Friday, March 10, 2017

The Net Negative

Lent this year involves an additional discipline in my life, one that is increasingly common:  the social media fast.  I've deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, and installed a blocker plug-in on my browser that limits total social media time to thirty minutes a day.

I know, I know, Lent is all about finding spiritual disciplines that help us walk the Way, about committing ourselves to the Lordship of the Risen Christ.  "It's not just about losing weight and shedding habits, like Jesus is some self-help guru," one might cluck.

To be honest, now that we are 30 years into the great internet experiment, I'm reasonably sure that our engagement with the internet...and social media in a spiritual issue.

It was, or so we thought at the dawn of this era, going to open up a new age of openness and awareness.  We could connect with anyone, anywhere, and the walls of our mutual misunderstanding would fall away.  The full repository of all human knowledge was ours to encounter.

Perhaps in some alternate universe, that was so.  But in this one, humankind has made a hash of it.

I've felt this, as a growing irritation, as my interactions with social media have changed over the last fifteen years.  As it has evolved, I'm more aware of Facebook managing my interactions, as the design underlying the connectivity becomes more intentional and more insistent.  Perhaps it's my pathological introversion.  But it feels more and more...not the human souls I interact with over it, but the system itself...intrusive.

Endless, pointless "notifications," which used to represent actual human interactions, but now are part of a system of intermittent social reward.  Relentless marketing, intentionally interfaced with external systems that track and mirror back perceived interests as a way of reinforcing behavior.

For all of the human connection that can occur, I'm increasingly aware that I'm being played, that I'm being used by an increasingly sophisticated but subsentient learning system whose sole function is to distract and addict, to maximize my engagement for its own profit.

It's that motive, that corporate self-interestedness, that ultimately sabotages our efforts.  I trust for-profit social media to create healthy relationships in the same way I trust for-profit hospitals to provide the best care.  Or for-profit prisons to reduce recidivism.

There lies the soul-peril, because being part of any system that is itself selfish is a dangerous thing for the integrity of our persons.

Taking a break from that is a good thing.