For years I have tried to navigate a healthy relationship with social media, with limited success. Though I deleted Twitter from my phone and silenced my Facebook notifications, I became attached to Instagram and was still checking it (and Facebook) many times a day. That changed a week ago after I listened to a podcast on digital minimalism. The podcast didn't just bring up the usual arguments against social media. It presented an attractive vision of focused living. That combination---damning evidence and the beauty of a more fulfilled life---is what finally pushed me to go on a social media fast.
Hundreds of years ago, the English theologian John Wesley wrote a moving commentary on the radical, self-sacrificial love commanded by Jesus Christ. It's remarkable how reading this passage today shows a stark contrast between biblical love and the type of love touted in the shallow memes of social media.
"If the story confirms everything you want to believe about your enemies, pause before clicking that share or retweet button. It might be too bad to be true." This short quote from Collin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition encapsulates how Instagram news stories can prevent us from being sober enough the grim prospects of the war in Ukraine.
Design expert Donald Norman has written that when people are anxious, they narrow their thought processes. Conversely when people are happy, they become more creative and imaginative at solving problems. If this is true, it means that one of the best things a technical writer can do is create beautiful content that moves readers to a happier, more adaptive emotional state. Or so I contend.
Technical writers usually think of their job in functional terms: to help end users know or do something. Creating beautiful content is typically not seen as a core part of the equation. But what if technical writers thought of themselves as artists whose aim is to create a thing of beauty? Isn't that, in the end, what makes for a good user experience?
This is the informal code of woke social justice that I have come to observe in the era of social media: You absolutely must be doing social justice, and a doing a lot of it, or there is something very wrong with you. Yet you must not post about the social justice you are doing, because then you are virtue signaling. Yet if you say nothing, you shall be judged for your abominable silence. So you have to say something---but you better watch how you say it, or you may wish you had never said anything at all.
Vengeance is a common theme in fantasy fiction, and it is striking how well certain FF authors tell the truth about what a messy business it is. Are there parallels one could draw to life in America today? I think so. We live in a society where social media offers a robust and pervasive platform for condemning evil people but no framework for forgiving them even when they repent.
I've had both the pleasure and misfortune this week of reading three essays about the way technology is shaping us and our environment. Things are mostly terrible, and yet there are some glimmers of hope. One of the authors (Alan Jacobs) nods at the philosophical tradition of Daoism as a potential framework to guide our behavior in a way that is more productive than other solutions which so far have spectacularly failed. I don't claim to understand what Daoism is or how it could help, at least not yet. These are complex ideas---but also mind-blowing and super cool.
Last month Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a sobering investigative report about the dark side of the porn industry. His work inspired some concrete reforms designed to protect victims of crippling shame and sexual abuse. But are these reforms enough as long as porn continues on? Is the widespread availability of porn, now so easy to access via smartphones and the internet, a "stealth public health crisis" as one feminist scholar argues? If so, what other steps can be taken to address it?
To forgive is to cancel a debt, and to cease feeling anger towards a wrongdoer---whether or not they have repented. Wouldn't this go a long way in breaking the hate cycle that infects our divided culture, both in person and online? The question is fraught with complexity, and yet perhaps no one in history was better equipped to answer it than Martin Luther King, Jr. It's worth reflecting on his insights as we honor his legacy and look ahead at 2021.