Thought Experiment: Two people are watching a beautiful sunset. The first person watches. The second person pulls out his iPhone, snaps a shot, tweets it with a caption ‘watching a beautiful sunset’ then gets back to watching the sunset. Who is watching the sunset?
The second has certainly conquered the moment. It has been captured, sent, and subjugated to description. But I hold that the greatest moments should conquer us. All moments should conquer us. That’s what it means to be open to God; to be open to having our wills entirely conquered. To live in the present moment is to live with the willingness to be swept away. Is to name moments – to update your status with them – to lose them? Maybe. Sometimes.
I don't "Tweet," and I use Facebook for work and to keep in touch with friends, (not, by the way, "friends". Something I really don't get about Facebook is this weird habit of just collecting masses of people on your list whom you don't know. Maybe I have totally misunderstood the purpose of Facebook, but I get loads of "friend" requests from people I've never heard of. I always refuse them, but it's weird and slightly creepy.) When I post status updates, it's mostly to keep people I know either personally or through work updated on my cancer issue. I use it to make jokes that only my friend will get and to upload photos because Mac has an automatic thing that makes it much easier. I have moved around the world a lot in life and have really liked having Facebook to help me not entirely lose the people who stayed behind. But I see people with lists of 4000 "friends" and it's weird. What's the point? Those 4000 people aren't going to get your jokes.
But I do blog, and have been doing it now for seven years. I mainly do it for the same reason a person with a tick twitches, because I can't stop. I also treat my blog like my living room and, though I realise that it can be read by anyone with an internet connection, I normally treat it like a tea party at my house. I more or less subconsciously expect that only about ten people read me and they are all people I know either in the flesh, people who just happen to live 6000 miles away, or people who I've got to "know" through the internet, like Evil Steve and Dale Price.
I blog for them. People I know, or at least "know". I don't write for the faceless masses, for 4000 "friends" or "followers," but for Ann, Tracy, Edward, Fr. Tom, Fr. Paul, Sally, Vicky, Chris, Gregory, Deb, Giancarlo, Dale, Dorothy, Evil Steve, Other Steve, Other Other Steve, Ian, Karen, Scott, Billy, Paul, John, Six-Bells John, Other John, John Henry, Kathleen, Louise, Sean and Tom.
I've occasionally struggled with the idea that blogging is a thing that contributes to the Great Retreat from the world, my own and that of my readers. Am I helping or hindering? I think in the years I have been doing it, I've worked out how to do it in a way that doesn't contribute to the problem. I hope so anyway.
When I blog, I try to blog about The Real. Things that are actually happening that I have experienced or that I know are really going on. And I am writing to people I know and like. (It isn't hard, by the way, to get on that list, but the reason I insist on real or at least plausible sounding names, is that in writing about The Real to real people, I think I have a right to insist that the people writing back declare themselves to be a part of that, and fearlessly.)
Bad Catholic's comments about Facebook and Twitter and all that social networking and media stuff are really about our cultural loss of The Real. There is this thing in Catholic spirituality, that you can find in Buddhist and other kinds of beliefs: being in the present moment. Be where you really are, right now. Only the Real counts.
That’s not at all to say things shouldn’t be shared, but we share them like words on a tombstone, brief summations of the life of the thing – that really amount to its death. Why? Because as soon as we move from the event to the status update, when we give the event a small conglomerate of signs and symbols that by their nature as words cannot fully describe – hence, “you had to be there” – we make our events small, and then we are done with them.
This is probably why we are so irritated with tourists who take pictures of everything in sight. We instinctively know there is something wrong with it. I stopped taking pictures several times in Florence because I realised I was trying harder to save Florence for later than I was trying to actually be there at the time.
It is only in the here and now that life can actually be lived. When you are thinking about doing an act of charity or committing a sin, you aren't actually doing it. The act itself is the meritorious or culpable thing, not the contemplation of it. Humans in the West have been retreating from The Real for a long time. The reason Twitting is so popular is that it offers us a new way of doing what we have been doing for decades, pulling back and becoming observers rather than participants.