Reflections: What Would Henry David Thoreau say about Social Media?

I’ve been having an increased issue with social media -not that it isn’t useful but the fundamental problem it comes with regards to questions of living.

I sometimes ask myself, what is my life? What is life and am I consciously
living it?

Am I being deliberate by how I interact with the very elements that make me
a human or am I creating an illusion for myself and calling it a life?

Life these days seems to be a performance. To sell yourself, to producticize
yourself as a human, you need to perform. You need to do things that seems so
uncharacterically unnatural to be accepted.

I believe Jason Silva got it wrong about instagram. This generation experiences memories as anticipated memories, as Dr. Daniel Kahnman says.  It is in reality a curation of your life moments – fleeting. You don’t have the agency to decide how to architect how you experience things, as Silva espouses, without giving up something. In that process you lose the lived reality for that ‘anticipated’ future. We don’t become artists, or authors for our lives by being given this agency – we are deliberately living in an altered reality that panders to our ego, it panders to how we wish things were, not how things are. The blessing in memory is to re-live, to re-tell and reflect over your experiences as you experienced them authentically. Capturing everything and exposing everything is, in my opinion, an unfit way to live your life. It’s a supreme act of the ego, the base self. The act of documenting is largely an introspective process and I really believe it needs to be differentiated from what we call ‘documenting’ on social media, which is more aptly described as overexposure. I can see it as nothing but the
objectification of ourselves in utmost desperation to live what we deem ‘reality’ and impose our own agency to decide how we get to experience that reality for anything more that what it already was in that moment.

What troubles me deeply about social media is that it is like living your life
through a mirror – always aware and hyper-conscious about how you are percieved.

You forget the human being that is living it. You become numb to anything
but yourself. It’s the worst kind of inward looking – nothing introspective
about it. It’s hard to engage with deep questions of life these days and I feel
that most people are living with the perception of their own mastery rather than
living it.

Unconsciously, I’ve adopted a minimalist life and a lifestyle designer attitude to
how I shape my life to combat these feelings but I cant help but feel there are more questions to be asked and more answers to learn from.

I don’t want to live my life through a screen, as though it was a play I’ve
written about myself that I am performing for the world day in and day out. I
want to simply life – deeply and meaningfully without any need to prove it to
anyone and to have an impact, without seeking anything back.

It’s 330 am – a time where these questions come up and would have thought that Andy Warhol would have been the best person to ask these question to. But no, now Henry David Thoreau speaks to me so well. If there were any writer that I feel would navigate this lived reality so well, it would be him.

His answer: It’s a life of the unmarked self that, in this day and age, is most powerful. What can be more powerful than to not be known. To committ yourself to something more than oneself and not chase after anything fleeting. It’s recognizing that, in your committed to life and your mastery, is in some strange way the reason people remain immortal. Trying to capture everything, paradoxically, only keeps you that much farther in arms reach away from the immortality you seek.

With on foot in the matrix and one foot out, I will continue to navigate this world, where the greatest challenge seems to be understanding the reality of it all.

The following words could have been written by him in this act day and age. I find solace in them.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and
not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live
what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation,
unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow
of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not
life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and
reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the
whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if
it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of
it in my next excursion.”

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”

The Irony of the Democratization of Information

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I’m greeted with a series of images and ideas. And I wonder why these images, people and ideas have entered my consciousness.Images, people and ideas that are so far removed from my immediate reality, I wonder why I’m being presented with them and then forced to interact with them.So-and -so lost weight.So-and-so made a deal.So-and-so are about to go to war.

What do any of these ideas have to do with me right now at this moment?

Why am I not allowed to talk back without opting out of the system entirely or looking like I’m hating because I simply don’t agree?

If we think of our lives as roads and paths we take, this constant barrage of information is meant to throw us off or momentarily derail us.

It takes about 30-40 minutes for the mind to go back to task after procrastinating, but think of the daily nonsensical information we are forced to deal with. Think of all the ideas we are forced to contend with.

There is a war against a peaceful, fortified mind.

Is what happens to someone else or somewhere else my business? Can I immediately change the circumstances I’m forced to read, hear or know about? If not, how does it serve me?

‘But we need to be aware of our surrounding, what goes on in our world.”

