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Twitchy

A few people have asked me over the last few weeks how it’s been since I deleted my Facebook account. The short answer is that I haven’t really missed it. There have been a few times when I have felt a little in the dark, not knowing something what others in a conversation did because I hadn’t seen what this or that person posted. I’m sure I’ve missed out on the odd article that I really should have read or an important update in someone’s life. These are among the expected trade offs that are part of the deal.

One of the more intriguing things I’ve noticed is that I feel a bit less twitchy than I did when Facebook was a part of my daily life. You know what I mean by twitchy, right? If not, I’ll let Alan Jacobs elaborate. He has this to say in Breaking Bread with the Dead about the experience of observing his students’ heads bowed toward their glowing screens before and immediately after class, and instinctively reaching for their phones at various points throughout the class:

I know how they feel. When my students are taking a quiz there’s nothing for me to do, so my hand then drifts toward my phone—or did, until I finally forced myself to stop carrying my phone around; and my twitchiness during quizzes was among the chief factors that pushed me to that decision. That twitchiness—that constant low-level anxiety at being communicatively unstimulated—seems so normal now that we may be slightly disconcerted when it’s absent. That’s why a tweet by Jason Gray, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, went viral a few years ago: “There’s a guy in this coffee shop sitting at a table, not on his phone, not on a laptop, just drinking coffee like a psychopath.”

That last line made me laugh but it’s so true, isn’t it? Can we even imagine a person just sitting, alone, sipping a cup of coffee in a public place, not “justifying their existence through work or social connectivity?” And this business of a “low-level anxiety at being communicatively unstimulated” is one of the things that I suspect many of us resonate with. I certainly know this feeling far better than I would like.

I was having lunch with someone today and the topic of masks came up. My friend had been on the receiving end of some public critique for posting a picture of himself wearing a mask at a public function. And of course, if he had posted the same picture of himself without a mask, he would have gotten criticism from a whole other segment of the population. The conversation that followed was an interesting one for me. He talked about how much anger he was seeing out there, about the bubbling resentment building toward masks and increasing restrictions and the freedoms being trampled on, etc.

What was interesting to me wasn’t necessarily that all this was happening. I read the news, of course, and I know about the polarizing effect that COVID restrictions are having in our community. What I found interesting was that this wasn’t front and centre in my brain the way it might have been if I were still on Facebook. I don’t miss the digital fire hydrant of righteousness and resentment or the endless reactivity at all. I’m happy to be unaware of what people in my orbit think about divisive things. I’m rather enjoying the process of “escaping the dire hose.” I’m happy to sit down over coffee and discuss politics or religion or masks or anything else with anyone. But I don’t need to know what everyone is thinking or how they’re reacting to things all the time. I don’t have the bandwidth and I probably never did.

Image source.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tanya #

    I have been thinking about the “twitching” as you call it, for awhile now. I noticed it first in the elementary school when parents would be waiting in the hallway to pick up their kids. When I picked up my older girls (now 16 and 14), I would sit outside the room and chat with other parents. You became friends and a little school hallway community was born. You ended up making play dates and even having coffee without your kids! Now with my youngest girl, I noticed an obvious change. I wasn’t getting to know the parents sitting in the hall. We would walk in, smile at each other and then grab our phones and stare while we waited for the door to open. Very little talking, laughing, supporting… It made me sad. But it woke me up to that twitchy feeling of just sitting. We are not good at doing nothing and just observing. Or maybe after smiling at the grandparent, mom or dad beside me saying, “So who are you here to pick up? Oh yes! My daughter has talked about your son. They are great friends.” And from there, maybe building that hallway relationship where the smiles start to take on a wink or a nod because you have inside jokes as the teacher opens the door and the children come piling out. I miss those school hallway friendships. Even now as I sit in my vehicle and wait (not allowed in the school), I try very hard not sit on my phone but instead watch the people, image bearers, all around me. It has taken practice, but it has been fun as I watch kids trample out the doors and see parents waiting with dogs on leash or a cup of coffee in hand. I am hoping the twitching has gotten less but it is still a struggle. Anyway, love this post and really like the “psychopath” quote. Totally true! 🙂

    November 16, 2020
    • Your comment reveals a great deal of insight,Tanya, more than most people are capable of these days.

      November 16, 2020
    • Thanks for this, Tanya. I obviously resonate with so much of what you say here and have observed these trends in my own life. I concur with Mike’s comment above 🙂

      November 16, 2020
  2. Ryan, your putting up some really good post’s here lately, what’s going on?……… 🙂

    It’s unbelievable that something as seemingly harmless as a phone could wreak such havoc on the human psyche. Evidently, based on what I’ve read from ex-employees, this tendency to facilitate addiction in user’s is calculated and intentional and in my opinion it’s a form of mind-control, nowadays innocently renamed: “Behavioral Engineering”.

    “You might just be addicted: Smartphone use physically affects your brain, study says. … Regions in the brain known as grey matter showed changes in size and shape for people with social media addiction, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.Feb 19, 2020”

    November 16, 2020
    • Thanks, Mike.

      The addictive component of these devices and the various social media platforms is absolutely a thing. It’s sobering to think of where these trends might be leading us and what they might be doing to younger generations.

      November 16, 2020
  3. Respectfully, if it wasn’t, “this”, it would be, “that”. Don’t waste much time on the means by which we become disordered, rather seek the antidote.

    Start each day by rising early, wash and in the silence of your room or quiet space pray the, “Our Father”. Consider the words as you pray them. What do they mean to you? What do they speak to your heart? Imagine time standing still and only you and God are present to your prayer. Take another moment to feel God’s love, rest in His mercy. Say nothing….just be present to God. A few minutes later give thanks to God, tell him you love Him, dedicate this day to Him.

    Phones and all the other, this and thats, have no hold over you on days like these.

    November 16, 2020
    • Brother, sometimes you speak some of the most powerful and pertinent comments from a deeper place in Christ, this is one of them. Thank you for sharing this Pearl.

      November 17, 2020
    • Yes, thanks very much for sharing this.

      November 17, 2020

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