MENTAL OBESITY

I read Twitter as one absorbs a Rothko painting, the sum more than the many parts, a flash of words, a burst of insight, the totality of the engagement weaving directly into my brain, the conscious mind bypassed. Twitter moving from text message-sized to 280 characters plus images plus gifs plus longer usernames is like taking a Rothko work and adding an extra hundred forty lines of different colors. It might mean something, but I’m unlikely to ever know because the visual cacophony will never enter my brain.

Sometimes, less is more powerful.

Will we ever again know this truth?

The firehose aggregation of words and texts and likes and shares and check-ins and selfies are certainly affecting our days, but we do not fully comprehend how they are reconstructing our brains. Perhaps we should.

Sean Parker is very rich, which means we must listen to everything he says because in 2017 everyone of us wants to be very rich and there’s no sure way but probably the best way is to pay attention to what the very rich say and do. Sean Parker was an early investor in Facebook. He tells us (now, after he’s become so very rich) that he fears that opening the Pandora’s box of social media may have unleashed a beast upon humanity which is not yet done devouring our world.

It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other.

It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.

God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.

It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

Interfering with our productivity, impacting children’s brains, exploiting our emotional vulnerabilities. You begin to understand why our government has called the present-day social media barons to appear before them. This is powerful stuff, maybe far more powerful than we ever envisioned. It’s no wonder that so many continue to howl over supposed “Russian bots” tricking the weak-minded and “hacking” our election.

The problem, though, is that we are viewing social media — and these ne’er do well bots — all wrong. Think of them not as programs or algorithms but as entertainment. The latest Hollywood blockbuster. The Netflix show you are currently binging on. The YouTube channel your child won’t stop watching. They attract us, distract us, gorge our mind, taking us out of time, away from our space, prodding us to emotional response, altering how we view the world — and others, even those we have otherwise tolerated at least for years, maybe longer.

The difference with this entertainment is in the never letting go, never enabling contemplation, never even taking a bathroom break. Instead, everyone from near-birth is now seeking the shelter-feather of the online realm, more and more and more and always more, the never-ending page, the never-stopping notifications, the always-on feed, another light to die upon.

Zap!

And you crave the singularity? Where the digital, binary, electronic, and human form meld togetherĀ That portends a level of mental obesity of the kind where the super-fat man can’t leave his home without a crane. Constant response, nonstop outrage, unbroken connection. Even the cyber cowboy junkies of the punk era unplugged. Not so, today.

We seem not the better for it.

How wise is the crowd, how true is the algorithm, how complete is the data, and how certain are we that the digital, the binary, the processor, the computer is the one true path?

We built machines then to outsource our labors. We build machines now to outsource our thinking. This should at least free us to create, wander, unleash our spirit but instead we built these new machines with mind-tentacles, able to latch onto us, never let go and so we don’t create but regurgitate, we don’t wander but fixate, we aren’t unleashing our spirit but our most toxic.

Two weeks ago a gunman, and we still do not know why, shot and killed over 50 in Las Vegas. A week ago, a terrorist used a truck to kill 8 in New York. Did you forget?

You didn’t move on, certainly you didn’t move forward.

You just kept pressing refresh.

I can’t promise you there is a way out. ButĀ I can swear to you that keeping logged in won’t get you to the other side.