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On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

Much in the same way that some people talk before they think, some technological advancements are assimilated into our culture before we weigh the consequence of acceptance.  The problem with “going too far” is that it is a destination from which one can never return.  A rather obvious example of this which no one would argue is that of sexual intercourse.  There’s no question that sex is not just a boundary but the boundary which changes everything about a relationship.  To put it in baseball terms, once you’ve rounded the bases and slid into home plate, you’ll never feel the same about holding at first.  In baseball – and hopefully in your love life, as well – this is a good thing… a great thing, even! But you’d better be ready for the change of mindset associated with going too far because you can never return to the innocence from whence you came.  You can never un-see, neither with you eyes, your mind, nor your heart.

While I sit at my MacBook, connected to millions of others on the internet, writing and preparing to publish – from my very home, mind you – an essay that will instamatically be available for readers to enjoy around the world, I think that as a culture we’ve gone too far.  I’ve been thinking this for quite some time now but I feel it more today than ever.  And I want to go back.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate and enjoy many convenient aspects of our modern life.  I do, truly!  For example, I devour music constantly.  I don’t just casually listen to songs that I like, but instead I soak music into the core of my being from morning to night.  I never tire of listening to music or feeling the rush of emotions that good music brings to me.  I subscribe to the Apple Music service and on my phone, my iPod, my television, my computers, while at home, at work, in the car, or even walking down the street, I have virtually every song imaginable ready to stream into my ears at the simple push of a button – all for less money per month than the price of a single fast food meal.  I like that! It sure beats carrying around a bag of 20 cassette tapes everywhere I go and being limited to that selection, worrying that they may melt when I leave them in my hot car.  Likewise, there are many other aspects of our modern life that I appreciate and enjoy.  But the truth is, I’d give it all up to go back to the innocence of yesteryear.

What was the boundary for me?  Where did society cross the line into the realm of “going too far?”  What could possibly be so bad that I’d be willing to give up modern luxuries that I enjoy in order to rid the world of this evil?  I knew it wasn’t simply technology as a whole.  While I often long for the caveman days of my youth, technological advancements in toto haven’t been all bad in my estimation.   No, there’s something specific that bothers me.  Something that, for a time, I couldn’t put my finger on.  When I saw the culprit, however, I recognized him immediately.  It was the Eye that gave him away.

Sitting out by the pool a few days ago, I heard John Cougar’s classic “Jack and Diane” streaming from our patio speakers.  I’ve heard the song countless time in my life but not like I heard it that day.  Listening to John Cougar (that was his name when that album was released, if you recall) sing about hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze while his girlfriend sat in his lap literally gave me chills.  I turned and looked at my wife, Char, sitting next to me.  She was wearing a sexy bikini and her long blonde hair was blowing in the wind.  It was a Polaroid moment if there ever was one.  I wanted to grab her and jump through an imaginary portal, taking us back to 1983.  “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can…” continued John Cougar.  I looked around and the Eye was nowhere to be seen.  One thing that made the moment so special was that the culprit responsible for taking the world too far was missing in action.  The Eye couldn’t see me.  It was 2017 but it could have just as well been 1983.  Oh, 1983.  I wanted to go back.  Back to a time before the culprit, before the Eye.

The culprit of which I speak is, generally speaking, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best.  But this culprit is just the visible mask hiding a more nefarious enemy.  The Eye.  Because of the culprit and the Eye, we’ve taken the wonder out of life.  We’ve become an ADD society with no attention span whatsoever – and we pride ourselves with that fact!  We demand instant gratification.  We multitask all day long, often without even knowing it.  We have too much and dream too little.  Imagination has been replaced by someone else’s implanted virtual reality.  We no longer have meaningful communication or relationships.  And to make matters worse, we’ve made ourselves dependent upon web connected devices (that are vices) so that turning away from them even for a short time, which is almost certainly the first and most necessary step in trying to stop the downward spiral into the dark and murky realm of having gone too far, is almost an impossibility for most.  We have made ourselves addicted.  We are the crackheads.

Zoned Out Kids Playing Video GamesI’m 43 years old at the time of this writing.  In the summer of 1983, I turned 9 years old.  In those days, my favorite possessions were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  Armed with those three things, I was the richest kid in town.  Compare this to the “necessary possessions” of 9 year olds today.  Today, kids younger than that have their own smart phones with 24/7 internet access in the palm of their hand.  They have social media accounts that they access with their phones and other devices.  They have home game consoles (also connected to the internet) with scores of games, iPads with scores of apps, and internet-connected handheld game systems with even more cases of games.  They spend countless hours browsing an endless flow of mindless videos and streaming live footage of themselves to their friends at all hours of the day.  And yet with all of this, kids today constantly say that they are bored!  I’ve seen kids snicker and heard them sigh when the suggestion is made to spend time with traditional activities not affiliated with web connectivity.  I’ve seen them have complete nervous breakdowns at the possibility of having these devices and access terminated or restricted.  It’s the typical reaction of a crackhead.

