Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Silent Spring

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Have you become more comfortable with silence and solitude in the time of corona? Has social media filled more time – or less?

Friend of Bacon Beth Alexander was deeply affected by the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and today she explains why…

From Beth:

During this strange time of Covid when the norm is separation, I’m missing friends and the little perks of friendship that I took for granted: going to lunch, seeing a smile, shaking hands and, the best, hugging. As a substitute, last year I found myself turning to social media to see friends and their beautiful children. Then I watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.”

If you’ve ever wondered why a particular message popped into your head – or onto your phone – and been mildly surprised at your compulsion to read, “like,” or buy something, watch the documentary. You and your child are targets. Beware the forces designed to get into your head via your tech gadgets.

Stimuli are all around us – a bracing morning walk or the crisp winter air, and the unnatural ones, insidious, fighting a battle for our brains, our attention, even our behavior. We’re surrounded. Neitzsche’s caution echoes, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

“The Social Dilemma” features interviews with IT experts who earlier this century designed the platforms and special features for Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram. Each designer (all guys) relates with some pride his own part in creating what we have now, a vast network that demands our attention. None of them would allow his child have a phone until at least age 12.

 You’ve heard that if the product is free, you are the product. Social media makes big money when it can drive behavior – a click, a purchase, a new connection. Connectivity is power. Just check out Reddit for the story on Gamestop.

In a very real way, the versatility of our phones and the fact that they are constantly within reach combined with the stimulation of our favorite friends on social media can change expectations – and behaviors. Social media were created to be monetized, and the way the creators did that was to sell ads to advertisers. Companies love the medium because views, click-throughs and purchases could be tracked, counted and analyzed. Users get hooked on the endless endorphins, that little rush you get from a Like, Retweet or Comment on your post.

That’s just for starters. AI is getting to you know better than you know you, and manipulates your behavior, your choices and your purchases. What better time to target us than during a pandemic when we can’t see our friends. The internet is filing its sharp nails, just waiting for our eyeballs and clicks. So welcoming. So responsive. So appreciative.

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to cut back. Like any addiction withdrawal, it’s tougher than I thought. We all feel the connectivity void. I long for hugs and smiles.

What fills the void? Psychic silence. It takes some time for the daily reverberations to fade – 30 minutes? 30 days? – but before long it gives way to the voice of the universe – stirring in its wordless power and the potential of the human spirit to rise above the deafening clamor of nonstop news. If you meditate or practice yoga, you may have understood the power of silence long ago. It feels like a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again.

Just as the first crocus delights me every year, out of the quiet a shaft of sunlight through the blinds tickles my heart, illuminating each breath of precious life. Is it the nearness of the pandemic? Is it that the world is pregnant with spring? I don’t know, but I’m reminded of the invocation Becca Stevens gave to open a Sunday in the Park luncheon several years ago: Thank you, God, for air. Thank you, God, for water.  Thank you, God, for trees.

 Thank you, God, for silence, and for smiles I hope to see again. Thank you, God, for the quiet promise of the first crocus.

Photo copyright Nadhezna Bolotino

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And thank you, Beth, for today’s beautiful meditation.

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As a sidenote: A few years ago I planted several hundred crocus bulbs by a maple tree in the front yard, hoping for a glorious slow of purply-blue in February. About 5 of them came up. 

(I’m assuming the chipmunks feasted on the rest of them!)

I’ve had better luck with the Lenten roses, planted last March…

18 Comments

  1. I have always been a fan of Beth Alexander, but your insight was especially comforting this morning as I eagerly opened my iPad to see what went on overnight, the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you Beth for reminding me to embrace the silence more often but to allow the occasional guilty pleasure of social media contact.

  2. So well written Beth! The documentary has been on my list of things to watch for months, I think I’ll move it to the top of the list. Another wonderful post Jennifer!

  3. Beautiful! Thank you, Beth. And I agree that “The Social Dilemma” gives us frightening insights.

  4. Beth, as always, you deftly capture the feel of a moment (or movement) and offer us an insightful alternative. thank you and virtual hugs!

  5. I have avoided watching The Social Dilemma because I am afraid to hear it. I think the only response to this wonderfully written review and observation is to get brave and face the truth. A choice I’ll make this year that will make me better. Thank you, Bacon, for another great edition.

    • Many people I recommend it to, my sister included, are reluctant to watch it, so I’m glad to hear some rationale behind that reluctance. I recommend watching it with a friend, if for no other reason than to hold someone’s hand as it unfolds. The ensuing conversation should be fascinating too! 🙂

  6. Such a gifted writer you are, Beth, along with so many other talents in our community! Yes, The Social Dilemma is disturbing in a fascinating way: My biggest concern being for the younger, more impressionable generations and what their futures will hold regarding digital addiction, personal insecurities, relationship dysfunctionality and materialism. Thank you, Beth and Bacon, for being a light on this winter day.

  7. Most of the tech designers said their own children would not be allowed to have a phone until they were at least 12, many older than that. Their own faces told the tale! Surely do miss seeing you and Jeff, ML!

  8. Thank you dear Beth and Bacon for this illuminating article! It is a message we all need to heed!

  9. The Social Dilemma is a shocking wake up call. I hope everyone, especially parents, will watch this documentary. Thank you, Beth, for helping spread the word before we are not longer ourselves.

    • Thank you, Varina, for putting it plainly. Every parent will learn something. Information may seem scary, but it is our strength against forces we don’t yet understand.

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