Happiness, distraction and social media (or, Is Facebook making us stupid?) is a well argued and well researched post by Fernando Gross that I found encapsulated many of my ponderings on the subject of the omnipresence of the online world. I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, well, more of a tolerance/hate relationship, in that it has great value in keeping up with people and is useful in some ways as a disseminator of news to those who follow several ministry activities I’m involved in. The now almost obligatory ubiquity of Facebook disturbs me, but it also beckons to us to live our lives there, to stay involved, not to miss a moment. Fernando sees this as symptomatic of a deeper issue.
We are heading towards something one might call the distraction economy. A lot of the time we spend on social media comes from moments of distraction. It’s the moments between things (or the moments when the current tasks seem to demand less than full attention) that people are filling with these digital interactions. Next time you go to a film, look around and see how many people are looking at Facebook, email or whatever even while the opening credits are rolling.
I recognise myself too easily, and painfully, in some of his observations. What is it about distraction that we love? Is a hyper-connected world gradually eroding our capacity for focus, for Getting Things Done? Where will it all lead? Ultimately I have faith in a human-ness that is intrinsically part of how we’re made – an echo of Eden. Just as you can’t make a device requiring physical input that’s smaller than the capabilities of human fingers (though voice control may get round this), and there’s little point creating screens with resolutions better than the human eye, so our soul, our desire and ability to communicate, has limits that are not easily transgressed. At the extreme some individuals can spend their entire social life online, but as a society we still find this aberrant. All ages celebrate, seek out and enjoy the gathering, the meeting up, the being together. It’s still something we seem to want to do, as though we’re made that way and our souls become restless without it. I’m not sure this is such a generational thing – the main difference is that younger generations are more adept at using the technology and therefore subsuming it into their connected life. There are plenty of ‘silver surfers’ who spend a lot of their time there too. The question remains, is it making us dumber?
Facebook is just a part of this equation. It stands out because it so clearly embodies many of the problems of the distraction economy as well as being the most successful player in that field. I’m not sure the internet or even Facebook is making us stupid. But, I am sure that living in a permanent state of distraction and partial attention is far from smart.
I agree. Read his full post. The well researched links are worth a look.
Now, I must get back to work…!