"I would give away all the money I have today, every penny, if I could be five years younger. Life is so pleasurable" David Rubenstein (source).
Do your days seem to fly by like mine? I've been working a later shift and I get off at midnight most nights. It shocks me how quickly midnight turns to 3AM. I sleep. I wake. 8AM turns to 10AM before I've even finished my pot of coffee. 10 to 2. 2 to midnight. Midnight to 3.
It's been this way for months—I sleep, I wake, I eat, I work, I try to sneak in some writing at the end of the day (I've been challenging myself to write just three pages per week).
Yesterday was my parents' 32nd anniversary. I wonder if their time has flown by too. I wrote a little note to them—I never remember these things so I didn't give them anything meaningful, but the little note prompted this reflection.
In the past 32 years, together they've lived through so much. Two kids, two states, three moves, three homes, four graduations, five deaths—each an arrow through the heart. My mom's grandparents, my dad's dad, my mom's uncle (we all miss uncle Clyde every single day, he was the coolest person), my dad's little brother.
They've seen entire governments fall: the Berlin wall fell the month following my birth, the USSR fell, Yugoslavia split, Czechoslovakia split, no more Western Samoa, no more Zaire. Cuba's government drastically changed, Spain's government drastically changed, Egypt's government drastically changed.
We have a new Iran, a new Iraq, a new UAE, a new Ethiopia, a new Sudan, a new Liberia—and those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head. Did you know that, per the 2018 Fragile States Index, 33 nations are 'on Alert' as failing even today?
My parents' 32 year marriage has outlasted entire nations from declaration to dissolution as well. Oh, and here's a weird stat: Did you know that in the past 32 years there have been 56 distinct civil wars around the world? 56!
You might say that a lot can happen in 32 years and I agree, but my point here is that time flies by. And the things we think are so rock solid—the 'givens' in this world—any one of them could go at any moment.
Just like 8 turns to 10 turns to 2 turns to midnight turns to—yep, it's 4 in the morning as I'm writing this and I feel like I just sat down at my desk 15 minutes ago—in that same way, an entire map can be redrawn as whole empires turn from declaration to growth to prosperity to conflict to insurgency to civil war to dissolution in the blink of an eye.
"Fast falls the eventide," as "life's little days" ebb to their close, Henry Francis Lyte wrote. Days go by so quickly and we have so few of them. Do you feel that? Am I bringing you down?
A friend of mine and I were talking tonight, he's in college and we have similar stories, similar interests, so I decided to give him some completely unsolicited advice. Don't you love it when people do that?
My advice was this: 22 turns to 26 far faster than 18 turned to 22. Cherish your college days—drink every one of them in, live every one of them to the fullest. After you graduate, you'll get a job, buy a car, buy a house, get a promotion, meet somebody—you'll feel as though you fell asleep on graduation day and woke up 30.
Ephesians 5:14-16 is an admonishment to the Church. Paul writes, "Wake up! Rise from the dead. Live not as the fool but as the wise. Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil." I love how the KJV puts it, and this is how I always heard that passage growing up, "[Living as the wise], redeeming the time, for the days are evil."
The redemption of time has an implication. If there is a time that we can redeem, then there's a time that is captive. A time in need of rescue. A time under threat. And I think that that's what Paul means when he says that the days are evil.
He implores us: Wake up! because he knows that the passing of time lulls us into apathy, lulls us into complacency, lulls us to sleep. Time unredeemed is time without urgency, time we let ebb and amble away like a steady snaking river.
Expositing this passage, Spurgeon said, "I do fear that one half of Christian people nowadays are in this sleepy state, and yet if they were told so to their face, they would be very angry with the men who had the honesty to tell the truth."
Spurgeon describes the evil days in this passage:
"What is the evil itself? I do not know if I can describe it; but perhaps you have felt it, and certainly you must have seen it. It is an unconsciousness of one’s own state, and a carelessness of such a kind as not to want to be conscious of it. The man takes everything for granted in religion" (source).
'Consciousness' is something I've been thinking about so much lately. I finally read George Orwell's 1984 while on vacation in January and I've been thinking about it ever since, how it correlates with this, the social media age.
1984 describes a people whose very lives are controlled—in every conceivable way—by what Orwell called the "telescreen." Orwell's known in part for the spot-on predictions about the future that he made. Orwell's "telescreen" was just exactly like an iPad connected to social media.
Orwell described a people whose attention was wholly arrested by the telescreen, and they were so distracted that they were unconsciously consenting to all of these awful things, like the full-scale invasion of their privacy.
