Giving

We live in an era of promotion.

Much of this, though is allusion. The complexity of a situation cannot be encapsulated in 40 characters, for instance; and we cannot really get understanding of anything in that format. Real understanding requires a lot of real work…reading, social interactions, involvement.

The same is true of accomplishment…typically, many long hours of dead ends, frustration at learning something new, and presentations to stakeholders are behind it. Quite frankly, much of this would seem mundane, boring.

Our identities are equally complex: what work we do, our relationships, what we believe in…there is so much context behind all of it. I am reading David Foster Wallace’s book The Pale King, and in it a character discusses first skepticism at someone’s story of finding faith, but ultimately decides that it’s not the moment of finding faith that is the important part (that moment in the church) but rather everything that led up to that point: what has happened to make someone feel the need to believe in something bigger, to trade a the idea that everything can be known, and accept that there is much that is just unknown (for we can never really know something like God). The person’s story of her discovery of faith leaves that part out.

Given all these complexities, it becomes pure artifice to pretend that a social media profile, posts, tweets, etc could ever replicate the complexity and wonder of who we are and what we do. This can partly be captured through time…a collection of social media posts would reveal a person’s or organization’s identity, or at least that on a surface level. In the end, however, it probably does us all a disservice: we seem to always get the discovery of result in absence of context. Or, we get online arguments that can seem void of context and understanding.

“If it’s not on Facebook, it never happened.” I’ve heard this phrase more than once this month, and it seems disconcerting. For many people do great, important work, and it rarely makes it to social media..I tend to believe that when a person has arrived at living an experience, associating themselves deeply with what they do, the less they may broadcast. It becomes like breathing…something so natural and intuitive it seems unnecessary to report…it’s only when the accomplishment sees realization, through some other media, that the person will share it.

This points to the hard-to-pin-down notion of authenticity, something that may be hard to manufacture in a social media context (something equally difficult to accomplish in the real world). How does one become authentic, or, perhaps a better way to put it, how does one become their best authentic selves?

In the past, this quest was often undertaken by reading, activity…I think of Theodore Roosevelt, who read constantly and equally trained physically…believing these two acts would allow him to arrive at some new consciousness. In fact, this seems distinctly American, as Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of living comes to mind as well (Jefferson was both an obsessive reader and someone who took morning runs on his farm). The point seems to be that there is a rhythm: quiet alone time to reflect, read, practice; and time of social interaction, doing, activity. We need both. To spend most of the day on social media is problematic because one is always in social interaction mode, in a constant conversational engagement. I believe in absence of quiet, introspective time, social interaction can become increasingly uninteresting, and increasingly removed from useful conversation.

The other problem with too much social media use is that one can start to believe that social media is, in fact, the real world…I think this both denies us experiences that only can happen away from digital media, and can be detrimental during the times we do interact in the real-world. It increases the chances that we do not see people in the complexity that they are, and view them as the selves an online media platform dictates they create.

I think, given this current context, it is no surprise that mindfulness is much sought after; we have to keep reminding ourselves of what is real, tangible because so much of what we do is some replication of the real and tangible. As much as I am into digital media design (or whatever terminology one uses), I am aware that me, my friends, colleagues are using platforms for personal expression, and (sometimes, for some) taking these platforms quiet seriously, while the platforms consider us only as data points for marketing purposes. This doesn’t bother me too much (we all know that going into it), but what does concern me is the possibility that these platforms will make us more negative people, less humane, less compassionate…would the people we are, be different if we did not now live so much in the world of social media? And is this difference to our benefit, or detriment?