A few days ago the world was shaken to its very core. People from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Tokyo, Japan were without access to the newest basic human need — not food, water, or shelter, but social media. For an inconceivable eight to 24 hours (depending on your geographic location) casual users, influencers, technology baffled grandparents and social media addicts went without access to what many would consider their everyday ‘social lives’. Albeit, the straight-edge Twitter folks were reeling in delight — as this must be a sign, once and for all, that Twitter is the far superior news and social outlet. When the outlets did finally return, the flurry of memes around the statement, “I survived the terrible social media outage of 2019” marked by the fall of Instagram and Facebook flooded social media.
However, social media bragging rights were not the only thing on display during this weeks outage, rather, a glaring truth about our society as a whole. Now don’t worry, I’m not going on some millennial or Gen X, or even Z tangent about technology, or the laziness of millennials (which, by the way, I do not believe) — instead, I want to talk about meaning.
The place we need to start is back before the Renaissance, before the move from transcendent meaning and belief in a God or gods, to imminent meaning in the sciences and arts. The reason why this is so crucial is because I believe we find ourselves in an interesting space between only finding meaning in something spiritual, otherworldly, transcendent and imminent, within our own subjective experience in the world, grasped through the physical world in front of us and not much else. Today, just like before, we still yearn to be meaningful.
For a lot of us, that is why we are at Brock University. We are studying on a post-secondary level to begin the journey to becoming an expert in our field. We study, and we learn. We grow in our knowledge, and we grow in our experience. We ask hard questions, we have difficult days, and good days. At with the hopes of adding some meaning to our lives and to the lives of those around us. This meaning today, for Millennials, Gen X and Yer’s, is not restricted to either just the imminent facts, nor just to what God reveals to us spiritually. Spirituality and Science are both ways in which one comes to discover their meaning in life.
In today’s society, we have brought together the transcendent and the imminent together in a way that I don’t think anyone could have ever imagined — through the screens of phones. Through the pictures of our cats, of the products we use, of the people we run with, of the food we eat and the clothes that we wear. Social media is a place where we go to express our individual subjective meaning, while also seeing, hearing and learning from our friends and followers what is meaningful to them in life. It is a place where our individual lives, the things that we find meaningful, can be openly expressed and received.
In a world of individuality, social media creates a space for community and commonness. Where we can express our own individual lives in a way that makes us feel unique and known. Where we can be both one of a kind, and yet one of many.
This is why, I think, people lost their very minds when Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp crashed for those fateful unforgettable hours. We want to mean something individually and communally, and social media gives us the space, the affirmation, and the encouragement to do that, even when the outside world seems to shut us down.
So what now? How can we go from being unable to post our dinner for the first time in years, to really thinking about why it rocked us so hard? What would it look like if once a week, we took that same break. No social. What if we didn’t stare at our phones in front of each classroom waiting for the floodgates to open, or at the bus-stop, and said hello to the person next to us? What if we sought to build a community of people here at Brock that create space for individuals to find meaning safely, together, in relationship? What if next time we go through the crushing defeat of not being able to post that cat-candid we shrugged it off, and continued on with our day — with those immediately in front of and alongside us? What if we explored meaning outside of ourselves, outside of phones and outside of our comfort zones?