Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

by Sandra Pawula

Coming back from a social media break, I’m stunned by the overwhelming number of text-sprawled photos and images streaming through my Facebook timeline.

Someone started a social media trend and it’s picked up the speed of an avalanche.  It’s said humans are more responsive to text with photos than text alone.  For some, this is a marketing strategy.  Note:  blog url on photo.  For others, it’s healing with ‘art’, pure fun, or shared inspiration.

I’m human.  I find these Facebook posts inspiring and enjoyable to a degree.  I share and post them too.

But, at some point, at least for me, enough is enough.

The problem – in my eyes – isn’t images, which are a fine way to communicate.  It’s the over-abundance and the trendy aspect, in part.  On a deeper level, I wonder, as a society can we really survive and thrive on one-liners?  How many jolts of inspiration do we need a day?  What happened to deep, thought-provoking conversation?  Or simple human-to-human interaction?

And, I flinch when I see text imposed on top of beauty, nature, and animals.  I have a hard time putting a blog title on a beautiful image as a header.  I’ve tried again and again but in the end I always  feel it mars the beauty of the photo.

Chris Brogan wrote an energetic article on this new trend of text on photos and images:  The Rise of the Junkweb and Why Its Awesome or At Least Inevitable.  He says it is the next phase of the web.

Yes, he called your sweet photos junkweb!  Don’t worry, it’s just a way to grab people’s attention, he confesses in the comments.  At the same time, he says people are “in love with this new method of interacting.”  But what’s interactive about it?  I’ve been told these image posts work better on electronic gadgets than posts with many words, so maybe Brogan is right.

Is it the next phase of the web?  Is it inevitable?  What do you think? How do you find it?

A Facebook friend shared this provocative link which goes right to the heart of the question, in my mind.  Ironically, it’s a comic, but a fabulous one not to be missed:  Huxley vs. Orwell:  Infinite Distraction or Government Oppression?  – Amusing Ourselves to Death by Stuart McMillen.

As Brogan points out, these text-sprawled images are a “dead-end”.  They may bring a moment of inspiration, but they don’t take you anywhere.   When I was off-line, I read books and felt edified.  I sat in nature and practiced deep listening.  I connected with friends and felt a bond.  I was taken into different dimensions of being that changed, and shaped, and grew me in a way that feels stronger, deeper, and wider than instant inspiration.

All this has made me wonder about my social media interaction.  So this is how I am using social media for now:

  • to connect with and support friends and their vision and activities;
  • to share links to meaningful or helpful articles;
  • to share inspiration, in moderation;
  • to share my own work, reflections, dreams, and insights.

I may share photos and images with text on them occasionally, but not often.  And, definitely not the ones with a blog url.

I’m afraid this post sounds arrogant and judgmental.  It will probably push a few buttons so naturally I would love to hear your perspective.  Maybe I have it all wrong.

So, are we amusing or inspiring ourselves to death or distraction?

Is this why some of my Facebook Friends have an explosion of followers?  Am I missing the boat?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Am I just a fuddy-duddy?  Should I be afraid for the written word?


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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Edic August 6, 2012 at 5:26 am

It is a minority of Facebook users who constantly share this stuff. I blocked a half dozen or so and immediately cut back on 90% of it. And I disagree completely with Brogan. This stuff has been going on for ages. When email became ubiquitous everyone had those friends who continually send around cute or funny stuff, CCing everyone they knew. However, as email became and important means of communicating this cutesy spamming became a no-no and you rarely see it anymore. I suspect we’ll go through the same pattern in social.
The advent of a dislike or ‘not for me’ button that reports back to the original poster could make a big difference.


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

Hi Martin,

I hope you are right! Some of my favorite people are engaged in this trend so I’m not going to block them, but I wouldn’t hesitate blocking an exclusive flow of this type of material.

An interesting thought about the “dislike” button. I think it’s probably “not for me”. Thanks for your grounded thoughts on the matter.


Galen Pearl August 6, 2012 at 5:29 am

I am reminded of the animated movie Wall-E, which depicts humans of the future zipping around in mobile lounge chairs with their eyes glued on the video streaming to them through special glasses. They are all right next to each other, but they don’t see each other–they only see the video. My daughters keep wanting me to get a smart phone so that I can be plugged into everything all the time. I told them I’m not smart enough for a smart phone. As for FB, I’m still a novice, but I can’t figure out how people get thousands, even tens of thousands, of “likes” on their pages. Whew! I’m need regular visits to my cabin (completely unplugged) just to keep it in some semblance of balance.


Robin Easton August 6, 2012 at 6:34 am

Dear Galen, I love what you shared here. I REALLY hear you. And relate to your “I need regular visits to my cabin (completely unplugged) just to keep it in some semblance of balance.” THAT is beautiful. Just love it. I’m right there with you.

This raises another concern. Do younger people even know this world that you or I go to be with. From the time they are tiny tots they are raised on cell phones, computers, and TV. THAT is their world. It’s all that many of them have ever known. That is why the organizations and individuals who are getting kids outdoors to be with Nature are SO important. These groups are literally, hopefully saving lives.


