Through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (and remember MySpace?) we have a world essentially created in our image. It’s nice. But it also feeds our narcissistic souls.[i] We like what we want and we want what we like; and if you, a certain political agenda, a religious view, or a video, a picture, or an advertisement (the most difficult thing to avoid in our cyber-haven) gets in my way I have the right, without reproach, to scroll on by.
Media brings a form of megalomania but it can also be a monster to meaning. It destroys meaning by stripping it of its context and by placing weighty things into too close a proximity to funny dog videos. When posts about politics, pantiliners, and poodles all show up in our (raging and undirected directed) “stream” then we might be taking in not a stream but a torrent of incoherent information.
It seems that social media has great potential to create an anti-intellectual ivory tower. That is, it distances us from people and what is really going on and allows us to make unsubstantiated comments that haven’t truly been contemplated. If we don’t take in the protein and exercise of hard thought we’re going to be weak. If we feed on what’s frail and fruitless, we will be frail and fruitless.
Tweets and feeds won’t feed us. And we cannot understand politics in sixty-second-sound-bits. Racial reconciliation isn’t and can’t be reconciled, let alone understood, when we merely rely on social media; instead of deep, patient, embodied, social change.
Violence and vengeance, bullying and bad behavior, won’t be solved by ads alone; even if the words are backed by a famous actor, artist, or athlete (that ironically likely undercuts the very thing they’re supposedly trying to communicate).
Further, social media may fool us, but it won’t fill us. We may enjoy Instagram but we weren’t there, we aren’t now, or we didn’t receive enough “stars” (or whatever) to fill out our significance.
The “word” “tweet” is fitting for Twitter because although I myself have a Twitter the whole thing is not congruent. When sentences and phrases are sheared of their context they have about as much meaning as a bird tweeting. So when we “tweet” we may be performing a type of onomatopoeia (an onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the source of the sound that it describes). That is to say, to tweet is to not say anything; or, at least, anything that is human in an extended rational sense.
As humans we can hear more than “tweet, tweet, tweet.” We can take in and bask in beautiful poetry or follow powerful prose. We can be “intoxicated” in beautiful ways literarily, but not so much if we stick w/ texting & tweeting.
Thankfully Chopin and Beethoven’s media wasn’t a kazoo and a triangle, that media would have greatly hindered them. Could it be that our media is hurting and hindering us? Maybe sometimes we need to even focus on a medium. Maybe even pick up a pencil and paper, put away distractions, and put something powerful and substantial down. Something outside of us, beyond us, and not about us. Maybe it’s time to read a book and get off Facebook.
[i] In the picture above by Caravaggio (1571-1610), Narcissus gazes at his own reflection and in a similar way we gaze into our computers, phones, and tablets. We narcissistically gaze at our profiles and our worlds that we have created in our image. Could we meet the same fate as Narcissus? Could we drown in a stream of information and technology?