These days, it seems like everything that happens in our modern society--be it pop culture or politics--requires an opinionated think piece. You’ve read them, those articles that supposedly break down the "issues" so they're easier to "process."
Now, I certainly approve of thinking--exploring multiple sides of an issue to create an informed and thoughtful society is righteous.
But at what point do we start to overthink? At what point do we start to dive so deep into an issue that we’ve lost perspective of the big picture? At what point does all this opinion become just another tool to distract and divide and anger?
The digital age and social media are the perpetrators of this burgeoning problem.
Back in the day articles and editorials were vetted by editors and managers, requiring a skilled level of research and verification of sources. All the rest of us had an opinion, but aside from setting up a soapbox and wielding a bullhorn on a street corner, our audience was our friends, family, and co-workers--people we typically respect or would at least treat with respect when talking about a difficult issue face-to-face.
These days anyone can scribe whatever unedited, unauthenticated, scathing idea they want, and then post it on any number of digital soapboxes, from Facebook to Twitter to blogs (oh hi me!). Just as before, all of us have an opinion, but now we have a much louder and unmonitored bullhorn from which to scream it. And we get to do so with relative anonymity, opening the door to the types of tactless and inconsiderate responses you'd never repeat to someone in person.
An infinite number of opinions are available and easily culled from a Google search as well, allowing us to find a tailor-made think piece to confirm our viewpoint. And then we rebroadcast it from our flamboyantly loud digital soapbox, inflating the power of that opinion, no matter how inaccurate, erroneous, or untrue.
Back in the day, not everything was perfect either. We had a limited number of sources for our information--dependent on local school and library funding, accessibility of TV broadcast news, and your proximity to a newsstand. And not everyone in the mainstream media has a perfect track record of providing accurate and unbiased information either. But beyond that, there were always good and decent writers and journalist trying to provide authentic information and well-reasoned opinions.
A friend of mine recently stated that "no one ever convinces anyone of anything on the internet," and I tend to agree. No matter how impassioned your plea, very few people read a mini think piece on social media and think to themselves, “you know what, they're right and I'm wrong.”
It’s trite, but true.
Instead of providing a new perspective to shift our thinking for the better, an opine typically only elicits either adulation or anger--and that anger typically isn't very polite.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last few months that a think piece, or a Facebook regurgitation of a think piece, has taken me away from mindfulness. Running through any number of potential responses in my mind, instead of enjoying my morning walk with my dog. Typing out any number of potential responses, instead of writing a new article for Elephant Journal. Just generally consuming and distracting my mind when there are so many more fruitful and beneficial things I could be focusing on.
I have to balance my thoughts on this. Certainly I’m not going to advocate everyone just shut up and keep their ideas and opinions to themselves. To claim I'm some kind of expert at knowing when to let go of an argument would be entirely hypocritical.
But that doesn't mean we can't all try and be a little better... consider your source, be smart and respectful about what you say, stay away from opinionated rhetoric that only seeks to antagonize, pause and take a deep breath before you comment with vehemence, and make a reasonable effort to do some research before you claim something is ”fact.”
This broad network of information we have at our fingertips can be used for kindness or cruelty. The tack we take is up to each one of us.
So, let's all be kind.
"I was mesmerized, as I always am, by the contradiction of a [waterfall]: an always-moving flow whose shape is ever-constant. A thing at once speeding and still."
In nature as in life, we often appear static. At any given moment our jobs, our friends, our finances, our homes, our entire existence can seem to others, and feel to us, as immovable. But that's never really the case--underneath the shell we are a roaring rapid of constant change. Every friendly conversation, every new idea gleaned, every experienced moment, an opportunity for growth.
In nature as in life, nothing and no one is as simple as they seem... thankfully, because it would be pretty boring otherwise.
The heart of this blog is about navigating the complicated waters of our modern times. Yeah, mindfulness is in the title, and sure, I write a lot about nature and hiking and travel, but those things are just methods -- important methods -- I think we all need in order to thrive in this day and age.
