As the Industrial Revolution began to gain momentum, thinkers often decried technological progress as an “atomizing force” that split communities by emphasizing the individual over the group. Living alone in a crowd is documented in a number of books—including Bowling Alone, Alone Together, and Antisocial Media. Perhaps there is no more poignant expression of atomization than Moby & the Void Pacific Choir’s “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?”
This atomization is now reaching deeper—into the individual person. Consider the way in which the phrase: “That’s your truth— my truth is different,” has expanded in scope. It’s now: “That’s your truth—my truth, right now, and on this social media platform, is different!”
The same human being can be
– a foodie who travels all over the world and will eat anything on Instagram
– an environmental activist who thinks meat consumption is a problem the world needs to address right now on Twitter
– a wonderful suburban mom who feeds their kids only the simplest of fare because life is busy on Facebook, and
– the consummate professional on LinkedIn. There is no need for consistency among these many different personalities because each is just another performance.
Forget the law of non-contradiction—authenticity in this moment is all that matters. In a life lived online, there is no consistent person. There is just a series of performances tuned to the time, place, and persona of each social media network. This orientation to performance works itself out in real life through the person who is a binge drinker (or worse) at college but the small-town hero and good example for young men when he’s back home.
Is this healthy? Probably not. A person who lives this kind of life long enough will probably end up in an asylum. Or, if one performance is allowed to overtake the others, the person becomes a caricature of a person—the grumbler becoming a grumble, as C. S. Lewis puts it in The Great Divorce. To avoid this fate, we need to become whole persons, even if we end up being labeled “inauthentic” in some situations.
We must heed the law of non-contradiction: Intentionally form a set of beliefs that are consistent in all situations and are not self-contradictory. For example, accept that you cannot be an environmental activist who also travels the world in search of the latest adventure (or the perfect selfie). one of these two performances must “give way” to the other for a consistent, non-contradictory set of beliefs. Accept that you cannot be a “natural beauty” who also has surgery so as to look more like the person seen in filtered selfies.
Let us embrace our limitations as humans!
Let’s read deeply and widely to gain a better understanding of ideas and people. Make decisions and stick with them—life is not about the limitless freedom to make an infinite number of choices across time. Learn the difference between freedom from and freedom to; that’s the difference between the descendants of the Biblical Hagar, who were free but always at war, and the descendants the Biblical Isaac, who went into slavery for four hundred years but who learned how to be truly free.
Let’s gather with a real community, one that will nurture us and help us be consistent. Be a somewhere rather than a nowhere (or digital nomad). Skip social media and talk to real people in real-time, across time, becoming a part of something larger than ourselves.
In short, each of us should intentionally focus on being a person rather than a mixed bag of performances.
Further reading: If you found this item food for thought, here are a couple of Russ White ‘s other think pieces for Mind Matters News.
Escaping the news filter bubble: Three simple tips
Are you trapped in a news bubble? Russ White: The news filtered to you might leave out important things you need to know. But how can you tell? Before we talk about how to get out of the news filter bubble, we need to look at how it actually works.
Always wear your safety glasses: A tale for our times