Technology and the internet have been around for a while now, but the notion that one needs to be constantly engaged with the virtual world is a relatively new development. The virtual world has gone from a valuable, pragmatic tool to a way of life. It seems as if there is no way to actively be engaged in the world without having some kind of presence online.
There are those who spend virtually all of their time on the internet, endlessly scrolling through Twitter, consuming short-form videos and perpetually arguing with anonymous accounts. The physical town square of old has been supplanted by a deformed knockoff that plays out online. Not only this but the ubiquity of the internet, especially social media, has made us antagonistic toward one another. The latest iteration of this antagonism has come in the form of the “For You” feature on Twitter.
For those who may not know, a user’s timeline on Twitter is split between “For You” and “Following.” In other words, there is a timeline you can follow that features accounts you follow, and then there is a timeline that features accounts you may have an interest in following. This seems innocent enough; the two timelines appear to give the user a choice about what they would like to pursue online.
However, I have discovered that there is constantly inflammatory content on my “For You” timeline, which, admittedly, often gets a rise out of me. In the politically charged and divisive culture we currently live in, it makes all the sense in the world that tech platforms would want to create a scenario where people are constantly fighting with one another about generally innocuous information. An angry populace creates instability, and that instability inevitably allows tech and government overreach. The latest examples of this come from the recent Twitter Files revelations where it appears that Big Tech and the federal government worked together to blacklist and silence predominantly conservative and anti-establishment users on the platform.
Given that these platforms are controlled by highly intelligent businessmen, engineers, and computer scientists who all know what they are doing, one has to wonder why this is happening and if there is a particular motive behind it.
Twitter is just one of the many online platforms that constantly monitor users’ behavior, interests, and online engagements and then use that information to inform what will appear on users’ feeds when they open the app. Facebook and Instagram do the same. There is no telling how many times I have opened Twitter to discover that my feed has been littered with violent content, overtly sexual content, or some off-the-wall political take with which I do not agree. I do not believe that this is all by accident. In fact, the virtual world, where so many of us spend our time, is not a town square at all: It is oftentimes a violent and hate-filled neighborhood where many people just cannot turn away.
Understanding that this is how social media platforms operate, we are presented with two options: We can completely excuse ourselves from the virtual, which may be unrealistic for many of us, or we can significantly limit the amount of time we spend on these platforms. I have reduced the majority of my online presence to talking about philosophy and scripture, which has turned out to be valuable and meaningful. Not everything has to be politically motivated, especially our time on the internet.
Certainly, there’s something to be said for what the internet can provide as a tool, but all tools have a time and place. It’s up to us to be intentional with what attention and energy we give to the virtual world. What aspects of the internet do we find valuable, and which aspects are our lives better without?
With the attention we reclaim from the virtual world, we can turn to the real world, considering what real-world activities and tasks we may be neglecting. Are we ignoring friends and family? Are we preventing ourselves from filling our minds and souls with literature? These real-world moments aren’t filled with the addictive instant gratification characteristic of many places in the virtual world. They aren’t always swamped in politics. But they are often infinitely more meaningful.
Image credit: PxFuel