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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Lange: Lives Of Noisy Desperation

Brian A. Jackson
One way to live more deliberately in this Social Media era might be a twenty-four hour hold before we hit send - to give us time to review our posts or even discuss them with a friend.

With apologies to Henry David Thoreau, I’ve lately come to think that the mass of people, or at least a great many of us, are leading lives of noisy desperation. What Thoreau perceived in his fellow humans back in the early 1850s was quiet desperation. But that was long before Social Media, TV and even radio, when humans still had to communicate through letters, books and newspapers - or in person.

For Thoreau, the source of the despair was mindless adherence to social convention, which, he felt, distracted from a life lived true to one’s own values. In his book Walden, Thoreau describes how his seamstress tells him that 'They' do not make clothing now in the way he prefers, as if she were quoting some great authority - or even fate.

Social conventions are not inherently problematic. Greeting people we encounter seems like a good convention to me. It’s part of the glue that keeps society together. The same is true of communication more generally - at least it has that potential.

And this brings me back to Social Media and what I’ve called noisy desperation - though I suspect that a great deal of quiet desperation goes along with it. Several studies now link excessive Social Media use with depression, anxiety, attention deficit, and loneliness.

Social Media give us tools to communicate faster and with more people than Thoreau could have imagined in his wildest dreams. But clearly many of us are having a hard time using these tools in ways that are helpful either to ourselves or to society. Many posts read more like knee-jerk pronouncements of other people’s faults than attempts to actually engage with an issue.

So I think Thoreau’s notion of living deliberately may well have something to offer us on this. In Walden, he aimed to share his own real-life experiment of deliberate living, so I’ve been wondering what a similar real-life experiment for our time might look like.

Maybe it would be as simple as a twenty-four hour hold before we hit send - to give us time to review our posts or even discuss them with a friend before we add them to the vast ocean of communication that is Social Media today.

Kerstin Lange is a writer and travel guide.
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