A blogger friend of mine recently wrote an excellent post regarding the search for individuality and meaning.
Given my recent post regarding my leap away from social networking, I thought it was pertinent to the real issues underlining the social network craze and the accompanying growth of existential dread. People have never before had so many "friends" and felt so alone.
One of the foundational themes of all philosophical thought is who am I? But things like Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones have all made it harder for us to find the answer, because they connect everyone together, not in relationships where people reflect back to you who you are and how you're affecting them, but in superficial memes and comments.
People often put
on a virtual front, an avatar that interacts
with everyone, while the individual remains known by no one. The online character that individuals become is a shield that absorbs meaningful interactions, creating an extra layer through which affirmation, reflection, and communication must seep through in order to reach an individual's heart and mind. Even on the phone, despite the tones and inflections of the human voice, we still lose about 50% of our communication in a given interaction. How much more on Facebook?
Modern technology simply
expands the crowd one can get lost in leading to individuals who no longer know how to contemplate themselves, God, or their place in the Universe.
Distractions drown out the inner voice and the truth about one's emotional state. Silence is a lost art, along with the development of the inner
life. In my opinion, this is true both for those inside and outside the Church.
The purpose of Christian contemplation and the development of the inner life, which is the opposite of life lived in Facebook Nation, is to know the Creator, who can be found primarily in our hearts, and to “know thyself” in light of the Creator. The practice takes the truths found in the Scriptures and internalizes
them, contemplates them, prays them, and applies them, thereby
helping each individual build their identity in light of who we are in THE IDENTITY,
the universal absolute: God.
If the being that IS defines us, tells
us who we are, then our identities can become anchored in the one universal constant, despite the many voices and distractions that compete with it. I believe people seek that
kind of anchored self-actualization.
Descartes began his Christian meditations on the premise that “I think,
therefore I am.” He built a case for God starting with what can be known about ourselves and working his way up, believing one way to know God is to know ourselves, because we are made in His image, and vice-versa. Soren Kierkegaard, a Christian existentialist, meditated
and wrote about what he considered the most existential verse in the
enter Bible. In the book of Exodus, when Moses asks God what His name is, God replies, “I am what I am." It was that name that brought with it the revelation of
absolute individuality, absolute indivisibility, and absolute causation.
Even God “can't” explain Himself; He simply exists. He IS.
Just like us. We could ask, what
are we or why are we, but eventually we’ll come to the same conclusion:
ultimately, we just are. We just exist, valuable as individuals, meant to be known as individuals. That may be hard to contemplate, and if you try to explain to someone who you are, then after a while
of spouting out various characteristics you might have to say, “I just am, ok?” and
hope that somebody out there knows what that means.
Therein lies connecting with God, contemplating one's existence, and developing meaningful relationships where you can see yourself reflected in those around you. Therein lies my move away from Facebook. We are losing ourselves. The only solution? Not some sweeping change in group-think or universal reforms, but the actions of each individual who takes the steps needed to find the truth about who they are.
As the Existential Christian so aptly wrote: 'We' is not a substitute for 'I'. 'We' is where individuality is
lost, experience is lost, and truth is lost. 'We' is unthinking, the
poor replacement for the discernment of 'I'. 'We' does not have value
apart from 'I'.
'I' has irreducible complexity.
'I' has value.
I am an individual.