Our Addiction to Public Communication

I wrote a new technology piece in Relevant magazine’s September/October issue, entitled “Short Attention Span Faith.” You can read the whole thing by clicking here, but here’s a short little excerpt:

Unsurprisingly, this frenzied, obsessive-compulsive proclivity toward being digital busybodies has deleterious effects on Christian disciplines like Bible study and prayer. How do we justify sitting down and praying for an hour when there are Hulu videos to browse, “What Ninja Turtle are you?” quizzes to take, and online “community” to cultivate? If we’re not wired, plugged-in, and communicating with the world at all times, it seems like such a waste of time…

…This is one of the biggest problems that must be reckoned with in the Twitter age: our ever diminishing inclination and/or ability to slow down and think thoroughly, deeply, and profoundly about anything. We speed through an article or web page in 60 seconds and pronounce it “read.” We see a blurb about our friend from high school’s weekend at the lake and pronounce the friendship “maintained.” But in this flurry of bite-sized narrative and dollar menu mediation, are we able to truly be self-aware? Can we consider things and know God and ourselves?

At the end of the day, it’s just hard for us to have interior thought lives anymore. It’s hard to keep anything to ourselves and be reflective just for ourselves. With Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the quick-and-easy communication efficiency of cell phones, we’ve gotten used to the notion that anything worth saying can and should be shared with the digital community in real time. Any idea or thought worth having should be public. Everything is cooperative, collective, and wiki-oriented. When we sit alone and contemplate something that isn’t meant to be shared with the whole wide world, we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves.

I know this temptation all to well, as a writer/blogger who sometimes doesn’t value the “keep it to yourself” type of thinking. It’s so easy to say anything and everything to any and every one these days. It’s hard to keep thoughts, ideas, and rants to oneself when a huge audience is just a “publish” click away (I realize the irony that I’m blogging about this). Our culture has conditioned us to glory in attention and publicity and recognition; It’s only natural that we are increasingly finding it difficult to not live public lives. More and more, the defacto barometer of a well-lived life is not necessarily the quality or depth of our contribution to society but the breadth of it—the extent to which it is widely disseminated and known. It’s like the more Facebook friends or Twitter followers one has, the more actualized they are as a person.

What we communicate via these media platforms is not nearly as important as the fact that we have an audience, somewhere out there, listening or glimpsing into our lives. It affirms our existence, pats us on the existential back and sends us on our way, no better or worse off but for the few meaningless minutes or hours that we’ll never get back.

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8 responses to “Our Addiction to Public Communication

  1. Hm. Good stuff, Brett. It’s just a virtual pat on the back, as you say, and probably therefore meaningless! Heh. Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking the same as I prepare to re-up on Facebook in a couple of days. No fewer than three people in the past two days have asked me if I am returning to Facebook soon. And yes, I can’t wait to bring my page back up. But I definitely have enjoyed having more of an interior thought life without it.

  2. Interesting timing for me, this post. I just finished an intentional season of stripping out a whole lot of “noise.” Quit Facebook (for good). Logged off my blog. Bought a vintage typewriter. Am writing handwritten and typed letters sent by mail.

    Just today I caught myself in a moment and told my husband, “I’m so glad I’m not blogging about my life right now.” He asked why and I said, “Because I find myself enjoying these moments just for themselves. I’m no longer living in an alternate reality all the time, wondering how I’ll transpose an experience into a new blog post.”

    I’m also no longer thinking of my life in short status updates. But that took about a solid week of non-Facebook living to sink in at the beginning of summer.

    Mostly, I’m just thankful to have my own thoughts back. To sit quietly for long periods of time and be content with the stillness. To connect with God more intimately and contemplatively. To not need to broadcast myself, my voice, my life to the world anymore.

    It’s a good freedom.

  3. I asked my Dad this weekend if Mom was going to join Facebook and he said “heck no, she’s got better things to do with her life”. I replied jokingly “well, what if this is the way we are to communicate in the 21st century?” He said “if that’s the case, our society is in a heap of trouble”. I completely agree and am glad to see your post. Your ability to verbalize my jumbled series of thoughts as of late helps me to realize my dependency on the virtual community world vs. the real one I live in.

  4. Timely as always, Brent.

  5. Writing and thinking are often synonymous for me. When I write about something, especially knowing that other people might read the end result, I examine the subject, idea, experience more closely and often develop a more thoughtful application. The best reason to blog: it encourages me to think deeply and creatively about the every day. For me, it really is less about who reads it and more about the process being inherently different than if I knew nobody ever would.

    CS Lewis talks about praise as the consummation of enjoyment. It’s the reason why you desperately want your friend to try a bite of whatever delicious meal you’re eating: the enjoyment is actually completed in its being shared. I’m idealistic, I know, but I see all these social media sites as opportunities to do just that.

    Of course silence, private thought lives, and time with people (rather than computers) are necessary and irreplaceable. Just don’t stop blogging, Brett.

    • Don’t worry Lauren I’m not gonna quit blogging anytime soon. It’s valuable for all the reasons you mentioned–especially the CS Lewis bit. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Solid article Brett. I too know the trickiness about blogging about not blogging about everything.

  7. Christianne’s comment, and this post, have me seriously thinking about quitting Facebook. I’ve been downsizing anyway, and in the last week have made some serious plans for letter-writing and phone-calling. I just wonder if it’s possible for someone like me – a bit of an internet addict to begin with – to just “cut down” on Facebook without quitting. I’m not sure it is.

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