How Social Media Is Messing With Your Brain

The hard thing about social media is to use it without being used by it. I like it just fine to keep in touch with friends, family, and a network on fellow travelers in a variety of interests. It gives me a place to post pictures of my dog, like this:


I apologize to no one for posting pictures of cute animals. It is what teh internets is all about.

Oh stop, you know you love it.

But it’s insidious, as I’ve pointed out before. It can draw us back again and again like the light that lure a moth until it beats itself to death.

We just have to find a way to balance it. I’ve removed all social media apps from my mobile devices and I suggest others do the same. This helps minimize the constant checking when you’re away from the desk and turns your gaze outward, to the world around you.

Look, social media has helped me in my spiritual development. I’m part of a community that shares faith, prays for each other, and looks to deepen our experience of Christ. It’s a good thing, like dessert, alcohol, and sex. But, like all those things, moderation is the key, and understanding how social media works on your brain is a good first step towards making sure you use rather than being used by it.


Tech Addiction:Technology & The Synod on the Family

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

MSNBC’s Hate Unleashes Twitter Storm of Racial Harmony

The interesting part about the fallout from MSNBC’s hateful Cheerios/”right-wing” dustup is that everybody wins.

MSNBC followers win because the network just said what they and their viewers know to be a rock-solid truth, regardless of anything like evidence or logic: conservatives are all racist.

So, when they tweet this in reference to the Cheerios ad featuring a bi-racial family…

… they’re just reaffirming their own and their audience’s bias, because belief in limited government and personal freedom means you automatically hate people who look different than you. (Which party had an Exalted Cyclops of the Klan as a respected elder statesmen and opposed the Civil Rights Act, and which one ended slavery?)

Cheerios wins because you just can’t buy that kind of publicity. Also, the kid’s pretty cute:

And on Twitter, conservatives have turned MSNBC’s kneejerk idiocy to their advantage with the hashtag #MyRightWingBiracialFamily. People from the right are tweeting photos of their multi-racial families using the hashtag, which started with writer Michelle Malkin (the victim of incessant racist and sexist comments from the left for years) and just snowballed.

Predictably, people came back with stupid and hateful messages, such as saying that even if a conservative white person marries a black person, the white person’s still a racist because something something Obama.

Yeah, I don’t get it either, but leftism isn’t grounded in reality in the first place. If Democratic social and economic policies are so wonderful for minorities, why don’t they work? Could it be that their patronizing, paternalistic, infantalizing character is more deeply rooted in racism than the freedom of opportunity, equality under the law, and personal responsibility offered by conservatives?

Predictably, the reaction to the hashtag was enthusiasm from the right, and hatred from the left.

After posting this pic, Cong. Tim Huelskamp was even accused of renting a black family:

See, it’s easy for a modern leftist to identify a racist without ever hearing a word from his lips, or even in the face of photographic evidence: you’re a racist if you don’t agree with the left. Going with this assumption saves an awful lot of effort that might be chewed up by the hard work of thinking for yourself and judging each person as you encounter them: like individuals.

Things That Happen Only On Twitter


Garry Kasparov is a Russian opposition leader and vocal foe of Vladimir Putin, as well as the greatest chess player in the history of the game and thus one of most brilliant minds on the planet. He’s also a fan of the conservative bloggerAce of Spades, and now understands what the word “bro” means.

And then you get this: Joan Walsh, professional public moron and former editor-in-chief of amateur Obama fanzine Salon, mocking one of the most brilliant minds on the planet for a series of American interviews in which he criticizes Obama, Putin, and the entire Syrian mess.

One does not criticize the Dear Leader in front of Joan Walsh:

Er, you might want to run your vapid little comments through Wiki next time, Joan.

And what, exactly, are the credentials of Joan Walsh (or any writer, for that matter) for holding forth on pressing issues of the day? Self-selecting elites don’t like it when people they didn’t invite to the party speak out in ways they find objectionable. When that person’s fame comes from feats of pure intellect, it reveals their own shortcomings, and so Kasparov needs to be redefined as a mere player of games. Back in your place, boy!

I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s exercise in omphaloskepsis yet, but I get the impression it’s something-something-TWITTER BAD!-something-something. I’m not much of a Twitterer myself, but I see its uses and have been amazed by the interesting connections and conversations that can take place.

