Triangles aside, French mathematician Blaise Pascal is best known for his Pensées, a collection of pithy thoughts on life, death, and Christianity. Pascal was no fan of the Jesuits, but I enjoy his writing all the same.
Consider this gem: “Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much – the same.” Another one, which cuts pretty close to the bone: “I have discovered that all man’s misery comes from one single thing: he can’t sit still in a room alone.”
I have a confession: My name is Joe, and I am a recovering extrovert. Sitting still in my room by my lonesome is downright difficult, which made the three years of philosophy studies Jesuit formation requires no easy task. Hour after hour sitting in my room alone, with nothing but the writings of Aristotle, Locke, Hume, and Descartes for companions. Sometimes I fear that I fear my own company.
I can sit for hours in a study group pouring over a Latin or Greek text, never once getting bored, so it’s not studying itself that I fear, it’s something else. It’s when I’m working alone that I am on the prowl for people and things to entertain me. A knock at the door? A God-sent interruption from my own company. An emailed link to a viral video? Better than birthday cake. There were times when I felt like the distractable dogs in Up (SQUIRREL!).
But a couple of hours of Youtubing and Facebook perusing later, my work remains, yawning at me from the periphery. Blurg. And so do I. Double blurg. (And to think all this was before I got Steve Jobs-ed by my shiny new iPhone and found that distractibility could indeed get even more mobile, sleek, and chic.)
It’s important to have people in your life who can call you on things. Humor helps. Recently fellow TJPer and truth-teller Tim O’Brien passed along a link to this parody of a commercial for the next model of iPhone. Have a look. It’s wicked funny to me for one main reason: it’s wicked accurate.
According to “Greg Mansfield,” the narrator, iPhone users only use their phones to take pictures of their food. “They are sad and alone, so they use pictures of food to give the illusion of a fulfilling life.” Mansfield describes a boring meal with his girlfriend. After uploading pictures of his eggs benedict to Facebook, the smirking narrator “had friends telling me how much fun I was having. And you know? …For a brief moment, I almost believed it myself.”
[Pause. Insert knife. Resume living.]
I’d have to flat out lie in order to claim that I’ve never done that. And I’ve definitely felt validated by the *ding* of my iPhone, assuring me that a Facebook check-in (or blurry culinary pic) has entered an other’s Orbit of Importance.
Ahhh yes… the soothing drug of having something “liked” on Facebook. The addictive red dot that affirms my continued relevance to the universe.
Food shots, travel pics, political cartoons, pithy quotations, sometimes they all feel like quiet shouts: “tell me I’m not alone!”
Humans – extroverted or not – desire to know and be known, to love and be loved. And that’s a desire that looks to me a lot like one of those God-shaped holes in the heart, one of those absences that keeps me reaching beyond myself to others. To God.
And it’s true that there are times when social media actually facilitates love. It happens, and thank God that it does. But all too often my iPhone lets me know about others without bothering to love them, it lets me be selectively known the risk that being loved brings.
We can ‘like’ things from afar – but that’s a far cry from love.
And judging from the iPhone 5 video’s 5,230,000+ views, I suspect I’m not alone in my room on this one. Even though sometimes it sure feels like it.