An Alarmist’s Response to Media

I joined Facebook more than two years ago. I initially resisted it—actually, I just didn’t understand it so therefore saw no real value in it. But in my work it became clear to me that it was something I needed to do. Not a big deal. And I loved it. I loved finding friends from my fraternity days and catching up with them. And Facebook allowed me to find friends from my Navy days that I otherwise would probably not have ever found. High school, of course, and in the early days it was a way to share pictures of my family, what we’re up to, and trips etc. for close friends and family eg. people that care.

Twitter came later. At first Twitter seemed to be everything that was bad about Facebook rolled into one single technology—minus any of the good. It came off as self-indulgent and narcissistic. Over time, however, it has proven to be a great tool for not only communicating with and within networks but also for getting news—real-time, lightning fast news—from other communities and affinity groups.

And so here we are, I think, at a place that seems logical for pushing “pause” and considering what all of this means. Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels and The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, wrote an article last year for Relevant Magazine titled “Is Facebook Killing Our Souls?” I encourage you to read it by clicking here. Yes, this is an opinion piece but Hipps makes some great points— specifically how it can create a minor split between who we are and who we think we are—and I would add, who we want everybody else to believe we are. Another interesting observation he directs at Twitter. Twitter, Hipps assesses, “begs me to step out of the stream experience long enough record it.  The affect is that we are no longer present in any of our experiences.  We are living as unpaid journalists who chronicle life as it passes by.” To me, this is just frightening at some level.

But I wanted to expand his thoughts to include other forms of media, namely television in its various forms and smart phone technology. Just last night my daughter was flipping the channels and we landed on a television show called “Turtle Man” in which two Kentuckians were capturing possum in a whiskey distillery. (Agonistes can’t make this stuff up folks.) The show is not lacking in entertainment value. But relative entertainment is far from the point. Closer to the point however is the number of hours of reality television programming available to us—and sports programming, domestic entertainment, movies, and people just … being people. There was a day when (1) there were only 4 or 5 channels (2) then there was a day when there were around 30 channels (3) and there was a day when television actually ended. Remember that? The “TV Day” typically ended with the national anthem and then it either went black, went to fuzz, or to some random number with circles around it. (Which, when I think about it, is a little weird.) I remember trying to explain to my daughters how TV would end at the end of the day and they just couldn’t grasp it. The point is that it ended. It said, “Go to bed.” The day of TV ending is gone and the day of absolute media saturation has come.

And smart phone technology has, at least in my case, allowed me to become subject to the tyranny of the trivial. That is, I will break from a conversation or train of thought to ask Google what it is that I’m trying to remember, the weather, what movies are playing, the score of a ballgame, my texts, emails. Years ago I was in a telephone conversation with a guy named Leonard Sweet. Len is a very smart person and in our conversation, not so ironically talking about technology, he said that according to Moore’s Law a person would essentially be able to download his or her brain by 2020.

Admittedly I didn’t understand what Len was trying to tell me then. I didn’t understand, that is, until I asked Google who played second base for the 70s Boston Red Sox during a conversation with a friend of mine. And that’s when it hit me that I was counting on Google to remember for me. The smart phone is different from regular search engines that are really electronic encyclopedias in that they are with us all the time. So what happens, when over time, we continue to lean on a Google app for our memory instead of … our memory for our memory? What happens to muscles when they don’t get used? We are definitely moving into new territory.

This is most certainly not a rant against television, computer technology, social media, or smart phone technology. These are all useful tools—very useful. What it is, though, is something like a question: When is it too much access to information? Or maybe better put, at what point do we get to a point at which we become something less than what we were created to be as living beings?

It’s all so fascinating. If not early adopters, my wife and I have usually been in the second wave of technology adoption. That’s due in large part because of price. But in the last few months I’ve noticed media in its various forms and information accessibility saturation creeping more and more into the most sacred space of my mind. Shane Hipps makes some valid points, but he’s also right in that technology—progressive technology—isn’t going away. We need to learn how to manage it else learn how to say no. Agonistes also believes that there is a technological danger zone at which something can surely be lost.

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