The iLife Pursuit and Adultescent Loneliness: A Conference Breakout

Bryan J’s recent post on The Law of Social Media (which could not have been […]

Ethan Richardson / 9.7.12

Bryan J’s recent post on The Law of Social Media (which could not have been a more apt primer on the subject) looks into a TED talk given by Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T. professor and author of Alone Together, who has become something of a clarion caller upon the state of our lonely lives as a result of the technologies we have become conditioned to need. Most of her research focuses on the loss of the art of relating due to the immediacy and detachments available with technology. She references, both in her TED talk and her interview with Colbert (below) the startling image of people texting during funerals–the convenient out to the heart of suffering and messiness of human life and death.

As we’ve shown in various Mockingbird posts over the last three or four years, Turkle is one of many seeing this era of connectivity as a danger and, despite her urgent pleas for the “making of sacred spaces” in the home again, to restore those offline relationships, you’d be hard-pressed to find people who, agreeing with her, follow up by deleting their Facebook accounts, or chucking their iPhones. It’s not that we don’t believe it, it’s that it’s hard to really care about changing it.

Here at Mockingbird, that paradox seems pretty biblically routine, that Peter thrice denied his Lord, that knowing is rarely half the battle, that all the time “I do the things I do not want to do.” Still there is something to be said for a deeper analysis on what laws are motivating our decisions and, from that understanding, hope for help.

Hold that thought. There’s also a similar, but not the same, strand of research–with writers like Brooks and Koslow, moviemakers like Apatow and Stoller–that’s spending a lot of time talking about “adultescents,” this identity-plagued group in their 20s and 30s, stereotypically living at home with mom and dad, again, incapable of the permanence of an unfulfilling steady job or marriage, but in love with the idea that those things will come when the winds of passion find them the perfect fit. You can also find them on PeaceCorps outings, in basement yoga courses, in parachuting license courses. David Brooks describes it as our culture’s new stage of human development:

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood… There is every reason to think this phase will grow more pronounced in the coming years.

Sally Koslow has diagnosed the problem, as mentioned before, as an issue of choices: “Choice can be delightful. It can also be overstimulating, confusing, and panic-inducing, creating a juggernaut of doubt and indecision.” Despite the fact that an unprecedented amount of colleges and vocational avenues present themselves to the Millenial generation, we find ourselves bound by the “freedom” it offers. Nothing is ever good enough, because we are never good enough.

In my “The iLife Pursuit” breakout (recording below), I tried to talk about how these two (over)talked-about phenomena, the Adultescent and his or her Social Network, are branches of the same root of self-justification. In our attempts to earn righteousness, our Profile-centered technology (be it Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and on and on) has allowed us the means to create a self that might, just might, stand up to the lonely judgments we face in our day-to-day existence. This is not to say that we haven’t always done this: put our best foot forward in conversation, chosen who to associate with and without. This is only to say that technology has allowed us to build upon something already ingrained in our nature: the attempts to make oneself righteous in the eyes of God. With our Instagram photos, with our next new passion for puppeteering, we are able to (bound to?) the perfectability of experiences, the customization of relationships, and the rootless aggregation of ideologies for the sake of feeling, well, justified.

And does it work? Well, if so many people are talking about it, how could it be?

Again, this breakout session was brought to you by the chief of sinners, an iPhone-toting, Instagram embellisher with a penchant for short-lived passions. If this felt like a description of you in any way, this is not a breakout on why you are living wrong. By no means! We all are living wrong! It is instead intended to be a helpful diagnosis and description of our modern loneliness, to dig deep into the theological motivations for our culture’s choices, and to find hope present still, even there. To paraphrase from Walker Percy, “I felt better as soon as I heard my diagnosis.” There’s something healthy about hearing about what is making us sick–that kind of probing may even be the beginning of new life.

Here’s the audio recording from the breakout session. And here’s the handout used as well.

Or, if you prefer, you can download it by right clicking here and selecting “Save link as…”