Yes, to an extend. But I can argue that the care we exhibit to causes, or events that capture our attention are another means of interacting with ourselves. The need for:

Entertainment.

Wisdom.

Life Lessons.

Shock and Awe(also known as storytelling).

They substitute the interactions we can’t and don’t receive from the communities we are around. Communities, I believe, that have been systematically targeted for destruction.

This is a result of living in an artificially connected world. I say artificial because these connections are merely “touches”. An ineffectual, superficial connection. There is no deep, community bond but rather a perceived bond of mutual interest of passive emotionally manipulative connections.

How can true communities exist when our lives seem to be illusionary constructs? The constant barrage of information gives you a sense that you are living, interacting and experiencing but you are not. It gives you a sense that you are living life, but you are not.

You are a living and breathing entity that is “touching” and being “touched” with no real impact than a random handshake you had with someone you just met. You can’t remember them or  they can’t remember you unless you have something that they want.

Social media  also brings us to accept and market ourselves like the products that we are constantly bombarded with. The same products that could care less about our lives. They enter our consciousness and leave with no mercy, no love, no care. They just want us for a second then they disappear. What stays with us are the fantasy we’ve built around it, what we thought it could give us. The same fantasy we built around what we think our lives are:

Fake.

Fleeting.

Temporarily Forever.

Just the concept around “liking” something on Facebook restricts your ability to full appreciate the dynamic nature of a thought and interact, question and debate it like a human should. “Liking” has not only replaced our ability to express ourselves through astute vocabulary, but slowly numbs our consciousness against being critical of an idea once we interact with it. It makes it easier and easier to go along with the crowd rather than verbalizing our discontent, which has also been attacked.

This is how your existence is being erased from your own memory.

It’s strange to have our very being, our interests, and our ideas virtually commercialized . Right down to the commercialization of our souls. We’re up for sale every minute. And the currency we trade with is our attention, our belief, our interest, our fervor and momentary delight we get from entertainment with no lasting connection.

Eric Schmidt, the former executive chair at Google said that from all the content from the beginning of time until now is being replicated every 48 hours.

It reminds me of someone who’s lost their child fervently running through a crowd trying to find them. It’s like someone rummaging through their bag trying to find a valuable item with the look of despair.

We’re looking for wisdom but can’t find it and have to keep writing, producing, making in order to find any semblance of truth.

Perhaps the ancients of the past thought before they wrote?That the only thing that should be passed down is something worth being said?

I used to think that mass information produced by the masses may create some sort of equilibrium to the corporate monopoly of information but in fact it has made it easier for disinformation to become more rampant. A lie becomes easier to tell if it’s mixed up with a bunch of truth and lies. Whereas previously, if you said, the 5-6 main media channels were untruthful, you could point them to and avoid them. Not anymore.

What is the truth? Who doesn’t have it and why?

What is falsehood? Who embodies it and why?

It’s as if one lives in a village and you have one individual who was hired to spread lies. Except they tell a lie to a third of the population and withhold information from one third and tell the truth to one third.

Today, opinion is taken as information and information is taken as wisdom.

Wisdom is scarce because not everyone can give it. Though it is what we want most.

And as I look at my Twitter feed, it becomes a blur.  A barrage of opinion being confused as wisdom.

Because once my computer is off, you are off.

Out of sight. Out of mind.

We can’t think in 140 characters. You can’t give any real insight in that limitation either.

And unless you’ve given me something that shakes my soul beyond a momentary moment of joy, I’m not sure that I care.

What’s worse is that even if something important is being said, it’s being said on a platform that isn’t owned by you.

Strangely, even radical opinions against the status quo become owned by the very people who you are fighting against…when you do it on their turf.

Rage against the machine. But don’t try to graffiti it and tell me that is rebellion.

No one ever try to start a war by attacking their opponents strength, only their weakness.

I’d rather take that tweet to a person and hear their response. And have that person take that idea and spread it to another.

Like the very coffee shops I sat in Alexandria, Egypt.

People sat down and talked to each other. Each. Other.

The irony of information is that even though it can talk to us, we can talk back to it.

The painful reality is that it may not respond.

So we end up exactly where it wanted us to be in the first place.

Mute.

Silent.

Irrelevant.

One step forward for humanity.

But only to have that same leg cut off in the process.