The other day I was reading The Book by Alan Watts (written in 1966) while the kids were in swim class and the following passage jumped off the page:
“…increasing efficiency of communication…can, instead of liberating us into the air like birds, fix us to the ground like toadstools. All information will come in by super-realistic television and other electronic devices as yet in the planning stage or barely imagined. In one way this will enable the individual to extend himself anywhere without moving his body – even to distant reaches of space. But this will be a new kind of individual – an individual with a colossal external nervous system reaching out and out into infinity.
And this electronic nervous system will be so interconnected that all individuals plugged in will tend to share the same thoughts, the same feelings, and the same experiences…
The trend of all this is towards the end of individual privacy, to an extent where it may even be possible to conceal one’s thoughts.
At the end of the line, no one is left with a mind of his own: there is just a vast and complex community-mind…” (emphasis added)
Then I came home and looked at Facebook and scrolled through all the photos of smiling faces, delicious food, faded pictures from college hashtagged with #tbt, duck face selfies and commentary about what Facebook told us was trending that day. And it made me realize how prophetic Alan Watts was when he wrote these words almost fifty years ago.
The problem with the vast and complex community mind of social media is that it does not accurately reflect the true nature of the human condition. It creates the illusion that everyone is always happy, eating delicious food and doing interesting things. The proliferation of this illusion indirectly disparages the darkness as not worthy of sharing, something to be hidden away, something worthy of shame.
I am just as guilty as everyone else. I only share my best photographs, the ones that paint me and my life in the most positive light possible, the natural smiles, the awe inspiring vistas and inspiring quotes. I’ve never written, “feeling pretty lonely today” or “struggling to find my life’s purpose” for one of my status updates.
Happy moments are made ever more poignant and powerful, more worthy of sharing and celebrating by the existence of sad moments, the recognition of our vulnerability and humility.
We cannot have light without the dark.
The problem with a dualistic way of thinking is it promotes the idea that opposing things are separate and at odds with one another when they are actually unified and working together to create something greater.
“The word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” – Carl Jung
I am often depressed. I am also often happy. This is what it is to be authentically human.
And this authenticity, this vulnerability is what we should share and celebrate together.