“Don’t sit so close! You’ll ruin your eyes!”
My worrisome mother often shouted from across the room, frustrated by her child’s growing infatuation with the images pouring out of our living-room tube TV.
Television was reviled on one side of our family. My grandparents only let me watch baseball and McGee & Me, a Christian home video series. Viewed as the source of all our misgivings, TV subverts a good Christian life. A sinful teacher. A device with unchecked access to my newly forming neural connections.
But I will forever defend the television, for its many faults, it still welcomes groups to sit together and focus attention. If not on each other, then at least on an agreed point. A movie, show, or nothing in particular. We focused together.
That’s not as viable with our pocket screens.
Our smartphones are highly personal and personalized; downright magical, you might say. But looking over someone’s shoulder as they scroll through their feed is met with a bristling self-consciousness.
I think this is a problem.
While we reach for social media to feel connected, it is increasingly isolating us from each other. Those sitting around us while we swipe can begin to feel like impediments. Those we once relied on to bolster our self-worth can now seem like physical roadblocks to our moments of enjoying that curated feed of good feelings on our screens.
Little actions crop up. Little phrases to push people away: “When I’m finished…” “Let me just get to the end!”
How demoralizing to be forced to wait for someone we love to feel satiated by an algorithm.
An algorithm with a singular goal of keeping each user on the platform as long as possible. Satiation means completion, means finished. Algorithms are built to dangle that feeling just out of reach.
So, us meat bags who have chosen to occupy the physical space around a person, and their personalized magic screen, are forced to wait.
We wait and watch those we love swipe, tap and scour, desperate for a point of satiation that never comes.
Such a tragic irony for those that choose not to compete within that digital platform. Makes it seem like we made a poor choice to stay focused on the physical world. Presenting our needs to those around us through ancient analog methods, sorely lacking a convenient like button or twelve selectable face-tracking masks.
We’ve chosen to keep our feelings and opinions from flowing through those magic screens. Which means there’s no algorithm to tweak that might grant us prioritized attention from those around us.
We just have to wait. And watch. But not too closely, because we don’t want those we love to feel self-conscious about that drip, drip, drip of their preferred opiate.