Internet interconnects nearly all of us—everywhere, constantly. This constant, ubiquitous interconnectedness has many upsides—but also many downsides. A key downside to the internet is that many of us are downright addicted to the internet’s upsides. (Worse, more and more society has built itself out onto a limb of dependency on computers and people’s addiction to them.)
But another downside is that the internet has trained a stunning amount of people to cut a stunning amount of corners—in research, argumentation, thought generally, and—above all—patience towards others and ourselves. This constant interconnectedness, matched with all the corner-cutting, has created a social atmosphere where a most important skill is to navigate the varied and competing social and political arguments of nearly everyone we know—from coworkers and acquaintances, to our closest friends and family.
Double the Challenge: Much More Info, and Much Less Attention-span to Process It
It is hard enough to simply receive and sort all these arguments—much less compare and rank them with the others. But another, amazingly difficult challenge has arisen: more and more people are now “multitasking” to an absolutely frantic degree—and so they have even less attention-span (i.e. time and energy) to sort and rank more and more arguments and ideas. The resultant “cognitive bottleneck,” from constant overload, causes people to do what we see them doing everywhere: simply shutting off mentally.
Constant Texting as a Cause and Symptom of Mental Shut-off
Now, for so many, constant “texting” bridges the noisey mental exhales (banishes the silent mental inhales) between one face-to-face interaction and the next. Good interaction requires thought and attention—both of which drain away by the noise-bridges of constant texting, to avoid the cold and essential waters of introspection. One of the goals of constant texting is recovery from the last “real” interaction, and preparation for the next “real” interaction. But the result is that this constant pseudo-recovery and frantic “preparation” completely destroys the ability to interact with courage, humility, and purpose.
The result is thinner and thinner interactions. At their thinnest, these interactions amount only to an empty mutual exchange of going through the motions of constant empty mutual exchanges—to avoid feeling lonely (i.e. feeling unsafe and unloved).
Eventually, as we see, an addiction to these thin tactics leads to continual mental-shut-offs: depressed compliments, exuberant misery, and—in the end—numb, lonely crowds. Because just going through the motions is not enough.
Fear of Death, Arising as a Dread of Life and an Avoidance of Thought
Less time to really think: less time to reflect on how the modern era of constant interconnectedness makes it harder and harder for us to give a meaningful amount of attention even to every crisis we hear about, much less anything less than a crisis.
This drained attention-span (drained time and energy)— matched with constant, numbing over-stimulation—is what you are up against, when you seek to compete for the time and energy of others. And if all you have to offer them is another “stunning” crisis—that cannot work: they won’t have enough time to truly trust your thinly researched claims, nor energy enough to feel any more fearful and hopeless than from yesterday’s thousand crises.
The internet has provided endless possibilities: to learn and cooperate, but also to live out of balance, to chase every direction at the same time while standing still, and to pressure our friends and family into at least trying to pretend that they will somehow—impossibly—stack our many crusades onto their many own.
And in those rare instances where one of your crusades really aligns with one of theirs—and no abusive, needy emotional sales-pitch is needed—then the challenge is simply to be a little (or a lot) more humble, objective, and thorough about the information that you share with them. Because the last thing they need is another pile of unsorted, unranked claims to stare at briefly before sighing thin assurance to you—that you probably did not solve the world (much less any of the other’s immediate needs) by happening onto a few published opinions.
Instead, build up the courage and humility to sit still, quietly, and without distraction—and notice only your breath. Five minutes, each day, for a week—and the façades will fade away forever.