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:38 am

Hi Galen,

I rarely go to movies so it’s interesting to hear what’s out there. This one definitely seems to be depicting our future unless we take a turn. There is no internet access where I live (barbarian, I know) so I don’t have a Smart phone. Maybe this is all bringing us into some bold, creative, fascinating new future that I’m not able to see due to my limited concepts or imagination. For now, unplugging periodically and nature our my ways to keep balance too.


Robin Easton August 6, 2012 at 6:23 am

Hi dearest Sandra, :) This is an interesting topic. My first thought is is. I think it is a matter of personal choice, and what we each feel is helpful for us. I think different things help different people.

In some ways we could substitute blogging or social networking or cell phones in place of “text-sprawled photos and images”. There are many things rapidly changing in American culture (and other cultures) that can “overtake” or “invade” our lives, and their probably always have been these cultural changes. But it does seem that they are extremely prevalent today.

I can ONLY express what works or doesn’t work for ME. I don’t think I can make a assessment for anyone else. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way. I think it is about each of us being CONSCIOUS and aware of what we are doing and feeling, and what we need or don’t need in any given moment. I truly believe that change starts with each of us, on an individual level. That is why this article is good, as it hopefully will make people ask, “How do I feel about this?”

Nowadays, I tend to let most of the plethora of “STUFF” (no matter WHAT form it comes in) just roll past me. But occasionally something hits me and is very useful for me, it lingers, and is applied to my life. But most of it rolls past with barely a glance. Most of it I CHOOSE not to notice. :) I simply let it go. With 1.352 people in my timeline, I can’t possibly check out all of it . So I go where my **heart** leads me in each moment…

A couple of other thoughts. I do know that I, personally, have to be GROUNDED, literally in my physical life. I have to hike barefoot, canoe, swim, garden, do pottery, Nature photography, cook, and spend time with the important people in my life.
However, there are those souls online who I love just as much as the “real” physical people in my life. They have been absolutely REAL to me and life changing.

So I think back to just the individual level: We each need to be aware of what it is WE need to feel and experience to be a whole, healthy, loving, compassionate human being. And we might want to ask ourselves at any given moment, “What is it that I really need to be doing right now?” Even if that means doing nothing, or not blogging, or not doing Facebook, or not even being online at all.

If we are conscious in each given moment, and doing what we really need to be doing, the rest will roll past us, almost irrelevant. We can swim to the river bank, climb out of the torrent, sit in stillness, and simply watch the river go by. We can separate ourselves from the often “collective unconscious movement”, which tends to engulf us all at times. We can slow down and decide how Life is for US. We can decide what “movement”, if any, do we want to create? We don’t have to get caught up in the torrent.

Throwing clay pots, gardening, or being alone (or with a close friend) in Nature allows me to slow down, separate myself from the “mad, often frenzied rush of energy”. For ME, this online energy can sometimes feel “un-anchored”. Yes, it exists, but it usually feels like it’s going nowhere and serves little purpose. It is simply erratic energy, a bit like undifferentiated cells, which turn into cancer cells. It can be easy for us all to get lured in or experience this energy just being online, just being in today’s human cultures, just owning cell phones, TVs, and so on.

One last thought. I am a Nature photographer, and am moving into it as a career. I need a break from sitting at a desk writing 24/7. Nature photography combines so many things that I love doing, hiking, exercise, getting fresh air, being with Nature, canoeing, snowshoeing, photography, and so on. So, as of late I have been posting my own photos on Facebook with my own quotes (either from my book or other writings of mine) but with the words printed BENEATH the photo in most cases. It is the first time in a long time (since my book came out) that I have done something simply because it gives ME great pleasure, and for NO other reason at all. LOL! :) I love working with the photos, deciding which caption best fits, and so on. I often share a brief story with the photo as well. I have SO enjoyed the ensuing comments and highly meaningful discussions that have resulted from these photos. The people commenting have greatly enriched my life, given me new insights and ways of looking at life. I simply love it all.

I know this is long, but you really got me thinking and I couldn’t resist sharing what arose in me. Thank you for caring, for seeing, for KNOWING, and for just being YOU. I love it all, love you. Robin


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hi dearest Robin,

Your comment could easily become a blog post! It is so rich, why not post it on your blog if the idea catches you?

I love what you’ve said about being conscious. Yes, distraction has always been the challenge in all places and all times. I agree, distraction is not new at all. It just seems multiplied and intensified. I do feel a concern for young people raised with this amplified level of distraction. What chance do they have for learning to be conscious or even knowing the option exists?

This paragraph from your comment is so gorgeous and such a gift:

“If we are conscious in each given moment, and doing what we really need to be doing, the rest will roll past us, almost irrelevant. We can swim to the river bank, climb out of the torrent, sit in stillness, and simply watch the river go by. We can separate ourselves from the often “collective unconscious movement”, which tends to engulf us all at times. We can slow down and decide how Life is for US. We can decide what “movement”, if any, do we want to create? We don’t have to get caught up in the torrent.”