You don’t believe we are crackheads?  That’s ok.  Denial is common among addicts.  Ask anyone who’s gone through a 12 Step Program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  You can’t get help until you freely admit your addiction.  What I want you to understand is that this is not an addiction you sought of your own choosing.  The Pusherman chose you.  He wanted his Eye upon you.

The EyeYou may already be keen to my literary reference.  You see, whether anyone realizes it or not, we are already living in George Orwell’s vision of 1984.  Big Brother is here and watching us right now.  His symbolic Eye is all around us.  Consider this.  Had someone told us in 1983 that they were going to place a camera and microphone in our room, we would never have entertained such nonsense.   Had they told us that the cameras would constantly be sending recordings of everything we said and did to a massive computer network that would learn all about us, we would consider them criminals and be willing to defend our homes from them.   If they further said that they intended to sell their knowledge database about the most intimate aspects of our lives to businesses and governments both foreign and domestic who would use this data for their own selfish purposes at our expense, we would have picked up guns and gone to war.  In those days, our privacy was worth paying for.  Worth dying for.  Big Brother learned quickly that he could not force us to accept this intrusion into our lives and this invasion of our privacy.  Our freedom was too important to us.  So Big Brother immediately went to work figuring out a way to trick us into asking him to please take away our privacy and freedoms.  He couldn’t force his watchful Eye into our homes and on our streets while revealing his true face to us so he disguised himself as social media networks, as a game system, as a phone, as a television, and even as a  personal assistant… and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.  Big Brother got his Eye into our lives because he tricked us into buying it.  And perhaps even to Big Brother’s surprise,  we’ve become dependent upon it.  Addicted to it.  We are the crackheads and Big Brother is the Pusherman.

The Pusherman doesn’t care about getting you on crack, for the drug is just incidental.  The Pusherman cares only about control, power, and money.  Nothing else matters to the Pusherman.  He uses crack as the device that becomes your vice and makes you addicted so that he has complete control, power, and money.  No whole, able-bodied, sane man would walk up to a stranger and say, “Please, my lord, I want to be enslaved by you.”  But if the stranger is dangling the temptation of device, someone might think he can get the device (the crack) without losing his control and he may even conclude it is worth the cost.  Make no mistake, the device will always enslave us.  When we give up our sovereignty, our freedoms, and our beliefs for anything else, then that thing we exchanged them for has become our master.  We are the crackheads.  We are the slaves.  But this crack – our web connected world, our devices such as our smartphones and our games – was never the issue.  Remember, the drug is just incidental.  Big Brother didn’t want us connected on the web anymore than the Pusherman wanted us on crack.  What he really wants is to have his Eye upon us.  He wants to control us.  It’s not about the crack, it’s about control, power, and money.  Our devices are just the crack – the device he used which became our vice.  And now his Eye is watching and we can’t turn away.

His Eye is on our phone, on our computer, on our television, logging every keystroke we type, listening to every word we speak, studying where we go, when we go there, who we are with, what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we buy, what we believe.  He learns our patterns, knows us by our touch, our eyes, our facial construction, and even our expressions.  This database containing the encyclopedia of our lives is made available to government agencies both foreign and domestic as well as to marketers worldwide so that they can shape us, mold us, use us, determine how we vote, control how we spend our money, tell us what should outrage us, what movements we should support, and even influence our core beliefs.  Big Brother goes by many names but they all point to the same entity.  We call them Facebook, Google, Cortana, social media, Windows… and when he needs more information, his tools come out with new “features.”  And we can’t resist, for we are the crackheads.  Unless, of course, we freely admit our addiction.  For that’s the first step in recovery.

I will, perhaps, write another essay for those who deny this is happening to prove what data is being collected, how it is collected, and how it is used.  For brevity’s sake, I will assume, however, that the vast majority of you already realize that it is indeed being done.  You just don’t see it as nefarious.  You don’t call it by the name Big Brother.  You only see the crack.  Or, worse, you think the crack is worth it.  You believe that the control and freedom we gave up in exchange for the luxuries of our modern life was worth it.  I would argue that if this is the case, then what you need is a super ball.

