In May, my favorite professional football team, the Cleveland Browns (it’s okay and I’m not ashamed – I grew up in the Cleveland area), drafted a guy named Johnny Manziel to play quarterback. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s very young (ask him, he’ll tell you), he’s very controversial for the way he lives his life (ask him, he’ll tell you that he won’t change), he’s an extraordinarly talented player in the game that he has chosen to be his career (ask him about his Heisman Trophy, he’ll act like it’s nothing), and for all of these things, he’s either outrageously adored or fantastically despised (ask anyone, and I’m sure they’ll tell you). Johnny Manziel’s nickname is “Johnny Football.” It’s a name that he seems to wear proudly – along with his party life, celebrity friends, and signature “money” sign (see below). According to legend, the nickname was given to him in High School, but Johnny Manziel really became “Johnny Football” because of one thing: the Internet. You cannot swing a Commodore 64 from a power strip without running into some evidence of Johnny Football on the internet. From his choice of Halloween costume (Scooby Doo), to his choice of Las Vegas transportation (an inflatable swan), to his favorite finger (it’s the middle one), to his preferred company (too numerous and scandalous to mention), everything about Johnny Football is known to the world that might care – and much of it that clearly must not. You might even find some stuff about how he plays football.
Here’s the thing: I feel bad for Johnny Manziel. For all of the attention – or maybe because of it – I feel deeply sorry for the guy. He may or may not ever succeed in the NFL (I’m sure we both hope that he does), but regardless – or maybe because of that – the name and character of “Johnny Football” must be, whether he realizes it now or not, a very heavy and difficult burden to carry.
But enough about you, Johnny Football. This here blog post (as all good and decent blog posts should be) is about ME. Me, me, me!
When it comes to the internet and information technology, I am a devout hypocrite.
The internet has made my life easy. My work has been simplified beyond belief – allowing me the luxury of practicing law at the speed of light, and quite often from home. As a somewhat socially awkward person (as referenced previously, I am a lawyer), email and texting have been great tools, permitting me the wonderful ability to avoid actual “human contact” whenever I can. My ability to escape into the world of music and entertainment has been enabled magnificently. Thanks to the internet, I can converse intelligently about a whole array of usefully useless things, from the complex relationship between Jesse Pinkman and Walter White, to the complex relationship between Marcus Mumford and his Sons, to the complex relationship between LeBron James and my beloved city of Cleveland, to the complex relationship between Johnny Manziel and the NFL.
At the same time, I am an internet and information technology luddite. Deep down, I hate the stuff and am pretty well convinced that life was actually better before it. I am not, and have never been, on Facebook. I don’t have a Twitter account, don’t really understand how a “hashtag” works, and still refer to the “#” as a “number sign.” To me, “Instagram” still sounds like a breakfast cereal and “social media” still seems oxymoronic (though I am told, repeatedly, that it is NOT! It’s really great! #Honest!). I do have a Linkedin account, but find even that to be voyeuristically creepy (on a strictly professional level). The truth is, I’m not familiar with any of this stuff and honestly have no longing or desire to have it or be a part of it. I can comfortably say that there is no “social media shaped hole in my life.”
Here’s my problem: For all of the complexity of relationships that the internet has facilitated an understanding of, it is my impression – as an outside observer, of course – that the internet and information technology have actually contributed to a very significant breakdown of human relationship. I half-jokingly say (to anyone that might listen) that there are presently “Four Horsemen of the Relationship and Civility Apocalypse”: Facebook; Instagram; Twitter; and Internet Comments (the number remains constant, but the inhabitants of each position are subject to change at the speed of technology; Myspace once had a ride, but has long since been unhorsed). I recognize that this opinion is not ground-breaking, or earth-shaking, or anything special at all. Anyone is welcome to post a link to studies or articles that have addressed it. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert or have a monopoly on this perception. It is only important in the given moment because, well, I am posting an article on a blog – something I was pretty sure I would never do.
