Pop Culture 180, Part 4: I Can't Quit! And Do Meanlingless Comments Represent Real Relationships?

I am absolutely addicted to reading.

The withdrawal symptoms are clear. Within 6 hours of our Pop Culture 180 start time, I was wandering the shelves at Barnes and Noble, looking at titles I could not allow myself to open. I think about books at least twenty times per day. I keep looking at my hands, whenever I have a spare 5-20 minutes, thinking, “shouldn’t they be holding something?” I sit down in my work break room, then stand up again- I have no reason to sit there if I cannot read. I stare longingly at the books on my bed stand at night, trying to ignore their pitiful cries to be opened and read. I go to sleep early, because I honestly can’t think of anything else to do.

I’m a mess. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

I spent the first two days of our little game trying to understand my own feelings, and I realized something simple and powerful; reading makes my world much more vivid. It’s like when you go to a movie and the camera work gives the impression of speed and action, your pulse races a little quicker and you emerge from the theater a little worn. The loss of books has highlighted the dullness of the everyday.

As a heavily word-oriented person, reading is a vehicle to brighter colors, faster action, deeper emotions, more thoughtful analysis, and incredible beauty. The rainbows and tapestries of this amazing world are condensed into a little stack of pages, and I can participate in experiences I’ll never have physically.

Consider the book I was reading just before I was so rudely interrupted by this week; The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone. To enrich his historical novel of Michelangelo, Stone traveled to Italy, translated all Michelangelo’s letters, and took classes in sculpture. Now, I read his book and in some sense participate in Michelangelo’s world and Stone’s experiences in a way that I very likely never will here on earth.

Some might call this escapism, but I’m really not escaping the world. There is a complex interaction between my reading and my everyday, where books provide constant metaphors to interpret reality, and reality provides constant examples to reinforce the truths proclaimed by books. When my friend is hurting because a family member dies, books articulate the emotional power of grief and help me sympathize. When a complicated problems emerge at work, I often solve them using solutions described by books. When I deal with relational tensions, they reinforce the truth in an author’s description of a similar problem.

So don’t think I’m overdramatizing- I really, really miss reading.

Oh, right. Here are the benefits of not reading. I am a little more rested, because I don’t stay up late reading. I have played a little more video games than normal (which, in my still-only-have-an-Xbox world, means as much, “seclusion,” with less payoff). And I have more time for Twitter and Facebook.

That reminds me; I’ve been doing Twitter and Facebook!

They’re okay. It can be somewhat interesting to see what others are doing, to hear announcements about life events. I like the pictures and videos of my nieces, and I like it when my family members get on just to see my son being his goofy self.

But the overwhelming, dominant theme of Twitter is little comments that don’t connect to my life at all, don’t enrich conversations, and are completely unmemorable. News posts convey information that I read in much more detail on a website or in a newspaper. Even when I try to be creative with personal posts, the time and energy I put into comments of less than 140 characters just float off into the wind, never to return. And the dominant theme of Facebook is that I have lots of comments from people who do not know me better than others. They just use Facebook more.

In other words, my experience of social media is that they are massively disproportionate to the reality of my relationship structures. I have very close friends and family on Facebook, yet most of my interactions happen with people who are more like acquaintances than bosom friends. I experience interesting things with people, but we don’t talk about it on Facebook. And if I do share those experiences on Facebook, I inevitably get comments from people who cannot understand because they were not there.

So, recognizing that I regularly defend the valuable role of these social media and that I have no problem with people using them… so far my experience has been that they do not enrich my real life, nor make it better, nor bring anything of value to the table, with the single exception of communication for close relationships over a long distance. Again, I’m not saying that is the entire and conclusive story on these things… just that this is what it has been, so far, for me.

Three more days to go.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Hang in there. I don’t envy you.

  • peter bartlett

    The experiment was fun, but I don’t think you have gained a picture of what actually makes facebook valuable(I don’t use twitter so I can’t comment on that)

    First, in your experiment you simply increased the volume of your facebook use instead of focusing on the things it makes possible that were previously impossible.

    It is as if you wanted Rich to appreciate books more so you sent him off to read a thousand children’s books. If he came back with the conclusion doesn’t do anything to enrich our lives, it doesn’t mean that books are useless.

    Here are some points of the valuable functions of facebook.
    1. It gives you a glimpse into what a person is all about. Now the obvious answer is, “you can put whatever you want on facebook, so it isn’t actually them.” Well, yes, but doesn’t the image that a person wants to convey still give us valuable insight into them as a person?
    I personally believe it does.

    2. It is so widely used that it connects us to a much wider range of people than previously possible. For example, maybe you can get e-mail addresses of people from work, but what about the person you talked to at a church outreach event?
    It always bothers me when people sarcastically comment that they could just e-mail or call a person instead of facebook them. How many people do you have e-mail addresses and phone numbers for amongst your facebook friends? If the answer is most of them then you are not a very good facebooker. The reason being that it is much more acceptable to friend someone you don’t know very well compared to asking for their number or e-mail.

    Some practical uses of facebook that I contend are not available through other medium(please note that these have actually happened for me)
    1. meet a freshman who comes to the first Inter Varsity large group meeting(I am in college obviously) Friend them on facebook. Learn more about where their interests lie through facebook. Use that information to strategically bring them into the mission and vision of IV (that sounds like a stretch but it does happen that way).

    2. Go on a missions trip. Send out updates to people who you don’t have e-mail addresses for, many of whom are not christians. You now have a spiritual conversation starter with those people.

    3. this would be something you would like a lot ben. Write an article about a movie you just saw (similar format as what you do for CAPC) post is as a note on facebook and include in the note a number of friends who aren’t christians or who you think would enjoy discussing the movie. See what sort of conversation comes from it. Maybe none, but quite possibly some very good conversation. You have now reached a number of people who don’t ever read CAPC. You could even reference them to the website if they enjoyed what you wrote.

    Anyway, I could go on but I think that is a good starter.

    If I had to boil down my points I would say this: Facebook is a tool whose uses are determined by the user rather than the tool itself. Just because most people use facebook to waste time and make meaningless comments and take quizzes that tell them when they are going to die, doesn’t mean that you have to use it to do the same.

    I would now normally go back and make sure everything is spelled right and grammars are correct and such, but I am just too lazy. Please consider the points rather than poor writing.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Ha! Well, great points as always Pete. But you didn’t give me a chance to close out my arguments!

    Rich was clear that our approach here would be to write one article before, one during, and one after. This was the one “during” and was designed to elaborate on our more emotional, gut-type reactions.

    Your points are great ones, and some of them I think you’ll see in my closing article and our closing podcast. So, I’ll see what you think of my perspective after. But terrific points, all!


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