YOU ARE THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM.” And I do end up with a problem, Facebook only has a “like” button. I could speak up and be perceived as judgmental (a risk I am willing to take because I love my friends), or stay quiet while you document your own personal episode of Jackass for the world to see.
Regret is a powerful experience, tasted by all at some point. And one of the things that makes regret more damaging is publicity. It is one thing to trip and fall. It is another thing to trip and fall on camera and then to see our private moment of shame become a viral experience. It is one thing to be laughed at by a few friends and strangers, it is much harder to endure the scorn of millions. And sadly, this level of regret is more potent when there is a permanent record. What will it be like when the posts you wrote last year, the ones that already embarrass you, can be resurrected to go viral again in 2035. And you think political campaigns are nasty now? It has been said that taking information off the internet is like taking pee out of a pool. Impossible.
So here is my advise:
1. Don’t give into the temptation to make a permanent, public record of every mistake and bad decision that you make. One day you will want people to “forgive and forget.” Don’t make this any harder than it already is.
2. If something might really embarrass you if it ended up on film, then don’t just think twice about posting it on social media, think twice about doing it. Some embarrassing things are perfectly innocent, and we need to learn to laugh at ourselves. Other embarrassing things can hurt us and other people. And the only thing worse than driving toward a cliff, is driving toward it confidently with your foot on the acclerator.
3. Don’t be upset when friends and people that love you (especially older ones) have the courage to tell you that you are making bad choices. There is a strong possibility you will soon agree with them. And you may need their help to clean up the mess.