And now it’s taught the leading Russian Putin critic the meaning of the word “bro.” Mission accomplished, Twitter.

“It’s not real: it’s Twitter”

Yet another tempest in tweetcup exploded on Twitter yesterday after conservative columnist Michelle Malkin called out brain-dead fake-thug rapper “The Game” for his offensive album cover. The artwork depicts Jesus as a black gangsta type, mixing imagery of the Sacred Heart with typical thug-life iconography. It was offensive, and calculated to be so. It’s pure outrage-bait designed to generate lots of free publicity, and Malkin took the bait.

Part of this is the outrage industry that feeds itself: one side creating outrage, the other responding, all of it spiraling out of control and both sides raising their profiles (and their hit/follower counts) in the process. I have no special gripe with Malkin. She tends to be a bomb-thrower, and I don’t think that serves the cause all that well, but to each her own. Sometimes I agree with her, sometimes I don’t.

In the case of the blasphemous rapper, I can understand a Christian being outraged and responding, but someone as media savvy as Malkin (who founded two internet empires: Hot Air and Twitchy) had to know her reaction would only boost this loser’s profile. I was happy in my ignorance that a creep like The Game even existed, much less that he has a million lobotomized followers on Twitter, happily smoking ganja and slappin’ hoes. By the time this is all over, Malkin will only have succeeded in getting The Game another million followers. And she’ll benefit from it as well. That’s the way this particular game works.

“The Game” responded with a series of sub-literate attack on Malkin, and then his fans got into the act with a stream of tweets directed at Malkin, each attempting to outdo the others with vile, violent, racist comments. Of course, all of them thought Malkin was being racist, because that’s the default response when anyone criticizes a designated minority. (You know the old joke: What’s the definition of a racist? Someone who’s winning an argument with a liberal.) The absurd part was that many, many tweets called Malkin (born in America, but of Filipino heritage) a racist, and then immediately called her a “gook” or made some other anti-Asian slur.

But the racism was just an hors d’oeuvre. The Gamers were just warming up for a main course of grotesque sexism, sexual insults, and vivid threats of rape. If you wonder if listening to an endless litany of ho-bitch-c#@$ lyrics mingled with violence and drugs and set to a grinding beat creates a numbing effect in the audience, wonder no more. Not a single person said anything that didn’t sound like lyrics from a rap album, and all of it was grotesque. Garbage in, garbage out.

Malkin retweeted all of them, and I started tracing the senders back to their accounts to see what else they had to say. And finally, one Twitiot compressed the whole stupidity of the dark side of the internet into one clueless comment. It’s the title of this post, expressed by some stupid young white dude posing with a 40 in his mom’s basement: “It’s not real: it’s Twitter” (punctuation–obviously–corrected).

We already knew that, of course. This unreality of the internet is the very thing that gives people leave to be complete jackasses, as my many (unpublished and anonymous) commentors prove on a regular basis.

Following right after the storm of blind hate unleashed on the pope, however, it gives a sense of the uniquely weird dynamic of Twitter, which offers a real possibility of direct communication with the powerful and the famous. Someone with a million followers and a best-selling album (or, say, the Vicar of Christ) can just happen to see, retweet, or reply to a comment from someone with 14 followers, and all of a sudden the Nobody feels like Somebody. They have their brush with fame.

Yet it remains a fundamentally unreal brush. It’s ephemeral. It passes away quickly, but the illusion that some major celebrity knows Joe Shmo remains. Thus, Joe does whatever he can to get attention: the more outrageous the better. It doesn’t really matter, right? After all, it’s just a few letters on a screen. It’s not real. And when you write a fantasy about using a sharp object to anally rape a middle-aged mom of two from Colorado Springs, it ain’t no big thang, right? It jess Twitta!

But communication has to be grounded in truth. Words don’t have meaning other than what time and culture assigns to them. Words aren’t the things they signify. The word “chair” isn’t a chair. It’s a symbol for the idea of a thing with legs that you sit on. If the words we use don’t signify something, then words themselves lose meaning, and communication becomes impossible. When communication breaks down, so does society. They are co-dependent.

This is the great danger of the internet and modern communication technology: the severing of words from their context and meaning. You may indeed have a fantasy about raping someone you don’t know because they disapprove of the artwork on the album cover of someone you listen to. If that’s the case, you’re a sick bastard and need to get some help, but the rest of us can probably ignore you.

