Quitting Heroin or Not?

There are facts that are quantifiable and facts that are intuited. These are the quantifiable facts:

As of the first quarter of 2016, U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media, which represents a year-over-year increase of one hour.

The increase in media consumption is due largely to smartphone and tablet use. Smartphone use rose an average of 37 minutes, while tablet use saw an increase of 12 minutes.

Half of all “U.S. TV households” (whatever that means) now have access to at least one subscription video service.

72 percent of homes have either DVR or a subscription video service, which represents an increase of 67 percent from the previous year. (Source)

Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, cable television—we are consuming more and more media. The Food Network describes the flavors of escargot, or Kobe beef, or the putrid durian fruit. The Travel Channel shares the breathtaking beauty of the Amalfi Coast, the way it sparkles in the setting sun. AMC gives us the rotting undead, the smell of fear stalking. ESPN gives us an endless supply of heart-pumping action, clip after clip after clip. We touch the keys, the remote, the tablet, and cycle through it all. This is the world made virtual, made pocket-sized, made ownable.

And what is the world if not experienced through digital media? Does it exist? (If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to record it and post it to YouTube, did it leave a mark?)

Here is the truth experienced: in my own consumption of media, I have become lazy to my senses. What does it mean to taste, touch, hear, smell, or see without the interpretive lens of media? What does it mean to live an organic experience, to see and recognize the shape of our own shadows? And how hard would it be to return to that kind of existence?

Yesterday, I tapped the keys on my smartphone, sent a text message to my friends John and Winn. We were discussing the growing disillusionment with social media (as opposed to media in general), and I texted this:

I think people have this sense that what’s happening [across media] is bad for the soul. They want to quit. But [media] is like heroin. It gets in your veins. And then, how do you get it out?

How do you detox? How do you break from the virtual to experience the real? How do you reimagine what it means to be human instead of half-man-half-media cyborg? And if you manage to pull the plug on your machine side, will you experience the seizures of withdrawal? Will the shakes set in? Is detox even possible?

This isn’t a piece about solutions, about blazing paths forward or making promises none of us can keep. This is simply a recognition of the truth of our present intoxication. This is a piece meant to ask a simple question: how do we awaken to the possibility of more organic, sensorial expression of living?

*Speaking of detox, my book, Coming Clean, is only $1.99 on Kindle and Nook this week. Grab a copy and let me know. I’ll send you a link to a 30 day Coming Clean email journal leading you through the book and into your own experience of coming clean.


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  • Nigel

    Seth, you ask ‘how do we awaken to the possibility of a more organic, sensorial expression of living’. I think ‘awaken’ is not just part of the question but part of the answer; an awakening of consciousness, an awakening to our needs, and awakening to the present moment. So much of my own consumption is an attempt to escape that present moment. I’ve made progress on not dragging shame and regret from the past, or fictional disaster from the future into the now and thus continually yielding the present. But even then, somehow the present is still too often raw, too painful to endure – why is that? Maybe it goes back to a consciousness of those needs. And isn’t the most basic of those to simply and grandly ‘be loved – perfectly’? Isn’t that in fact what we’ve been made for? Then I realize just how monumentally hard it is to have that longing satisfied in the real now, with the real person in front of me. For someone to be loved, someone is given. How terrifying is this give and take in the real moment with a real person? Ann Voskamp (The Broken Way) writes impressively that “letting yourself be loved is an act of terrifying vulnerability and surrender”. It used to be we just had anesthetic news and soap operas. At least then we’d wake up every so often and go looking for real Love. Dear God, now we have the hard stuff, the Molly of love-made-easy, love-made-true in our social media. The ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ streaming into our veins with each push of the button – who’s ready for the next dose?