I’m delighted that nature photography is bringing you such joy! I’ve seen some of your beautiful photos. I love nature photos! And I’m a big fan of your book so this seems like the perfect marriage. This is surely what I mean when I say that communicating with photos is “fine”!

All my love to you!


Robin Easton August 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

Oh dearest Sandra, how I have missed you and your amazing heart. You ARE your heart. :) That is what I dearly love about you. I am so moved by what you wrote, as well as your strong sentiments about children. OH YES!!! THAT is where I get VERY passionate about all this. Like you say, WHAT chance do these kids have. It’s all they know. That really makes my hair stand on end and sometimes gets my hackles up. Like you, I KNOW there is so much good in the internet, but there is also so much trash. As adults we hopefully have the infrastructure to CHOOSE what best meets out needs, and keeps us the most sane, healthy, and whole. BUT children often do not have this infrastructure or the option to choose. Now THAT brings tears to my eyes. It really makes me strongly feel that I need to do more to either educate/encourage parents or kids or both. Bless you for being you and inspiring such a great conversation here. And not just in this post, but in all of your posts. I applaud you for it. And yes, much love and my deepest respect to you. Robin


jean sampson August 6, 2012 at 6:37 am

You make a good point and I do think the social media craze can be a way of pseudo-relating to people. I limit myself to some FB time, but I do read blogs and interact quite often. In doing so, I have connected with some incredible people who have introduced me to new ideas and helped me grow. There are times when I just want to share some cute animal videos with my FB friends who love them. There are other times when I want to support a cause and share that. I have reconnected, through FB, with college and HS buddies I haven’t seen in years. I also think there might be people who are not able to get out and interact with others for whom these things are a lifeline.
I believe that anything can be used for a good purpose or can be addicitve, a waste of time or right down harmful. I try to use my time at the computer to help myself grow and to encourage someone else. And then, there are my beloved animal videos!! :)


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:51 am

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m not advocating the obliteration of FB by any means. And, I would probably love your animal videos. There’s a lot of goodness in the internet. I agree, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! Thanks for adding this perspective.


Tiffiny August 6, 2012 at 7:29 am

I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. I think people have in many ways become lazy. Images with sayings on them are an easy and quick way for someone to post something on a social network who otherwise wouldn’t know what to say. By doing this for just a moment they can sound profound and knowledgeable about something they probably could care less about. Then again, as my kids keep telling me, these networks are for fun, a way to connect, sometimes in a silly or weird ways.

Also a lot of people use these images with sayings and blog urls as a way to advertise what they do. You wouldn’t believe how many e-courses there are on how to advertise through social networks. As to the written word, I don’t think you have to worry, there are still plenty of writers and readers out there.


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:59 am

Hi Tiffany,

I trust you that there are zillions of e-course on how to advertise through social networks. I haven’t been exposed to them myself, but I’m sure they are out there. I also see that people are struggling to make it financially and this is also something I need to keep in my heart and mind.

I think your kids also have a good point. It’s healthy to be fun and silly and a little weird sometimes! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic.


Jeffrey Willius August 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

Hi Sandra — I love Brogan’s observation that many of these images don’t take you anywhere. To be taken somewhere takes time and space – the polar opposite of what much of the sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character Internet culture is all about.
I struggle, as you do, with how to sort out the positive aspects of this virtual world (being in touch with you and so many other friends I’ve made out here, for example), and ignore the rest.
Kudos to you for retreating, now and then, enough to keep a healthy perspective. We should all be so wise. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective!!


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 9:56 am

Hi Jeffrey,

I suppose this is our twenty-first century conundrum. I’ve also made wonderful connections with friends on the internet and it’s an amazing learning resource. It seems like it’s all about finding a healthy balance and letting the rest go.

I love what you’ve said that being taken somewhere requires time and space, the opposite of a speedy internet driven world. I definitely need to create time and space for receptivity in my life. Thanks for your thoughts!


Charlotte Rains Dixon August 6, 2012 at 10:44 am

Thanks so much for mentioning my novel writing class, Sandra! Over the last two weeks I’ve taken a short beach vacation and now I’m visiting a friend in LA. Usually my days consist of sitting at the computer, writing, blogging, and doing social media. What I’m noticing with these vacations is how much I’m enjoying being offline, cooking with my friend, walking on the beach, and yes, reading. I have to talk myself into opening my laptop and once I do, I’m immediately sucked into the morass again. So my task now is to find a balance. This post has much food for thought in it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it spawns multiple blog posts from readers.


Sandra Pawula August 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm


I’m so delighted you found this post – in combination with your own experience – so fertile. We will probably be talking about the challenge of on and off-line balance for years to come! Like you though, I’m find so much nourishment off-line that it’s given me pause for thought.


Carolyn Hughes August 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Your post caught my eye as I’m actually scheduling several days of switching off. No phone, tv, computer etc. I do this from time to time because I think it’s so important to take a break and get back to basics. I find it’s the best to encourage creativity!
Love the post!


Sandra Pawula August 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

That’s the solution, isn’t it Carolyn? Periodic breaks! I agree with you wholeheartedly.


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