What are we doing, texting these little updates?
When my friend Carlos Nakar first told me about Twitter, I could not imagine anyone being interested to know I was, say, at Belle Pastry with my friend Jeffrey Crouch (for what is no doubt a God-ordained croissant–scrumptious), or in hearing my 140 character rumination on our conversation. Famous people might be interesing, maybe—though why we’re fascinated with their politics and peccadilloes, I’m not sure—but we smaller folk? What did Mark Zuckerberg know about us that we’re still all finding out? That we want to know we’ve been here? That a moment needs validation? That minute details of quirky living provide opportunities for a sense of connection, and in this lonely world of ours, who cares if the connection is illusory or not? That in a postmodern world where reality is defined by the stories we tell ourselves, those same stories need their framings affirmed by “like” clicks (there’s a place to “like” this post at the bottom of the page), those upward thumbs providing low-level shots of dopamine surges, and in this fog, we’ll take all the dopamine we can get?
Just now in my Facebook newsfeed: a brief treatise on American freedom chastising us for our misuse of said freedom; a film trailer featuring an actor friend of mine; a call for prayers for an accident of a motorcycle accident; scattered happy birthday wishes; a promo for a music gig in Plano, TX; a random quote about Capt’n Jack and Davy Jones’ locker; a celebration of the discovery of a French Market somewhere in England, and the savoring of crepes and tartiflette; a report of someone arriving at the hospital for a bone marrow aspirate and spinal tap in relation to an ongoing battle with leukemia; excitement about the beginning of the cross country season; a lament about a body’s breaking down, metaphorically comparing it to an old broken engine; lots and lots of people making new friends, 4 and 6 and 10 at a time; joy over children, Fridays, school ending, and sleep; software giveaways, blog posts (like this one), and lots of people liking lots of disparate things (Harry Potter, Blue Scholars, and PaperBackSwap). And then, of course, there are all those photos and videos, friends pointing to things around the web, spreading laughter and concern, often prodding us to stop wasting time, to do something good in the world, adding responsibility and guilt to our already overcrowded plate.
It’s chatter, really. Amazing chatter, being, as it is, about far more than the weather. (Though the weather’s been pretty important lately—the newsfeed was really hopping earlier in the week as tornadoes threatened the Dallas Metroplex: IT’S HEADED OUR WAY!)
Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks allow us to turn our attention, at any given moment, to a membrane of experience. Surfing, turns out, is a great metaphor; we skim along, having a great time riding the waves as they crash to shore. The worldwide “trending” Twitter feed is nuts as is zips by on Tweetdeck faster than you can read it. But didn’t we know this already? Didn’t we know, intellectually at least, that life was traveling this fast, with this density, that the combined, running-in-parallel thought-life of 300 million people (let’s leave it at the U.S. for the moment) is out there, just waiting to inspire and overwhelm? And surely it would be amazing to silde our minds onto that membrane, drenching them in that oh-so-wet, oh-so-visceral experience, wouldn’t it? What knowledge! What wisdom! What sensation!
Stealing a bit from Dallas Willard, this whole enterprise reminds me of the basics of mental life. In our unseen consciousness, thoughts, ideas, and images offer themselves, a la the inner newsfeed, and we scan, deciding to “like” or “dislike”, choosing to download and watch, or giving the thought a pass. Constantly, we are the targets of attempts to steer our attention toward someone’s idea of an argued good. But with the twitterverse, what was once a private process has exploded into physical form. A jumble of near infinite possible plot points for the stories we are telling are everywhere, and we are editors, writers, and audience, all at once.
As my friend Mike mentioned in a comment on How to Follow Your Heart (given that you can find it first), it becomes about choice. And in real terms, to choose one thing is to choose something of an exclusive path. To choose one thing is to not choose another. To choose one thing is to close down possibilities. New ones open, surely, but to say yes is to say no. And, I will argue, those yeses and nos are game-changers, life-changers—change agents that will impact our great-grandchildren.
I often come to my morning time with God with a low-level panic about how to manage the online storm of well-meaning hawkers (of which I am one). Prayer requests, career connections, family and friends all tweeting and facebooking, looking to you for response, for engagement, for your time and attention: what are we doing, texting all these updates? What is being done to us, receiving them all? What does it mean that we engage as tennis players having forehand rallies one-on-a-thousand?
Has the injunction to “get wisdom, though it cost all you have” ever been more urgent? How about “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding?” Or “Guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life?”
A long time ago, God set before the Jews a very simple idea. We choose life and death as we choose to follow Him or not. He also said his life wasn’t too hard for us, that the commands and the heart that gave them were near. Paul later says we won’t get more than we can handle, that the Spirit will help to face it all.
Watch, click, download, consider, serve, shutdown.
All the while, choosing this day whom you will serve…