There was a likely a time when the notion of putting your rubbish in a bin for collection was laughable.
How could one person taking the time to place their refuse in a container outside their house, to be picked up by a van, possibly make any significant difference to the world? I suspect refuse collection was devised as a solution to what seemed like an insurmountable issue at the time: streets filling up with nasty rubbish and diseased waste of one form or another.
Of course today we don’t think anything of it. It seems almost instinctive to take the time to put our rubbish in the bin for collection. We know the things we throw away are largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things but that by aspiring to play our part, consistently, we act as a spoke in the larger wheel of life. We get to exist without being swamped by our own dangerous garbage.
But there was a time when people would sit in their own filth and the smell wouldn’t bother them.
For the people born after refuse collection became an everyday thing, the idea of putting the bins out was likely natural. They grew up in a culture where this was custom. But for those old enough to remember the messy life prior to the bin collector I’m sure there would have been times when they forgot to take the bin out or maybe even resented having to in the first place.
Because old habits die hard – even when they are bad for our health.
My attention turns to the telephone where a similar transition applies. A child born into a world where the telephone already exists will never feel overly conscious of it nor speculate on the hidden dangers of such a tool. It’s always been there, like the bin lorry. But someone old enough to remember the world before the telephone might just talk themselves into an existential crisis from time to time while using it.
“If I didn’t have this phone I would be more active. I would get more done. I wouldn’t gossip as much. I’d save money if I didn’t have a phone bill” and so on.
Caught in social media’s grip
Meanwhile, the kid finds the phone utterly uncontroversial. But the kid doesn’t know what’s coming next.
Myspace, Bebo, YouTube , Facebook, Twitter, What’sApp, Pinterest, SnapChat, Instagram, Soundcloud and on and on it goes.
Life seems to have mutated in the presence of social media’s power. Confusion befalls all caught in the messy overlap; a painful transition from a safer world to an altogether more confusing and dangerous one.
Social media has us in its grip. Most of us would give it up if we could. But we can’t. So to explain this horrendous abdication of will in the face of the truth we create false reasoning to justify why we still use it. “I need it for work.” “It helps me keep in touch.”
Here we see how social media causes us to engage in pretty blatant levels of self-deception. This despite the fact most of us use it to flaunt our rational credentials. One thing we can safely assume is that most people who use social media are full of shit.
Yet we take everything we see on social media, as well as ourselves, extremely seriously.
The next thing to consider is the pernicious myth that social media helps us to connect. How many people engage in a discussion on social media with the intent to truly understand what someone else is saying? Be honest. On social media we rarely connect to anything but ourselves. We enter debates with the sole purpose of extending our opinions as opposed to broadening our understanding.
Yet we tell ourselves if it were not for social media we would not understand the world’s complexity as well as we do. This despite the fact social media is a tool we use not only to curate our own agreeable version of reality but also to cultivate a false picture of ourselves in the wandering minds of our would-be audience.
Social media is about projecting outwards and we rarely take incoming calls.
In some ways it can be intellectually stimulating. But usually that occurs when social media is used as a gateway to somewhere else. Conversations that remain on social media almost always create confusion.
But it’s always elusive as to why.
We spend as much time clarifying and restating ourselves as we do uncovering anything new. Modern life and its many advantages, perks and pleasure all come with caveats we’re increasingly keen to ignore.
Spoonfuls of sugar – and sex
There was a time before sugar was as prevalent in the food chain as it is today. Just as there was a time before hard-core pornography became a substitiute for sex. These things may seem unrelated but they actually have a lot in common. They are both used as a conduit of pleasure and at the level of the human brain are difficult to distinguish – or resist. Sex and sugar have been around for a long time but once we realised we could sell them to each other their prevalence increased; taking on
sophisticated new forms to keep us salivating and titillated.
What’s the harm really? None. Unless, of course, you cannot regulate your behaviour in relation to these things. When you swear off but find yourself indulging again within hours. All the reasoning for picking up self-defeating habits again after a brief reprieve seems well-thought out: “It’s only a bag of chocolate I can burn this off tomorrow.” “It’s not real rape it’s just a porn film simulating it, everybody watches this.”
