We Shape Our Tools, and Then Our Tools Shape Us...Into Tools

Father John Culkin, friend and student of the great Marshall McLuhan, once wrote, "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." Once we have created a car, for example, our society evolves to make the car normal, and our behavior adapts to accommodate this new normal. Where we once walked, we now drive. We become assimilated to the tools of our own invention.

We are, I fear, in the midst of this process of normalization-assimilation with regard to social media. Having made room in our psyches for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest, we are now experiencing life through Valencia and LoFi filters.

It's not enough for us to like something; we need people to know that we like it.

But we don't feel the need to wax rhapsodic about how much we like something; our reasons for liking it are irrelevant.

At the moment we become conscious of what we're doing, we feel a sudden compulsion to tell someone--anyone--what we're doing. We don't go on and on about it, of course, and we don't feel compelled to demonstrate to that special someone why they were singled out to learn about this recent accomplishment. We just say it so we can say it's been said.

I'm not typically one to complain about social media. I'm not one of those naysayers who thinks Google makes us stupid or Twitter makes us twits. And I'm not really even complaining about social media here. I'm complaining about what we're becoming in what the kids used to call "meatspace"--the real, physical space we actually occupy, with all its commensurate relational responsibility.

If someone walked up to me every few minutes and gave me a 140-character report on what they've been doing since the last time they gave me an update, they'd get about ten minutes out of me before I locked them out of my life. That's the reason some people offer for why they're not on Twitter. I think it's a facile argument and I get annoyed by it. But here's the problem: now, in real life, in meatspace, people are coming up to me on a fairly regular basis and telling me what they're doing.

I don't care. Stop telling me this stuff. Save it for Twitter.

Likewise, here on terra firma the mere fact that you like something is meaningless to me. I get why you might "like" a corporate page on Facebook; they've offered you incentives to earn your like. I get why you might "like" one of my status updates; besides the fact that it's simultaneously profound and hilarious, it's a bid on my part to connect, and you've honored our relationship by offering a brief and modest acknowledgment.

The like button on Facebook is our virtual gift to one another: I have been liked, therefore I am. But in the real world bids to connect take a different shape. If my wife told me, at the end of the day, that her meetings with her clients had gone really well, and I responded simply by saying, "Like," she would not feel loved; she would not even feel acknowledged. She most definitely would not feel liked. She would feel ignored and neglected and even belittled, because she wants me to share in the details of her life, and I've jumped right to my final answer.

So, here's my fear: rather than retaining our relational responsibility to honor people's bids to connect in contextually appropriate ways--to discern the difference between virtual and local relationship--we are becoming zombified by social media, and we're failing one another in our responsibility to love. Our neighbors may have avatars in any number of virtual environments, but they themselves are not avatars; they are real, flesh-and-blood people, and we need to treat them as such when we encounter them as our own real, flesh-and-blood selves.

How do we do that? I don't know. I know how we don't do it--by saying something like "I don't care. Stop telling me this stuff. Save it for Twitter." Apart from that, I'm open to your suggestions.


Good News: David C. Cook, publisher of my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville, is making the ebook free for download for two days--August 5-6, 2013. Then from August 7 through September 7, the ebook will be sold for only 99 cents. Just go to their page, click on the book, then click on the link for your preferred ebook platform (e.g., amazon.com for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook).

Please spread the word! And if you've read the book, please consider writing a review on Goodreads, or your blog, or send your friends an email about it. Message me on Facebook with a link to your review and your address, and I'll mail you a copy of my booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest as thanks.


Anonymous said…
Good one, i like your article ... quite interesting

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