Once you cast that fantasy into 140 characters or less and unleash it into the world, you cease to be a sick bastard and become a terrorist, a criminal (yes, threats are illegal), and a danger to society. If you’re so disconnected from reality that you can’t distinguish between a thought passing through your mind, and the act of broadcasting that thought to the world and your intended victim, you’re no longer functioning as a member of a civil society.

We project our personalities into this web of communication that is the internet, and it’s providing all kinds of opportunities to connect and bond and exchange. We can more easily be who we are, or we can create a new persona and be someone else. We can boldly claim a corner of the net under our own name, or wrap ourselves in anonymity to say anything free of consequences.

But if it’s going to work at all, it has to be grounded in the same rules that make civilization possible. There is no “Twitter reality” that’s separate from reality. It’s all reality. Technology has one constant in all its manifestations: a tendency to dehumanize. From the cotton gin to Facebook, it all tends to reduce the human experience, setting us back at one remove from our thoughts, our labor, and our fellow man. When that technology is the glue binding civilization–as is all communication technology–the dangers to a stable society become very real.

The Tweeting Pope

It just sounds strange, doesn’t it? Like the bishop of Rome is outside my window, tweeting along with the birds. But it’s not the sound of birds: it’s the voice of Peter, echoing down the millennia, and finding a new wineskin for the new wine of the gospel.

The news is all over the net today, so you’ve probably already had a chance to check out his initial message and his answers to questions posted on the #askpontifex hashtag. For a man who’s written thousands of pages, compressing his message into 140 characters without sounding like a fortune cookie will be a challenge, but he seems to be rising to it. His first question and answer:

How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?

By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need

Short and to the point. That’s about all he can do with the format, and that’s enough. See, it was never about what he said on his Twitter stream: it was about him being there. He just needs to be in a place where the gospel message can be preached and heard, and Twitter is such a place.

As the old media yields to the new, the Church has an opportunity to better control her message, and social media is essential to that process. When the pope’s words pass through the mass media, they are inevitably misunderstood and sensationalized. Most recently, there were headlines such as “Pope Cancels Christmas” because he made some routine observations about the dating of Jesus’ birth in his most recent book. The pope does best when people directly experience his words, warmth, charity, wisdom and immense humanity free from the distorting effect of secondhand reporting.

There is, of course, risk in this. The hashtag #askpontifex was quickly hijacked by people spewing astonishing levels of ignorance, bigotry, and hatred before the man had even tweeted a single letter. This is nothing we need to fear. The first popes met violent deaths at the hands of persecutors, so a few keyboard commandos are pretty small beans by comparison. The Church needs to be wherever the people are to bring them the gospel message. The message isn’t reserved for the faithful, but for every human being on the face of this earth. Right now, many of them are plugged into social media such as Twitter. This is exactly where he needs to be.

Just do yourself a favor: don’t hit the “expand” box on his Tweets. @pontifex and #askpontifex are being swamped with juvenile haters. It’s a potent reminder that the world is full of dead-eyed people consumed by their own venom and stupidity. Yet at the same time, these very people are being exposed to a man whose is saying nothing to them but message of hope, peace, love, and charity.

When you tell the world to hope, pray, and look for Jesus in the faces of the needy, and they respond with “f*ck you you child molesting old queen,” that doesn’t say a thing about the pope or his message. It says volumes about the demonic forces unleashed in our world. It’s nice for Catholics to see a tweet from the pope, but it’s important for the haters to see one.

And you know what? Whatever their reply–however minimal their level of comprehension–they are hearing the message. Sometimes you have to cast a lot of mustard seeds into the dirt before one finds a good purchase.

The Twitter Feed: Poo-Power, Giant Medieval Holes, and More

I read a lot of stories and articles that are interesting, but which don’t merit a full post here. I’ve been sharing these lately on Twitter. If you follow me, you’ve seen items on

  • Motorcycles powered by poop
  • A couple discovering a giant hole from the Middle Ages under their house
  • Internet addiction and gene mutations
  • Printable electrically conduct gel
  • Many more items in the tech/entertainment/religion world

So come, follow me. Also: it’s the only way to get in touch with me, since I don’t list an email address here.