Do you reach for your phone soon after waking up – not to call someone but to check Facebook?  Do you check your social media feeds while you’re at other functions (a gathering of friends, out to eat, at a party, during dinner at home, while watching television, while talking on the phone, at the movies, while talking in person to someone, etc.)?  Do you check your social media pages while you’re at work?  Do you “check-in” on social media whenever you go places?  Do most things you do make it to a status update?  Have you not read a book that you’ve been wanting to read but you’ve spent hours reading Facebook News Feeds?  Did you not want to read this article because it was longer than the average Facebook status or, God forbid, a Tweet?  Do you always post about things you’re going to do one day or would like to do but never seem to actually do them?  When your phone receives a text or other notification, do you feel compelled to check it right then?  Do you text more than you talk?  When just a little time has passed with no connected interaction, do you find yourself checking your phone for social media updates just to see “what’s going on?”  Do you ever feel if you don’t check your social media platforms then you might be missing out on something?

Dinner with a PhoneThink for a moment about the rudeness and complete lack of ettiquette we demonstrate in the way we multitask our communication via social media.  These days, we think nothing of texting others or checking Facebook while attending get-togethers at friend’s homes. This would be like (in yesteryear’s terms) going to a friend’s house and while he is speaking with you, you keep yourself busy using his telephone to call ten or fifteen friends and carry on conversations with them – mostly about insignificant subjects or things that can wait!  And imagine doing that while having dinner with them at their table – that’s what you’re doing when you get on social media!  Feeling guilty?  That’s because you’re a crackhead!

We weren’t made to live like this.  I mean biologically and physiologically we were not designed/created/evolved (you can fill in the blank with your own choice verb) to live like this.  I’ve recently read study after study from neurologists, psychiatrists, and scientists who argue that our brains are not meant to handle the technological complexities of our modern multitasking world.  As MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, a worldwide expert in the study of divided attention, says, our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”  In his book, The Organized Mind, Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Levitin wrote:  “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance. Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour. By contrast, staying on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum, and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.”

In 1983, we had a house phone. We didn’t have an answering machine.  We didn’t even have call waiting yet.  No caller ID.  The phones were connected to the walls or were stationed on desks.  There were five of us in that house and we shared a single phone line.  It rang busy if people tried to call while someone else was using the phone.  If we weren’t home then people simply couldn’t reach us.  There was no expectation that we would answer whenever someone called.  Today, this model has been turned upside down.  People indeed expect to be able to reach us at their convenience rather than ours.  We can be talking to someone and our phone notifies us of an incoming text.  We look at the message and text back while still communicating with person we were talking to in the first place.  We have conversations with people while scrolling through Facebook at the same time.  This is exactly the kind of multitasking that is costing us physically, mentally, and relationally.  One of the things I enjoy about performing live in my rock band is the singularity of task.  I cannot do anything other than provide music to my audience.  I’m narrowly focused on that one specific deliverable.  While I’m on stage, there can be no interruption.  I exist for that period of time for the sole purpose of perform music.  I always knew playing in a band was good for my spirit.  Now I understand it’s good for my brain, as well.

This point of this essay isn’t to delve into the world of neuroscience.  There are countless scientific journals, published studies, and books from authors who are far more qualified than I to discuss that concern.  Therefore, I don’t feel compelled to explain the biological evidence that our modern multitasking world is destroying us.  Rather, the point of this essay is to invoke an intense rage within you.  Rage first directed toward me for pointing our society’s failure (perhaps, to make it personal, your failure) at being able to really live life to the fullest measure, then directed toward yourself for electing to embrace Big Brother’s Eye in the first place, and finally – hopefully – directed toward Big Brother as you and I join forces and collectively put an end to this mindless existence and start truly living once again.  Stop simply existing.  Start living.  So I’ll cease the scientific jargon and appeal to you on mere reason and, dare I say, emotion.  What you need is a super ball.

I remember a few years ago being flabbergasted when I noticed a common behavior from friends who lived in some of the most beautiful regions of our nation.  They were regularly posting meme after meme of beautiful nature photos found on the internet along with status updates that claimed they were yearning to be in a place like that.  These people never ventured away from their screens to take a walk outside for themselves!  Had they done so, they would have seen that these pictures were in their own back yard!  On the rare occasions when people do venture into the great outdoors, I still see them spending an abundance of time on social media rather than leaving it alone and just enjoying the experience of nature!  There’s something disturbing about standing in the midst of a beautiful setting and gazing at a screen rather than the world around you.  It’s like standing in front of the Taj Mahal and not looking up at the structure itself but instead, staring at an artist’s rendering of it in a travel magazine.  If that image doesn’t stop you in your tracks, then maybe this one will.  I’ll speak to men here.  You’re married to a woman you find to be the sexiest woman on the planet. She’s slowly disrobing in front of you, provocatively moving around you, waiting on you to touch her and she’s waiting to touch you.  But you won’t look up from a wallet size picture of her while she’s right there in front of you, undressing!

