I am valuable so long as I keep scrolling. They have monetized my right thumb.
I am a lab rat at the mercy of industrial psychologists and social scientists and UX designers. They are the best and the brightest. In some crucial ways, they know more about me than I know about myself. They value me for my profile, the complex data set that includes not only granular demographics but deep insight into my psyche.
They can predict with ever increasing certainty where my thumb will pause. And that’s where the money is.
. . .
They say Facebook makes us depressed and anxious. It’s not, I think, simply because I compare myself to others. Some of that, sure. I envy fishing trips and European vacations and friends who have good jaw lines.
But what scrambles my brain most is the restlessness of never getting to the end. Just one more thumb swipe and there will be another fascinating article from The Atlantic or Atlas Obscura; one more meta joke from Clickhole; one more silly but insightful morsel of fake news from The Onion or Babylon Bee; maybe just one more article from a thoughtful Christian author who will at last perform the tightrope walk that perfectly balances two millennia of theology with complete cultural wokeness.
FOMO isn’t just about cocktail parties and vacations, it’s also about an article I haven’t yet seen that will make perfect sense of Donald Trump and his followers, or simplify the bewildering complexity the health care debate, or explain once again why it’s so hard to lose weight.
It was bad enough back in the good old days. In the early days of the web, we surfed and surfed and joked about finally getting to the End of the Internet. Then we’d turn off the VGA monitor and return to our families to tell the tale. Now it would take a bolt of lightning to get us to look up from our iPhones at dinner.
. . .
This new moment wasn’t invented; it’s something internal that has been discovered and exploited. The data miners now have the tools to tunnel deeper and deeper into the dark depths of our consciousness.
When we cut the cord and cancelled our cable TV service, it was liberating for a season. The very act of network buffering made channel surfing impossible. There were no longer 200 viewing options already in progress, there were now hundreds of discreet opportunities. But each one demanded to be played from the beginning. It made television a choice. A deliberate act. But then a few hundred options became thousands. Blockbuster Video is long gone, but I’m still wandering the aisles of an infinite digital library, trying to decide what to watch.
. . .
Infinite Scroll must be one of those things that is both symptom and cause. Even as I keep swiping I realize it’s an attempt to crowd out the ennui, like a cheeseburger and fries to stuff out sadness, leaving no room for anything else. But I sense the grip of addiction a few hours later when rather than satisfying the hunger it inflames it even more.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing. It is an intellectual gluttony, an over-indulged curiosity, that leaves me less satisfied the more I seek it out. But then, as with any addiction, it feels like the only reasonable cure for the disease it has caused. This dissatisfaction, I’m convinced, can be crowded out with one more scroll of the news feed.
How many psychologists does Facebook employ, like the white coated scientists at the Doritos Factory, to study and exploit my potential for addiction? I have to learn to see them as the enemy whose only interest is their own profit. I am nothing to them but a frantic lab rat who will kill myself in the search for just one more Mashable headline or Buzzfeed listicle, or even a critically important story from the Grey Lady herself.
. . .
Hipsters now talk about the importance of a digital Sabbath. Take one day a week, they say, and turn it all off. Live real life. My middle son has just returned from a high adventure (and high emotion) Christian camp where they confiscated not only cell phones and iPads but watches too. He says for a week he actually lost track of time and it was amazing.
The hipsters and the Orthodox Jews apparently have more than their beards in common. They also have a Sabbath.
. . .
I scroll and I scroll. What I am looking for is an eternal moment, but I won’t find it here and I know it. Jesus said eternal life was not about length of time but about knowing him. And this is what I really want. A stillness. A moment of being satisfied.
Is this the Buddha’s nirvana that I’m looking for? To be, at last, beyond desire for something more? I’m a Christian not a Buddhist, but there’s something in the idea that resonates. Maybe the cruicial distinction is not the annihilation of desire but its final satisfaction.
What will that eternal moment or day of rest be like, I wonder, when together with a company of angels we might look around and say, ‘It is finished. And it is good. Let’s rest in this a while.’ When at last that which is merely infinite is conquered by the eternal.