Twitter = Set 45 min timer
Facebook = Mute
Podcast #1 = Unfollow
Instagram = Uninstall
Podcast #2 = Unfollow
This is what I found myself doing the other day when I realized my mental, emotional and spiritual states were not right. I was increasingly feeling angry and annoyed for no reason, apathetic, cynical, pessimistic, burdened.
I didn’t do it because I think that my account, or these apps and podcasts, are bad in and of themselves. I did it because I realized that in today’s world, particularly online, it seems we no longer have agency.
To be clear, I don’t think that is actually the case, I think it only appears to be so - though it sure seems very real. And, in a world where appearance is mistaken for reality, many of us have been living enslaved to the binary codes that make up the online sphere we so desperately want to belong to.
I’ve yet to hear one person who feels 100% okay with spending hours on end scrolling. Who is 100% unaffected by the bombardment of news and the constant stream of comments and twitter threads. Who remains immune to the comparison trap the online world magnifies, to gossip, to the perception others have of you, to the aspirational nature of it all, to the ideas, the opinions, the news, the ‘expert advice.’ We all feel it. Yet, we are unable to escape.
If we were to pull the plug we would be uninformed, bored losers because many of us - and this is yet another victory of appearance vs. reality - believe online life is real life.
One of the podcasts I listen to was discussing something along these lines recently. One of the hosts brought up how it's so easy to think that online life is real life, when the total number of online users is still well below the total global population.
Facebook and YouTube reign supreme at the time of writing, with 2.5bn and 2bn users respectively, and that is still approximately 5bn less than the total global population. Twitter pales in comparison with only 330m users. Why does it seem then, for those of us in it, that it is so much louder and transcendental than it is?
Yes, to be sure, these are large numbers, but they are still insufficient to reflect the majority of the population, you know...those that we post about, but don’t really even know.
I should say, at this point, that if in reading this you are mentally calling me out, you’re right. Isn’t there just a smidge of hypocrisy in every critique we utter? Everything we criticize, to a degree, we’ve done. So yes, I’m still on social media. I’ve started podcasts and I am currently trying to grow an online blog. But, I should clarify, nothing that I’ve said so far is with the intent of harnessing a rallying cry to “shut down the internet!” On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful tool, and one I am deeply grateful for every day as it allows me to connect with friends and family while being physically far from home. It has allowed me to find great reads, to learn new things, to ponder new ideas and even develop new skills.
What I am saying though, is that every once in a while it is not only healthy but also essential to step back, look around, look within and take stock. To step outside our online comfort zone and listen to voices you don’t agree with. To not settle with an echo chamber and a perfectly curated feed that only reinforces what you hold to be true, but that in reality only represents a tiny portion of the population.
If you try it, I guarantee that you’ll find some of these different voices and views hard to digest. But, I want to posit that it’s necessary for us to understand what it is that others are truly thinking and going through (not what they post about, but what happens when the camera is off), because only in understanding will we find our ability to care. The saddest thing is perhaps precisely this, that we have lost our ability to care. And you might disagree with me on this, but posting about something does not equal caring.
This is so artfully described by my favourite comedian, Dave Chapelle, in one of his Netflix specials called “The Age of Spin.” He argues that we live in The Age of Spin - we’re constantly turning to look everywhere, and as a result, we seldom give ourselves the chance or time to really focus or care about anything at all. We are at arm's reach of an endless stream of content, one we often justify and mask as awareness when in reality, what it is, is stifling our ability to care.
Long behold the days of reading our local newspaper, knowing what was going on around us, discussing it with neighbours, chewing on it. This is not to romanticize the past, the newspaper print caused controversy in its day. What I am saying though, is that we no longer give ourselves time to chew on anything long enough, not even our food.
I do not presume to have the answers. I am both as prey and guilty as the next person. But, this morning the Pastor at my church challenged and encouraged us to take some time to get real with God and with ourselves. To examine where our affections currently lie - where we’re spending our time, energy, money, and how we’re navigating our relationships. He encouraged us to take some time to decide what we want to say yes to, and as a result of that, what we need to say no to.
Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time that in order to say yes to hearing the voice of God, we need to learn to say no more often to the voices coming from our screens.