The key question I like to ask then is: how do we do that? How do we thrive when there so much digital distraction out there trying to hold us back?
The ability to succeed in life, to me, is centered around two distinct yet interconnected sociological arenas. One is our personal world, the life that only we know about because it takes place in our own mind. The other is the social world, the life we show everyone around us. Both feed into one another. Both are fundamental.
Our society, social structure, and the way we process and understand it, was developed over centuries. We figured out all sorts of ways to deal with one another. Time, experience, and technology then alter the paradigm and advance us forward. That progress.
So it's impossible not to imagine the digital age having some effect on us. I was born around the time some experts deem the start of the millennial generation, but just barely. That means I do remember life before technology, but I also saw the transition start early on.
The first time I remember noticing a computer in my daily life was around the 2nd grade, and it grew from there. It started with a few computers in the school office, then a computer lab, then a computer in every classroom, then a computer in every home. Later it became a computer for every person, then a computer and a phone, then a computer and a smartphone and a tablet and a Google and an iTunes and a Netflix and everything you could possibly imagine at your fingertips.
These were all fun new gadgets that set out to make life easier, and they did. But in a broader sense they were quickly changing us on a much deeper level. They rapidly progressed a shift in our collective societal mindset, where all the ways in which we communicated went from a naturally sluggish human pace to a modern frenetic digital pace.
Let’s take a brief trip through the past then...
At one point in time we would make a plan to have dinner with a friend, and there might not be any other moment of communication between the plan and the dinner. There were no direct messages in the interim. No keeping up through Facebook posts. No texts at the last minute to let your friend know you're running late, even though that tardiness was of your own creation. You just met there for dinner, and then you caught up. It was slow and cumbersome, but it was real.
I pretty sure this is the way people used to make plans because I’ve seen it in the movies.
At one point in time we were slowly introduced to a new friend over time. We met at a party, got together over coffee, talked on the phone from time to time, and maybe got together with mutual friends. It took time and you had to put in effort. There was no method, beyond a private investigator, to dig into someone's past other than to simply ask them. There was no Facebook or Twitter history to explore.
I believe I vaguely recall a life like this, sometime before Friendster and the subsequent onslaught and exposure of our personal world onto public mediums.
At one point jealousy totally existed, sneaking into our psyche, causing us to covet the experiences of others. We would regret the decision to break up with that one guy or quit that one class. Worry was ubiquitous as we went about our day, and especially after the evening news of an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries”. All these emotions existed, but they took time to evolve. We weren't unavoidably reminded of the things we should fear and things we were missing out on via social media.
I remember feeling all these emotions from time to time, but not as much as I do now.
At one point gossip and cruelty were a part of our social world. People have always talked behind other's backs and there were always mean girls and mean guys. But you had to be mean face to face. You couldn't sulk and hide behind a digital avatar as you spit venom while claiming victimhood.
I know assholes existed in the past because I did everything I could to avoid them. They’re not as easy to avoid nowadays.
Our modern digital age has sped up the typical human socialization process, making it much easier to jump into these age old emotions. It facilitates and encourages laziness, impatience, jealousy, and cruelty by placing a rapid succession of updates in an easily accessible newsfeed. It leaves the normal pattern of social graces by the wayside. It discourages living in the present because this ability we now have to keep in touch so easily, is so easily addictive.
And before you troll me with a “get off my lawn!” comment, I’m not saying the digital age is a bad thing. Information and communication is at our fingertips, and those are two key elements to thriving in life.
What I’m saying is that the changes the digital age has so quickly foisted upon us demands our careful attention. The more we breeze through life without consideration, the easier it is to fall into the traps of jealousy and insensitivity towards our fellow man.
We can live in the digital age and still take with us a reminder of the way things were. And really, all that is is being mindful. That’s how we maintain our sanity in the digital age. That's what this blog is about.