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…
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.
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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…