Remember when tweeting meant joining a virtual pub full of good-natured friendly argumentation?
For me, her words captured my growing dissatisfaction with social media, that niggling sense of that social media has become a plunging, aching void of routine and predictability, even in a time that — on the face of it, with the global leadership at hand — would seemed so tempestuously unpredictable.
Twitter, especially — once a virtual pub full of good-natured, friendly argumentation made and taken in good-faith — has become boring beyond endurance, for the simple reason that everyone is saying precisely the thing you have come to expect them to say — only in tones and huffs ratcheted up to 11, when 12 means the boiler is about to blow.
You’d think at least the chugging hysteria born of the daily headlines would keep it interesting, but you’d be wrong. Unless one is entertained by the possibility that the nation may have a collective stroke in mid Re-Tweet, which I am not, there is precious little new thinking or creative expression coming through the threads. It is not interesting to see the same people, saying the same things. It is not entertaining to witness such a dismaying contempt for curiosity, or to comprehend my own. There is a busy-ness of words, many of them issuing from people whose faces have been before ours for decades, but the messages are rote or kneejerk, and all of them seem to reduce discourse down to, “Oh, shut up, and get away from our lunchroom table.”
It’s a tribal thing, really, but on social media it feels like everyone is on auto-pilot, so long enthralled to the idol of their own ideology that they aren’t even really thinking about it anymore, they’re just moving with the mob, and they can’t tell you why. Or they can, but only because, as I wrote in Strange Gods, “We can always give a million reasons to justify our hatreds, but our love? Often we cannot explain our love at all, except as an open and full-hearted mystery…”
Pope Francis recently adjured Catholics to primarily be Catholics, not demonstrably of the “left” or the “right.”
…we need to avoid two recurrent temptations. The first temptation seeks diversity without unity. This happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others, or always in the right, when we become so-called “guardians of the truth.” When this happens, we choose the part over the whole, belonging to this or that group before belonging to the Church. We become avid supporters for one side, rather than brothers and sisters in the one Spirit. We become Christians of the “right” or the “left,” before being on the side of Jesus, unbending guardians of the past or the avant-garde of the future before being humble and grateful children of the Church. The result is diversity without unity. The opposite temptation is that of seeking unity without diversity. Here, unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together and in the same way, always thinking alike. Unity ends up being homogeneity and no longer freedom. But, as Saint Paul says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).
Very wise words, and it takes only a few minutes on social media to see how accurate they are. What tweets aren’t pushing other people away from having the wrong sorts of opinions are outrageously demanding groveling public apologies (or else!) with promises that in the future, one’s conformity to the Cause (whatever cause it is) will be pristine and spotless.
There is no freedom in any of that. Also, the boredom of predictability. Sometimes on social media, it feels like Andy Warhol’s prediction about everyone being famous for 15 minutes has morphed into something even worse — that everyone will spend those 15 minutes making a public apology or clarification in order to prevent one’s livelihood from being destroyed. In China, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. On Twitter, it appears to be the Year of the Groveling Yak, once thought extinct but recently enjoying a new resurgence.
It’s tiring to read this stuff. It’s tiring to watch people who, a day earlier, had never heard of the latest whistleblower or Conventional Wisdom Captive suddenly demonize or lionize same “as a political act.” Shouldn’t our politics be a little less shallow than that? Less predictable?
As an old English professor of mine would pronounce at the class: “Bong! Boring! Say something new!”
Familiarity breeds contempt. Incuriosity makes us predictable and boring, and our media outlets, whether old or new, establishment or alternative, are crammed with things we have already heard, already seen, already thought of. Say something new? What is there left to say?
As I write this, the carillon at our church is telling the hour. Bong, goes the digitized bell, set to its quietest level, barely heard off the church grounds, because a newcomer to the neighborhood took offense at its reverberations. Bong, sounds the Angelus, a call to prayer no longer familiar, and barely permitted to be heard. Bong, it goes again: come to Adoration; now is a chance to worship, a chance to listen in silence, where I will tell you something different, something that will re-orient you toward what is real, and ever-new; something that will never bore you because I reveal it daily, in my being, and in my body, into which you are invited, and I pronounce it in so many original ways, and present it in a mystery so simple, and so paradoxically complex.
See, I make all things new.
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