The curator of this blog is one of my favorite people in the world. I love him, trust him, listen to him, and try to learn from him. He is a dear friend, and I consider him a brother (as I do some of the other contributors and readers). For two years, he has patiently pursued me to become a contributor to his creation – something that I have consistently demurred, declined, balked, and belabored, because, well, PRINCIPLES! I don’t do blogs, because I am a proud internet and information technology luddite!
It turns out, I’m also a hypocrite, and not a very good friend or brother, especially to someone that I love, and trust, and to whom I try to listen, and from whom I try to learn. Insomuch as this is true, I am doing precisely the things that I complain about with respect to social media interactions. To wit:
From my position as a social media outsider, it is my impression that the basic core of human interaction has become – or is at significant risk of becoming – eminently one-sided. Relationship in the internet age – whether on the internet or not – increasingly consists of the following formula:
(1) Here’s me. Here’s what I do and what I think.
(2) Here’s an opportunity, something less than an invitation, for you to respond to me.
(3) You then present to me who you are and what you think. It may or may not have anything to do with who I am and what I think, because that’s not really the point. The point, after all, is for you to be you, as I am me, and as we define ourselves.
(4) But you better not offend me or disagree with me, because then I’m going to present to you more of me, and what I do and what I think (probably about you). #YourAnIdiot.
In this brave, new world of relationship, I have the ability to singularly define not only who I am, but also who you are (at least in relationship to me, and quite possibly in relationship to the world if you choose to agree with my definition). Whether it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or a blog, or comments on an internet article, I now have the ability to say whatever it is that I want to say, and you have to deal with it (or not – but your silence may speak as loudly as your “reply”). You then have the same opportunity to say whatever it is that you want to say, leaving me to deal with that – which I may, again saying whatever I want to say. And the cycle continues. There is no listening to vocal inflection. There is no recognition of facial expression. We may completely misunderstand each other, but there is simply no risk of real vulnerability – only power. I remain insulated and powerful at my computer or smart phone, as do you at yours. I recognize that this is no different than what occurred under the ancient form of “letter writing,” but because this interaction now occurs in more-or-less real time, we consider it to be more interpersonal, or indeed “social.” Indeed, on some level it really is – which is why it is also dangerous, because it is only artifically so. We all get to be (or have to be) our own “Johnny Footballs,” built up and torn down from the power and safety of our own – and everyone else’s – internet machines.
But this is not how we were designed to be in relationship with one another. We were not created to be people that simply leave messages for one another, waiting for a response (my sister-in-law and her husband call this “checking their traps”).
When God existed before time and at the Creation, the Godhead was in deep, real, personal relationship with Each Other. When God created Adam, He formed him from His hands, and spoke to him, and walked with him. He named Adam; Adam did not name himself. When He later created Eve, He created her from the physical flesh of Adam, and in turn designed and formed them to be one flesh with and to each other. God invited Moses to gaze upon His very face. When He chose to be known to His people as deliverer and redeemer, He became human, in flesh. He sweated, He bled, He stunk, He spoke, He was seen with eyes, He was heard with ears, and His Word was delivered to individuals and to crowds at the great risk of emotional response, to include the clutching of the sick, diseased, and hurt as well as the fists and stones of the angry, insulted, and enraged; He suffered His own Son to be betrayed with a kiss on the cheek by a brother whom He loved. There was no safety, and His power was utterly vulnerable. Today, He even calls us as His body. We are – and consume – His flesh. This is all very deep, very personal, very intimate, very natural stuff; stuff that in my mind is unattainable through the artificial bond of the internet (which, you don’t have far to go in your search engine to realize is solidly enemy territory – but that’s for another blog post).
I was originally going to post today on the topic of Iraq and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was going to be great; it was going to be strong; it was going to be personal, and possibly controversial. But I’m frankly afraid of the internet. I hate being misunderstood – and misunderstanding others – on something as important, and serious, and personally visceral as that. Shoot, I’m afraid of being misunderstood on something as innocuous as a professional football player and the topic of hating the internet.
For all I know, I’m already misunderstood and have already been defined. For all I know, you feel that way from me right now. That’s why I hate the internet. That’s why I don’t do blogs. I would so much rather share my thoughts with you in my living room – and I’m a socially awkward person.
But I have been asked by someone I love, and I will do it. Just not today.