From broadcasting to adaptive engagement
In a time of info-overload, the digitization of connections, and hegemonic knowledge — all of which, I believe, are making us less adaptable, less in tune with the complex needs and full humanity of one another, and less aligned with the dynamic and diverse landscapes we are embedded within — I’m offering some working reflections that might help us to re-examine our relationships with media, social engagement, and language.
(At the end, I share lots of additional resources and a personal update.)
From the overturning of Roe v. Wade, new incidences of mass shootings, ongoing inflation pushing many workers and families to the brinks, updates about persisting wars and conflicts, findings about our various health epidemics, to the worsening crises of land degradation and climate change and beyond, once again, I feel that sense of news exhaustion I wrote about back in April.
For the past weeks, I’ve repeatedly started drafts about particular topics, only to get sidetracked by another crisis or tangential issue that demanded my attention.
Where do I even begin anymore?
And are we, with our humble little selves and minute levels of consciousness, even equipped with the capacities to endlessly process happenings at a global scale?
I’m starting to believe that the answer is no — that our bodily senses and awareness have simply not adapted to be able to handle this overwhelm coming from bottomless streams of information, never giving us the proper time to digest them fully before we are distracted by yet another story and another one.
Of course, there is incredible value in becoming more educated about the state of the world. Developing a global awareness helps us to continually calibrate our lenses, find common threads across issues, and gain maturity and a greater sense of purpose in how we show up for our own communities.
But I think it’s also important, and a relief, to come to terms with the fact that we have never been here before, having to repeatedly hear about new, heart-wrenching, or infuriating stories from across the globe — many of which we cannot directly affect. So it’s okay to feel lost. We have never in the history of planet Earth had this many people take their attention “online” simultaneously, in a worldwide web that makes info-overload the default. So it’s okay to want to “disconnect” and to “turn it off.”
This is worth a reframe, however — that “to disconnect” has so commonly become verbiage referring to our relationship with the digital.
What if we reoriented our focus toward our relationship with community and the landscape right around us?
If I were strolling through a park with my attention fixated on my phone, I cannot be intimately porous with the vibrant world around me. On the contrary, only when I shift my focus away from the screen to the immediate environment would I be able to “turn on” and engage all of my senses and re-embody the greater living community I am a part of.
What might we compromise as the world continues to digitize our attention and all forms of social interactions, inevitably simplifying the complex experience of life and preventing us from being as attuned to the living world?
Broadcast less, engage more.
“Instead of looking at things at scale, what if we looked at the potency of a moment, the potency of the depth that we go with each other?”
–Konda Mason (Green Dreamer EP332)
Ever since I started writing about my considerations for divesting from social media, the idea of intimate engagement has remained on the top of my mind. The distinction I made in terms of the mainstream social media platforms was between the type of reactive, superficial engagement that their algorithms reward and incentivize, and the type of deep, authentic engagement that I was craving to cultivate — and that I believe is necessary for the health of society-at-large.
Here, I take another step back to think about the broadcasting nature of digital platforms and mass media — compared to opportunities when we get to actually engage interactively and intimately with the stories and topics we get exposed to.
The former mediums of communication, for me, sometimes feel dehumanizing. But this isn’t about my feelings. Broadcasted information cannot incorporate one of the most important tenets of effective communication — to listen first. The same core message or the same storyline necessarily needs to be translated into different framings based on the different cultural presumptions, states of being, and preconditioned worldviews that people have.
This tells me that mass media, especially with their marriage to commercial interests and political establishments, are incapable of guiding the world towards deep, revolutionary change.
Even media with smaller platforms usually appeal to very particular groups of people who already somewhat align with the values and worldviews of those outlets, however. This means that platform media tends to function better to grow in-group thinking rather than to blur boundaries and queer perspectives.
What could it mean to reclaim our consciousness from being disproportionately held and delusionally tethered “up in the clouds,” where most are just bystanders observing a reductionistic version of the world, and to bring it back down to earth — grounded within communities that are much more visceral, contextualized, complex, and participatory?
What do we need to be reminded of the beauty, resilience, and power that come from having our networks of relationships and collective awareness be rooted in place, much like the quiet yet potent, intricate mycelial networks underground?
And what if we shifted our goals of growth and scale from scaling in quantity to scaling in depth and intimacy?
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