It seems that if you show even a glimmer of potential these days, you will be immediately encouraged to devote your energies toward getting on the internets and doing everything you can to get the popular people to notice you. And if you grumble about the constant interruption and inanity that creates in your life, someone is always there to remind you that this is simply the way it is. But after years of consideration, I have to confess I’m just not sold. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders: Is social media really all that sustainable?
Let’s take creative work as an example. There we are, making our art or sketching our designs or cooking up our inventions, and the moment we produce anything saleable, we are pressed to devote as much time as possible to getting attention for them. We must milk Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and SnapChat and TikTok and Whatevs – because the more platforms you can hit the better – for all we’re worth, and in so doing we must also make ourselves as adept as possible at creating content that keeps up with the attention span of gnats, because if we don’t generate something daily, or at least weekly, we’re sunk. And if you choose to bow out, well, good luck decorating your hobbit hole of obsolescence.
But let’s just take a step back and look at the logic behind this behavior, shall we? If we must devote our time to scurrying around and waving our hands anywhere they can possibly be seen, then what happens to the deep reservoirs of attention required to create anything of substance and meaning? What happens to forging the kinds of lasting connections that inspire us in the first place? Do we really want to forego the benefits of pondering, contemplation, slow builds, and gradual learning curves? More importantly: Can we even hope to survive without them?
I honestly don’t think we can. Not because social media is the problem, but because the human condition cannot be sustained nor captured through Twitter alone. Superficial communication has its place – not least because it’s expedient, fun, and easy – but our collective mistake lies in failing to consider and choose its place in our lives. Because while it may feel like social media has plenty to chew on, at the end of the day, most of it is mental junk food – thrilling and entertaining in the moment, empty and depleting in the long run. And while we might complain that we don’t have the time or attention to read a book or get on the phone or make a meal from scratch, isn’t it important to ask why that is?
After all, no matter how conditioned we are to jump when our devices tell us to, we are, in fact, free to choose other options. And every time we choose to step away and power down, our brains awaken to new possibilities. Every time one of us sees another reading a book, or sketching, or taking a walk without clutching a phone, we offer a subtle reminder that this is a viable option.
I know this perspective is not new, but sometimes we need to stop worrying about how clever or inventive we are, and simply show up for what matters. Especially when we’re at a tipping point, when what we choose to shine a light on can mean the difference between yet another flash in the pan and true illumination.
Art: “Gallery of the Old Library, Trinity College,” Bruno Barbier