But deep down you know you’re kidding yourself. You know you’re powerless but you don’t know why. It’s counter-intuitive for your brain to both demand something while helping you understand why you should not partake in it. Sadly, as humans, our physiological design has not changed in over 50,000 years but the world we’ve created for ourselves is almost the anti-thesis of our original habitat.
We don’t hunt food. Instead we pay people to kill it for us, cook it and bring it to our door. Back then mating was all about ensuring the survival of the species whereas now we can simulate sex without even having to bother another human being. But something misfires. At the level of the brain there is something we are not wired up to comprehend. There is something profound that we always seem to misunderstand and this registers as a deep feeling of angst.
Some turn to science for answers while others find comfort in religion or spirituality.
What is certain is that social media is the new danger. It’s a labyrinth of stimulation. A physiological minefield we have grossly underestimated as a species. Like these other vices I have outlined, we find it so hard to regulate our behaviour in relation to this thing. This thing brings much discord and confusion into our lives yet we persist; internalising the world social media creates in our minds eye as if it were real.
But it’s not. Just like you’ll never conceive a baby watching porn on your own. You’ll never understand the world by viewing through the lens of social media. Your mind has a surprisingly finite capacity despite what you believe about your genius. At the level of the brain your whole thought process and sense of free will is actually the result of a plethora of prior causes you will have almost no recollection of at this very moment.
You think you’re choosing to read these words right now? When did the notion to click on this article emerge and from where did that instructive thought even originate? But you’re so sure you’re in the driver’s seat, aren’t you?
Taking out the digital garbage
This world cannot be understood by one mind. You’re just one household taking out the garbage. You’ll never truly understand the scale, depth or nature of any of it.
You will, however, obscure it. You will, however, convince yourself you get it. You will draw vastly inaccurate conclusions about the nature of the world and the meaning of your own life within it. You will fall into a trap of assuming hostility in things that have no malign intent towards you while taking your eyes off the real dangers in your life.
You will get behind the wheel of a car and fantasise about a plane crash on your way to the airport.
You will engage in the most stunning hypocrisy while genuinely believing you are fair-minded. And you will apply an infantile level of self-awareness to your own actions while relentlessly holding what feels like the world to account for failing to live up to your high standards.
You will, essentially, engage in the simulation of thinking you know what is going on and that you can influence or impact it. Your political views and social circles will align with people who reaffirm that false belief in a manner that suits you.
But you are digital driftwood.
You are literally a bag of garbage that think it’s real. Most of your beliefs are fashion accessories. Most of your tales are tall. At your core you’re a fleshy machine on auto-pilot totally winging it through life and social media helps to conceal the true extent of your ludicrousness.
But that’s ok. So am I. The aim of the game is to reduce the harm you cause yourself and others. Nothing more. Just take your bin out once a week.
The only way to navigate the social media landscape is to make a personal commitment to always try and return to a place of acute awareness of its danger and absurdity. You can binge for a few days, start a few fires, feel sorry for yourself as you put them out and take a few days ‘off’ to think it over.
But always aspire to return to that safe haven of knowing it is diabolically absurd and that your mind, no matter how skilfully you marshal its many faculties, is simply not evolved enough to safely – or sensibly — use this kind of technology. This technology is best suited to the children you will ironically attempt to keep it from out of some bizarre sense of responsibility.
For those of us born in the overlap of social media we really just have to strap ourselves in and enjoy the ride. There will never be an all-knowing moment of clarity. There will be no revelation or all-encompassing theory to soothe the head as it hits the pillow. Social media is to you what streets filled with bile and garbage were to the old biddies of the past.
All you can do is commit to taking out your own rubbish at least once a week; reducing the potential harm to you and countless others. Hopefully, those others will aspire to do the same.
(If you found this piece useful you can support my work here.)
First published at the author’s own site and reproduced with permission
Image via mkhmarketing under Creative Commons