Solitude, God and Social Media or: Stop Tweeting and Listen.

When we get away from the vanity of social media and its self-worshiping communities – we find what we have missed. There are experiences drowned out by the chatter, just as stars are drowned out by the green light spilled by streetlamps. Those experiences – away from the online world, perhaps that’s what you should really be dwelling on, recording, and sharing. All the noise in the echo chamber of social media makes it harder to know that – but it is what we most need to hear.

My friend Constantine von Hoffman was out walking with his wife and son, when his wife stopped, took a picture of a tree and then announced she had uploaded it to Facebook. His son – his teen-aged son, said, “Remember when we just looked at leaves?” Has your archiving and curating gotten in the way of communing?

While traveling to Death Valley it occurred to me that the origin of the great religions are disproportionately in deserts. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed all began their preaching after long stays surrounded by nothing except endless sand and endless sky. In the desert it is starkly clear if one is alone, or with another – and sometime that other isn’t in the mere physical realm. The environment forces a fundamental question: Am I isolated on the world or part of a larger interaction?

This year there’s been a broad discussion on whether social media makes us stupid, or ADHD. I pay no attention to it. Hasn’t this, or something similar, has been said of every emerging media? Some of the ancient Greeks complained that the written word would destroy people’s ability to remember things. TV was a “vast commercial wasteland.” Actually each new media changes us, how we think and how we see. I’d argue that social media can make us creators and greater agents in the world. Living in the city I took to carrying a camera and nailing one fantastic shot a day. It changed how I saw my urban world, perhaps social media does too.

This much I can say for certain about social media: It certainly makes it hard to be alone for an extended time. One morning at 3 AM I posted, “For the record this is when I write UsefulArts.” Moments later the response came from my friend Louis, “For the record this is when I read it”

As a parent I struggle with when to share this connection to the digital world, and when to buffer it so my kids can grow in other ways. And I wonder how my behavior has shaped them. They’ve rarely, if ever, been ignored in favor of a signal from the hive. However, as I write this, I know they’ve waited while I signaled and interacted with friends here.

The wired, global city has banished the night and abolished the dusk. We are free of so much uncertainty and isolation. Mobile media dispels silence. You can find out things almost immediately if you want to and you never have to be alone if you don’t. But have we also banished the poetry of revelation? How do you go on a quest for something when it seems everything can be found?

Through mobile technology social media is now the omni present other, a perpetual connection to machinations of the digital hive. But as we look at it, our eyes grow comfortable with the view, and the heavens are obscured by pixels. Didn’t our eyes look up in to the sky or across the vast ocean and find more than just data?

To grasp again the moral sense of our being, we need to step away from the crowd and recover the gift of the night. Solitude. When we stop speaking we begin to hear; in the darkness we can be immersed by the life beyond the digital media monad.

This season, solitude – something freely available to everyone – seems rarer than all our hand-held technical marvels made of the rarest, most exotic materials on earth. A contrarian voice inside me, maybe a gift from my Cherokee ancestors, says it is best to live in a world of connected dusk, balanced between the individuated light of technology and artifice (techne), and the healing poetry of darkness and mysteries (poiesis).

This solstice, my friend, walk away from the light, and remember the world beyond it.

All the best,
Dave Wieneke

6 Responses to "Solitude, God and Social Media or: Stop Tweeting and Listen."

  • Altaf Shaikh

    December 20, 2010

    Love the post, Dave. Will try to work on it and get back to you with an update ;-)

  • Matthew T. Grant

    December 20, 2010

    Beautiful and thoughtful (even poetic) post, Dave. I agree with your sentiment at the end: that we must seek a kind of balance between the ultimately enclosed world of technology (the screen is a window through with we look into the digital “sphere”) and the radically open world of the All (“cosmos” “universe” “multiverse”).

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Louis

    December 22, 2010

    Lovely piece, Dave.

  • Insightful post, and as a new reader, I must say I much enjoyed it; and can from my own experience heartily approve the sentiment.

    The great children’s writer, Daniel Pinkwater, once commented that to be a good writer, one must first learn simply to be alone with one’s own thoughts, implying that we often engage in conversation and other types of intercourse with men and objects, simply to escape the necessity of confronting our own thoughts; and it’s a shrewd observation and good advice.

    I’m not wired – while I enjoy criticicizing on various threads pertaining to particular contemporary events, when I’m not writing or researching myself, I’m not connected – my phone will not accept text messages, my Twitter and Facebook pages are signboards, directing my readers to my website, where they can find my email address; and while I do faithfully respond to every honest and amiable electronic missive, I do so in those times I’ve made available for such communications; and on the days I write my own fictions, I don’t even read the news or look at my mail: I let the spirit of the work fill my personal atmosphere, if you will.

    Dave is very right when he suggests that the mediums we employ for communication and thought shape us, and I am, perhaps, shaped by my love of reading metaphrorically integrated, shorter and longer works of fiction. By the age of fourteen I could no longer watch the flat, two dimensional characters and meaningless dramatics to be found in your episodic television series; which refusal, I remember, much astonished people in the days when I was much younger and spent a lot of time in bars meeting women; they could not imagine how I could survive life ignorant of both the X-Files and Seinfeld (quite well, thank you).

    I’m a proud atavism then, a man who the hive can reach only by arduous, relatively long paths – and I’m very happy that way. Hives are for bugs.

    Thanks again, Dave, from a new reader.

    The Detective In The Mirror

  • Angela Diaco

    July 24, 2011

    Wow–very insightful and beautifully written.

    I agree that social media does provide comfort in that we appear to be “free of so much uncertainty and isolation.” The fact of the matter is that life is uncertain–and that’s what makes it so great! It’s sad that too often do people think of this as a scary thought.

    But it is important to isolate oneself to develop that inner strength that knows “I know I’ll be OK no matter what’s out there.” For me at least, whether you’re online or off, I know we’re all connected anyway.

  • [...] before 2011 started I wrote a post called Solitude, God and Social Media. Taking my own advice, I’m taking most of August away from online media — and right now [...]

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