To be more fully human


It hit me as Nicco Mele belted out the lines to an Eamon Grennan poem that we had been talking about something very specific, something essential to every single person.

When I first engaged with Nicholas Carr’s column about social media “ruining” (not his word by the way — he didn’t write the headline) politics, there was a fairly strong backlash. It was understandable. Social media gives people a voice, increases engagement, it’s where the most vibrant and current conversations are happening, and it’s often (though not always) fun.

But if you watch the video of our panel (linked here and in a tweet below at least on desktop, that’s not showing up in my mobile app), and read my background notes — at this link — I think you’ll see that most of what we talked about was not about disparaging technology. The biggest criticism is of how we ourselves often misuse it, or allow it to use us. And why is it important that we use technology correctly, and take hold of it? Because we are going to use it no matter what, and how we do so will define to what degree we become more like ourselves, or more like machines.

I don’t reject technology. I embrace living in the technological era. This panel was about how to best do so.

As I watched Nicco belt out each verse with passion and poise, I saw him doing what no machine could ever do: carrying forward the words of another human which he had fully absorbed, internalized and made his own, and gifting them to the people in that audience in a way only he could.

Our brains and our very selves, as Nick Carr writes, are not computers. They are more like gardens (read “The Shallows” for a fuller explanation of that). And when we invest in paying attention to our own lines of thought, rather than lines of code coming out of a machine, we become more fully who we are meant to be.

When we do that, we can use social media and all other technology to the best of our ability. We bring something unique to the medium, rather than just another flat, script-reading personality which results from a life that lacks deep reading, contemplative thinking, and vibrant personal relationships with other humans.