In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

The technological structures of our Twitterstream, iPhone-ready, newsticker, push-notification culture have made “being in the loop” as natural a thing for us as breathing–and almost as important. These days, it’s seen as essential to know what’s going on in the world–what’s trending–and not only to know about it, but to comment on it. If something is being buzzed about or going viral, we must chime in: unleash a quick Facebook update, add a Tweet to the chorus, throw up a blog post with “Thoughts on ____” before anyone else can.

And it all must be done expediently, because to wait or be late to the conversation is to admit–heaven forbid–being somewhat out of the loop. You see this a lot when people post something on Twitter/Facebook with the caveat, “I know I’m late to the game on this, but…” Who cares if you’re late to the game? As if the quality of comment is less vital than its timeliness.

I’m troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to “join the conversation” doesn’t necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable. It’s no wonder no one knows what to think about KONY2012. Before I even saw the video, there were already a million wildly contradictory opinions about it being circulated.

The thing with KONY2012, though, is that its very existence seemed to discourage reflection. It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT! Tweet to Justin Bieber! Share the video on Facebook! Buy a poster kit! The uncontrollable social media maelstrom that followed happened because Invisible Children played right into the unreflective “quickness culture,” which worked at getting the thing viral but arguably did not work in cultivating a trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.

Meanwhile, the same “tweet first, think later” impulse that propelled KONY2012 to its “explode the Internet” status, ironically, is helping to spread the Jason Russell meltdown news (and all of its iffy allegations) across the same viral space. Which is a shame, but not surprising. This is how things go in the quickness culture.

Let me be the first to say that I’ve been complicit in this culture and have often felt the need to add my instant reaction to some buzzworthy news. But the KONY2012 phenomenon has got me thinking anew about the value of slowing down and relinquishing my need to be so in the loop and real-time conversant. When KONY2012 broke, part of me said “you must blog about this!” When I didn’t do that, I felt the urge to at least chime in with endorsements of other articles, sending one of those “This is the best thing I’ve read so far on ___” tweets. But ultimately I came to see that perhaps the best thing to do is just to stay silent, live my life, let the dust settle and then comment (or not) on it much later.

Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it. Oh well.

I desire to be more out of the loop. I want to go a day without knowing what the Twitterverse is talking about. I want to let trending topics come and go without ever knowing they happened. I want to be like Marilyn Hagerty, who didn’t know (or care) that for the rest of the world, Olive Garden was “old news.” I don’t want to care about something just because it’s hot right now and everyone is talking about it; I want to care about something because it is interesting, important, worth thinking about. I don’t want to blog, tweet, or talk about things I haven’t mulled over or wrestled with first. I want to resist the idol of quick-to-the-draw commentary.

And while I’m at it, I want to focus more on my own challenges: the right-in-front-of-me conversation, the local issues, the everyday battles–rather than injecting myself into the global so urgently and ignorantly. Sure, I want to care for the world. It’s important to know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t take precedence over being present in my own life, and being attentive to the needs of my own community. I’d rather be out of the loop than disengaged from the world right in front of me; though I suspect (and hope) there’s a way we can balance both: being plugged in to there and present here, and thoughtful in each sphere.

21 responses to “In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

  1. well said…its time this generation gets off the computer and out into the garden, city, the world

  2. “It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT!”

    Maybe it’s just me (I’ve largely kept out of the KONY-fury), but the inherent contradiction between watching a thirty-minute video and the kind of immediate action the internet seems to require is an important point. I almost never bother to watch videos that are posted on social media. Of the ones I do deign to watch, they are almost universally very short.

    I’m aware of the internet lingo that says “tldr” (too long, didn’t read). Is there a similar bit for “too long, didn’t watch”?

  3. I think it’s unfair to say that Kony 2012 encouraged action without reflection. Taken by itself, perhaps. But Invisible Children has spent many years developing a committed base of people that are engaged for the long haul in creating a “trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.” Kony 2012 is one outgrowth/culmination of that, and more public face, but I think invisible children has done an admirable job of keeping people engaged over the long run.

  4. My recommendation: read the newspaper, not the internet.

  5. Pingback: The Value of a Slow Conversation: Moving Forward from #Kony2012 « love is what you do

  6. I think there is value in using this as an opportunity to really talk about the way Christians represent the poor, but I think you’re right that the format of saying something in order to be relevant isn’t the best way to approach these conversations. I wrote a blog post over the weekend about how we should have the very important discussion about Christianity and poverty but slowly, with nuance, in a way that’s impossible with the mad pace of the social media world. And then I saw a link to your post, which I think says so beautifully what I was trying to get at. Well done.

  7. Good post. I agree. I don’t write about the “hot topic” on my blog. The internet doesn’t need my take with 100 million other reactions. I provide the break from the monotony of reactionary posting. haha
    You said “Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it.”

    I’m not sure I would agree. The instant, me-first reactions are so repetitious and superfluous that there is a high chance your post wouldn’t even be found. When a search item has 50 billion hits yours or mine might not be read by more than our regular traffic anyway, maybe not by them for cause of overload. Also, You may get a follower or some traffic but you don’t keep that kind of bandwagon traffic.

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  9. Thanks for writing about this, Brett. I always appreciate the thoughtfulness that you bring to this space and the larger conversation about the impact of technology upon us.

    I’m one who generally values solitude, silence, and contemplation and works quite a bit of it into my normal routine, but I was also someone who jumped on the “blog about the Kony 2012 video” bandwagon not just once, but twice.

    The Kony 2012 situation (surrounding the video, not what happened to Jason Russell afterward) has gotten me thinking a lot about how change really happens. I’m inclined to think that real change happens through people who take the long view — who settle into a need that is germane to who they are and commit to it and the people it affects for the long haul. For change — real change — is a heart matter, is it not? And our hearts are mysterious, cavernous places that most often take time to learn and transform.

  10. I loved this post. This is such a good reminder that what our culture values isn’t what’s necessary or best for us.

    This reminds me of something a friend of mine once said: If it’s important and worthy of my attention this very moment, it will still be important and worthy of my attention tomorrow.

  11. For those who haven’t read it, James K.A. Smith’s book “Desiring the Kingdom” has some really great insights on time in the fifth chapter, where he contrasts liturgical time with the “CNNization of time” (a phrase coined before the rise of Twitter, perhaps). Thanks for the good word, Brett. I’m chagrined to have so hastily shared it on Twitter. ;)

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  15. You are correct that quality of comment is not necedsarily tied to timeliness of comment. But, a lack of timeliness usually leaves your comment, as good and qualitative as it may, in a thread no one is following now.

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