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Black hole apple
We crave the destruction social media brings to us.
Ms. Jackie’s computer class consists of us dicking around on computers built in 1999 while pretending to learn to type.
“Chill, puppies!” she would holler if we got a little too rowdy. She never bothered to get up from her desk, though. Looking back now, she was probably afraid of us. Sorry, Ms. Jackie.
The computers were “protected” from any unofficial use with software designed by administrators with a tenth the ingenuity of ninth graders seeking porn and video games.
Obviously, we cracked the code. Everyone knew the exact website to override any security on the computers.
I remember the first time someone pulled up Facebook. It had recently been released to the general public – you no longer needed a Harvard.edu email to get in.
We gathered around this particularly savvy kid Austin’s computer, watching him click the photos of our first classmates to make a profile. Everyone laughed at the nerds who took a picture of themselves. Remember, that was a weird thing to do not very long ago.
That is, until a couple of days later, a few hot girls posted what we know now as a “mirror selfie.”
The popular guys made one to message the hot girls.
Then, everyone joined in a blind panic to not be left out.
The normalization of Narcissus
In 1993, Michael Jackson filmed himself in the mirror.
“I’m not a narcissist!” he says. “I’m just testing the camera…”
It’s incredible how quickly our attitudes changed about photographing ourselves. The most paid attention-to person on the planet thought a mirror selfie was narcissistic only a couple of decades ago.
Now, we all do this so often we don’t even notice anymore – to the point that all our phones come with a front-facing camera. That’s a staggering cultural shift if you think about it.
In the original story of Narcissus, there is particular stress on the point that if the boy had never discovered himself, he would have lived a good life.
Are we, as a culture, doomed like Narcissus because we discovered ourselves?
The temptation of Eve
It may seem like a different story on the surface, but the story of Narcissus and the one of Adam and Eve contain pretty much the same elements.
Eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil make us “self-conscious.” After we take the bite, we suddenly find it difficult to “walk with God.” This is a metaphor for staying in the present moment. Once you know you’re vulnerable and going to die (that’s what the fruit taught us – and is pretty much synonymous with “self-conscious”), it’s hard to “be here now.” Instead, we ruminate on the past and future.
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Adam is tempted to eat the fruit after the hot girl does it (similar to what happens in my opening story – the boys take the plunge because they are tempted by girls).
Thus, 9th-grade girls symbolically tempt “Adam” to eat the fruit.
This all points to something you understand intuitively – the girls go somewhere, and the boys follow.
So, what can we do?
The Apple™ of the knowledge of good and evil
Steve Jobs was no stranger to myth. He understood the deep currents that bind us.
Famously, he took a bunch of LSD to gain the creative insights that we all still are experiencing as Apple products. Does this mean he created Apple as a symbol of the fruit first bitten by Eve? Maybe on some level.
The parallels between the two events are striking.
Like eating the fruit, social media has made us incredibly self-conscious. Look at this chart – especially the bottom two:
The only place social media has a positive mental impact is on categories defined by “self.”
Like Narcissus, we are staring into the pool – and it is not good.
What can we do?
The cure is discomfort and work
Humans have opened “Pandora’s Box” (yet another story with the same lesson) many times. A few examples: giving up hunting for agriculture, giving up oral traditions for the written word, giving up nature for industry, and, lately, giving up a real community for social media.
Each time this happens, it opens up new levels of heaven and new depths of hell.
Why? Because each advent has the opportunity to make you stronger or weaker. If you become reliant on the comfort they bring, you slowly wither away and die.
But, if you learn to harness the power they offer, but still keep yourself strong by seeking the discomfort the technology makes optional, you get to have your cake (apple) and eat it, too.
In the case of social media, the power is clear. You’re looking at these words now because you found me online. That was impossible for all of human history until now.
Resist the pull of the black hole apple. Make an effort to have a loving community in the real world too.
Do it by making yourself uncomfortable (put yourself out there). Remember, if it weren’t for all the technology around us, you would be forced to do hard labor all day with the same 10 people you happened to be born near. So, have a little gratitude and get at it.
Thanks for reading,
What I’m lookin’ at: