The Lonely Side of the Digital World
Maybe the world will end, not with a bang or a whimper,
but with a tweet saying "It's over."
Has Facebook Made Me a Better Person?
I was really not surprised when my friend asked the question. She'd just gotten off Facebook because, as she put it, she was beginning to have doubts about the size of her soul. "I have range but not depth," she said.
She borrowed the notion of a sizeable soul from the late philosopher, Bernard Loomer. We've written about him before in JJB. See What is Fat Soul Philosophy? and Six Characteristics of a Fat Soul. One of the six characteristics of a fat soul is having range and depth in relationship. My friend had begun to wonder if social media had enriched her range at the expense of her depth. "I can tweet people," she said, "but I can't listen to them without being distracted."
Imagining a Post-Digital Apocalypse
It was about this time that I saw the video above, and the video made me think about the more general role of digital media in life today. I began to wonder if there is not a need for, as it were, a post-digital apocalypse, if only in our imaginations, so that we might gain perspective on the ambiguity of digital culture? Perera Elsewhere's video illustrates such an apocalypse.
Perera Elsewhere’s new ‘Giddy’ video could be almost be a trailer for a PlayStation game, though the post-apocalyptic world imagined by creators Ewelina Aleksandrowicz and Andrzej Wojtas, together known as PussyKrew, might not make for the most exhilarating game play. The duo sets Elsewhere’s ominous, eerily sexy trip-hop slow-burn to a series of computer-generated scenes, flying us over flooded cities and oceans sullied by smoke-belching oil rigs. The landscapes are strangely beautiful, and were this a game, you might just hit pause, put down the controller and marvel at the pollution-ravaged splendor.
Relational Power in a Digital Age
Will the world end with a bang or a whimper, or with a tweet saying "It's over." The digital world is amazing, exhilarating, dizzying, confusing, and sometimes very lonely. Like Perera Elsewhere says, too often we find ourselves with too many options, too much input: an excess of excess. We can almost wish for a post-digital world in which we have recovered the arts of touch and taste, liberated from smart phones and tablets for the sake a a deeper flourishing.
Slowing Down and Listening
Must we always be entertained by what is new and cool? Can we not find pleasure in what is old and stable and beautiful, like a good book or a good meal or a good friend? One challenge of the 21st century is to find a way to combine technology with what process theologians call relational power. You see it when two people are sharing with each other, looking one another in the eye, and neither is completing the other's sentences. They are present to one another in a caring and mindful way. It's very Buddhist. To be sure, elements of relational power can be facilitated by text messages and other forms of social networking. But one key to relational power at its best is its unhurriedness. One challenge of the 21st century is to recover the arts of patience.
Replanting Yourself in Beauty
Another challenge is to remember the role of beauty in life. Not the beauty of a pleasant faces and moving images but the kind of beauty that Patricia Adams Farmer points in Replanting Yourself in Beauty. For her beauty is much deeper than surface realities. It is the beauty of responding to the world around us in sensitive and grateful ways. Having moved to Ecuador with her husband, Ron, she talks about feeling disoriented and then recovering a sense of centeredness in beauty itself. Here's how she puts it.
By "the path of beauty" I mean that we need to choose the most beautiful response for this particular moment, e.g., forgiveness, creative problem solving, courageous action, listening, prayer, stillness. What choice is right for the situation at hand? This is where maturity and wisdom and sensitivity to the "divine lure" from the Adventurer of the universe come into play. It is our moment of improvisation.
In addition to recovering the arts of listening and replanting ourselves in beauty, there are other ideas to keep in mind. For my part, I learn a lot from many writers Adams Farmer and also Reverend Teri Daily. Reverend Daily writes primarily for a Christian audience, but I think her words are relevant to all of us: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Naturalist, and Spiritual-but-not-religious. If you want to avoid death by tweet, death by dizziness, you might find them helpful, too.
Savoring the Moment
Savoring—that delicious word—is a way of experiencing the world most vividly and beautifully. It is a kind of art, too, for savoring doesn't just happen; it needs an open and hospitable soul, a well-developed sense of awe, and a willingness to practice daily. What does it mean to practice the art of savoring? We might call it "deep awareness" or “capturing the moment,” or as Blake says, “kissing the joy as it flies.” We often think that such lofty notions must be the sole territory of the contemplative, the painter, the photographer, and the poet. But savoring is really a universal art, something everyone can practice.
What is the Size of a Soul?
By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature."
Embracing the Grittiness of Love
But that’s not the kind of love we experience in our relationships with one another. Even with those we truly do love, we’re not always kind, we find ourselves at the end of our rope, resentment can develop over time, and sometimes relationships break. On our best of days, we hope and strive to become more like the lover that God is. But we have to learn to love.
Finding the Space to See Things Differently
The Holy Spirit won’t be constrained by the systems of the world or limited by the options we see in front of us. Instead, God’s power and love break into the world—altering its trajectory, opening up new possibilities, and leaving it forever changed. And that alone lets us imagine that things can truly be different from the way they are now.