I’ve written before how, as a musician, I notice people these days watch us on stage through the tiny LCD screens on their phones rather than enjoying the lights and sights for themselves.  They are so busy capturing an image or video clip to share on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or whatever people use that they miss the show as it should be seen!  And in case you haven’t noticed, these phone captures never look or sound like it did live.  I’m not against taking a few pics when you’re at a concert.  Nor am I opposed to even capturing a short video clip.  But I see people filming all night long at shows rather than enjoying the experience!  Why go to a concert just to watch the event on a 4 inch screen?

Why do we do these things?  The answer is simple – we’re focused more on our devices and on social media than we are on time, place, and fellowship.  You may not believe we are, but our actions speak otherwise.  We do it because we’re addicted.  We do it because we are the crackheads.  As I’ve already stated, we’re binging on social media while hanging out with friends or dates rather than enjoying each other’s company.  I see it everywhere I look – everyone is checking and using their phone constantly.  While at dinner, while hanging out with friends, at school, at work, while walking.  We even endanger ourselves and others by using our phones (for texting, social media, or internet) while on the road driving!  Rather than living “in the moment,” we are living virtually and vicariously.  And we are habitually concerned with impressing others (status update – look at me… check in – see where I am) rather than simply being.  And we’re doing this because we’ve become too addicted to the device and the connectivity.  We are the crackheads.  What we need is a super ball.

How many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  Would you pick up the phone and call those same 500 supposed friends a few times a day and ask them “what’s on your mind right now?”  No?  Then why do you seek that information from Facebook?  Is it perhaps because Facebook psychologically tricks you by using their social network strategy into thinking that  you have many wonderful “friends” and you need to “keep up with them?”  Don’t even begin to get me started on the misuse of the words “like” and “friend” in the Facebook generation!  Or perhaps you scroll the News Feed so that you can re-post a meme that has already been posted for the millionth time.  Maybe, it’s just that you feel compelled to offer your political, religious, or social views to everyone who says anything at all about news and current events.  Could you imagine the stress of having to defend your beliefs to everyone you talked to every time you engaged them in conversation?  We’d never want to talk to most of these “friends” again!  So why do we do that on Facebook?  Or what if it’s even stranger than that… what if we’re scrolling the News Feed each day because we’re nothing more than busybodies and gossips? Again, I ask, how many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  When you get to the end of your life will you look back and say, “Gee, I sure wish I had a little more time to look at people’s status updates.”  I think not!  I rather believe you’ll be saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had gone to see the geysers at Yellowstone.”

Remember my favorite possessions as a nine year old in 1983?  I mentioned that they were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  I contrasted these to the possessions of a typical 9 year old today.  Well, it’s time to admit it.  Most adults are no different from 9 year olds today.  We even share the same “toys.”  We share the same crack, if you will.  If we could get through life not that many years ago and believe we were the richest kids in town with nothing more than music, a bike, and a ball – and a few friends to confide in –  do we really need much else today?  Even as adults?  Our society starts kids on crack at the youngest age possible.  Children today will grow up never knowing a time when Big Brother’s Eye wasn’t watching them around the clock.  They are growing up not even understanding what’s so bad about the Eye anyway.  It’s all they know!  To them, the Eye is simply a necessary component of the device that provides them their high.  We give iPads and Android tablets to our preschool age children. Big Brother begins building his database on them right away.  Rather than buying them a Hot Wheels car (which, by the way, cost about 60 cents in 1983), a comic book (do the Marvel covers with “Still on 35 Cents” printed at the top bring back any memories?), or a Star Wars action figure ($2.49 when The Empire Strikes Back came out), we buy them X Box One games that run $60 – and they have to keep going back to get the next “latest and greatest” game that all their friends are playing.  These games only last until they are “beaten” then the kids move on to the next game.  By contrast, we played with the same Hot Wheels and Star Wars action figures for years!  And the toys we had encouraged imagination.  These days, it seems we are just spoon feeding virtual reality to an impressionable mind.  We send our children to elementary school with smartphones.  Quite literally, the world is available to them at their fingertips.  They are allowed to text their friends during school time, download and play multiplayer online games during class, and get on social media when they should be listening to lectures.  And to reinforce the addiction, teachers are requesting to communicate directly to our kids on their own smartphones day and night via services like Remind.  Do you remember what our “reminder” was to do our homework?  It was the zero we received if we failed to know what it was and turn it in!  We’ve gone too far and become too dependent upon these distractions from life.  For that’s what they are:  distractions that keep us in a state of simply existing and keep us from a state of truly living.