Orwell wrote, "Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." He knew what I'm trying to prove to you now: Firstly, that time passes so fast, and secondly, that we're distracted into letting it slip by even faster. Wake up!
Remember those old commercials, “This is your brain on drugs?” or no, what was it… oh yeah, the "Above The Influence" commercials. They were like, “Sarah, Sarah?” … “This is how she’s been since she started smoking pot.”
And there was that kid who was just deflated and sinking flat into the couch. Am I remembering that right? "Sarah hasn't been the same since she started smoking pot." Well, for a moment I want you to think about your brain on Instagram. As you’re scrolling, passively browsing, what’s your brain doing? It’s turning to mush, isn’t it? Don’t you feel that?
You’ve trained your brain to operate on less than 1% of its normal computing power as you ingest social media—you've been conditioned to mindlessly bob and weave through the barrage of advertisements and bot posts to get to the good stuff, the meat, the eye-catchers, the wonderful distractions.
In a series of just micro-instants you determine which posts deserve a little more of your attention, from the posts that are lame or boring or passable or valueless to you. And you manage to do it effortlessly. Again, mindlessly. You're a well-oiled distraction-finding machine.
Jared Lanier, the father of virtual reality, says we're zombies now—losing our humanity. He said:
"I am unhappy with the way that digital technology is influencing the world, and I think the solution is to double down on being human" (source).
This is your brain on drugs, and the drug is distraction. What are you doing with social media, when you’re mindlessly consuming like that? You’re turning your attention away from what’s happening IRL, away from what’s right there in front of you, to peek through the window of your smartphone into a different world. And it's the world of the fake.
Fake news, fake friends, fake followers, Russian bots, sponsored posts disguised as actual personal thoughts, advertisers disguising commercials as friends. And you’re good at spotting fakes, but not good enough. As you’re getting better at spotting the fake, the fake is getting better at tricking you.
This is not a new idea. Read: “Active Choice, Passive Consumption,” or "Facebook says ‘passively consuming’ the News Feed will make you feel worse about yourself,” or “Millennials Spend 18 Hours a Day Consuming Media—And It's Mostly Content Created By Peers," or “The Lucrative Business of Fake Social Media Accounts."
In “Weeding Out Fake News,” the Wilfried Martens Centre states that "80% of middle school pupils who took part in tests could not see the difference between a genuine news story and sponsored content, even if the latter was visibly labeled as ‘sponsored.’”
The Centre goes on to say, "Many students, despite their presumed online fluency, were unaware of the basic indications of verified information.” The solution they propose is to bolster ‘e-literacy.’ They assert, “Education and improving the e-literacy of citizens are probably the best ways to limit the influence of lies.”
We’re good but not good enough at determining the real from the fake as we passively, mindlessly scroll. That’s a problem. As we lose touch with the real, we're losing our experience of experience itself. We adopt a state of distraction and thoughtlessness, such that we no longer feel what it is to experience things.
Think about it. While you casually browse, are you mindful? are you aware of the moment? of your breathing? of your posture?
I know I'm not. This funny thing happens when I'm watching YouTube videos. My brain goes numb, like a kid watching cartoons, mouth agape, and after 30 or 45 seconds I realize I haven't been breathing. All of a sudden I suck in air like a vacuum to make up for the breaths I wasn't taking. My mind was so goopified that I neglected basic human functions.
It's the one thing that separates us from the animals, from the robots, from anything on earth—our consciousness, our human agency, our soul—and we're surrendering it wholesale, a sacrifice on the alter of distraction. Entire governments can fall in a matter of days, but we live in our phones like everything around us is just going to be like it is forever.
"Wake up! Rise from the dead. Live not as the fool but as the wise. Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil." Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. God forbid you arise in 10 years from your stupor, only to realize your youth is gone, your energy is gone, your joy for the days is gone. Or, God forbid you arise with regrets.
All that time you spent scrolling and you've forgotten to look up, take it all in, and express gratitude. God forbid you wake and it's too late. You've forgotten the sound of your father's voice, you're left only with the voicemail he recorded when you punched 'Decline' because you were seven episodes into the next Stranger Things and couldn't be bothered.
Ok this blog post got dark kinda quick. Note to self: No more 4AM blogging. I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow I'll wake up. And each day I wake up I'll reflect on what it means to truly wake, to redeem the days, as fast falls the eventide. Good morning—"goodnight" is coming quick.