Yes, Big Brother won the war without firing a single shot.  He didn’t have to fight his way into our lives.  There were no guns and no one had to be blown to smithereens.  He tricked us into asking for the his takeover.  And to add insult to injury, he even convinced us to pay our hard earned money for him to cast his Eye upon us.  And now, even as I type these words, his Eye is watching.  His Eye is watching me.  He knows what I’m saying.  He is gathering data about the Resistance.  He knows where to strike whenever the Resistance begins to grow into a movement.  The Resistance is demonized, made to look foolish in the media, criticized in schools and universities, even criminalized in some cases!  Whatever it takes.  By any means necessary.

Yes, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best is the problem.  This intentional evolution of society, orchestrated by Big Brother so his Eye could watch us and one day control us, has led to a complete breakdown in our ability to communicate, to work, to play, to relate, to socialize, and to grow deeper in relationship with one another.  And that is key.  Big Brother doesn’t want us growing deeper in relationship with one another – he wants us always coming to him to solve our problems.   So that he has the ultimate control.

Mr RobotoThe players in this game are few.  The enemy and Pusherman is Big Brother.  The crack is the overly connected social media side of the internet and our culture’s misuse of the so called “internet of things.”  And we are the crackheads.

I may not sound like it right now but I’m a hopeless romantic and an eternal optimist.  All is not lost.  What we need is a super ball.  Maybe a bike.  Definitely some music (“I’ve come to help you with your problems so we can be free.’).  Hopefully a few friends in which to confide (“The problem’s plain to see – Too much technology – Machines to save our lives – Machines dehumanize”).  Rediscover the simple pleasures in life that we enjoyed before social media.

We don’t all need to abandon technology altogether.  I certainly have no plans to do so.  I’ve already mentioned that I enjoy many of the technological advances of my lifetime.  I even use social media, mainly to advertise my band.  But it’s like alcohol.  Technology can be good – very good when used correctly.  But no one wants to be around a drunk alcoholic.  Remember that we are crackheads.  The worse your addiction, the more that drastic stance of abstinence might be the right plan for you – take a sabbatical from all things connected for a period of time.  If that scares you, then you’re addicted.  For many of you, the addiction hasn’t turned into the full blown intervention stage yet.  May I suggest, then, before things get worse, stop multitasking and stop prioritizing social media and connectivity over everything else in your life. When you are in the company of friends, may they command your attention.  Leave phones like umbrellas at the door.  When you go out with friends or on a date, talk.  Other people will have to wait.  Learn to simply be.  Don’t feel that you must constantly check up on the world via social media.  We’re not that important.  Instead, learn to enjoy just simply being.  A man who finds contentment in simplicity will never want for anything.  Treat Facebook like a place to which you must navigate.  Go there once or twice a day at most and conduct whatever business needs to be conducted there.  Don’t give in to Big Brother’s intentions to ensnare you on social media, keeping you trapped in a prison without walls.  The meme you’re about to share has already been seen and shared by millions before you.  Be original.  Inspire your own creativity by allowing your brain to function freely without multitasking and then share the best of yourself so the world can be encouraged and enlightened.  Start your day with a cup of coffee and light reading – a morning devotional, a book of book of bizarre facts (I like the Bathroom Reader series).  By all means, do not start with Facebook (nothing sets the tempo of the day like a group of political zealots passing around offensive memes attacking the those on the other side of the ideological fence…  or an argument over the latest social justice issue of the week that has people rioting in the streets).  Every couple days, pick some you really like (not in the Facebook definition of the word but rather someone you really like) and surprise that lucky individual-of-the-day by calling them on the phone just to say hi and ask how they are doing – the way we used to talk to people on the phone.  Limit your tweets and status updates.  Use the internet whenever you need to use it – but don’t sit around just “surfing the web” that often.  Stop existing.  Start living.

In 2015, musician and songwriter Steven Wilson released his masterpiece, Hand Cannot Erase., an album many consider to be one of the greatest of all time.  The album is inspired by and partly based upon the story of Joyce Carol Vincent. Joyce lived in a big city in an apartment complex.  She was young, popular, had many friends and close family.  She died… and no one noticed for three years.  No one.  It sounds impossible, but it really happened.  The sad truth is that the more connected we’ve become in cyberspace, the less connected we’ve become in our day to day lives.

I say no one noticed Joyce as she remained dead in her apartment for three years.  That’s not entirely true.  There was one who noticed.  His Eye was watching her the entire time.

Joyce Carol Vincent