I’m not typically the guy with the Facebook updates sharing what I ate for breakfast. I don’t mind seeing what you or others eat for breakfast, and I certainly don’t have anything against breakfast, per se. Breakfast is a wonderful time of the day, so rich with potential, our bodies are on the verge of great creativity and productivity, if only it were given the fuel necessary to energize it. For my part, I had a bagel with cream cheese. That was my breakfast. And I sprinkled some sugar on it and added cinnamon. That’s not my typical breakfast. Usually it’s just fruit. Fruit and perhaps a handful of almonds. Why is this my normal breakfast? Well, if I told you, then this would start to seem like a story.
I suppose older folks tend to be a bit cynical about social media in general and about all of the small, “pointless” things that people post. I do appreciate a good critic of technology, because I certainly don’t consider myself a technophile. No, no.
And perhaps it isn’t a generational thing, either. Maybe I’m wrong about that. It may be a certain type of person who appreciates the regular, day-to-day trivia of life, happily engages on social media about bagels, Kanye West, the latest touchdown, or the variations on the cuteness level of one’s cat. Some dig it, some don’t. It might just be a personal thing.
Personal or not, there’s something fundamentally human about swapping the small details of our lives. That is, after all, one of the main reasons people usually give for getting married, for swearing allegiance to one person for the rest of their living lives: “I just want to share my life with you.”
Language is one of the key factors (if not the key factor) that sets homo sapiens apart from our non-human brethren. These little life details were certainly the stuff of discussions around the camp fires of our ancient ancestors. Then, as now, we seek to find our place in the tribe. Then, it was a literal tribe and a literal camp fire. Now, we seem more identified with marketing demographics spread out over the globe and our campfires seem to have moved to places like Twitter and video chats.
From the little details we humans have always built stories, tales to entertain us and narratives to give us meaning and a sense of greater purpose in the world. Talk long enough about your breakfast bagel and you might find that it becomes a bona fide, real-life story. This takes it to another level, engages the imagination, adds a bit of a spit shine to the mundane trivialities. Or maybe not. Maybe we just want to appreciate the small stuff for what it is. We don’t need any greater purpose to appreciate the extra high level of kitty cuteness. I mean, my god, just look at how cute my kitty is!
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18 (KJV)
Of course, this is where the cynic charges narcissism. The Internet is a cesspool of self-centered silliness. It’s superficial, so the argument goes, because it’s so self-absorbed. People do not contemplate the greater purpose and meaning in life anymore because they can’t see past next Sunday’s football game.
Fair enough. There may be some truth to this curmudgeonly complaint. On the other hand, this really isn’t an argument against why we shouldn’t swap stories about the simple things in life. Like most things curmudgeons complain about, it’s more about despairing about the state of the culture. I share that sense of despair, but on the other hand, it really depends on what kind of mood I’m in, and that’s something that we can share online too, now, thanks to emoticons. Maybe we are more narcissistc now, maybe not. It’s kind of a tricky thing to judge, and I’m not really one to say. I do feel confident in saying that to be human is to always wrestle with various nuances of narcissism.
The small details of our lives have always been the stuff of stories, myths, legends, and religions. Ideas and perspectives usually are only as powerful as the stories that support them, and stories are only as strong as the details that support them. Try talking politics with no reference to the lives of real people. It’s a rare chap that can appreciate pure theory divorced from any connection to story and to life’s details.
The stories of life motivate us to connect to each other. That’s why I defend the minutia of Facebook. It’s also where I think Jesus may have been coming from when he presented yet another absurd parable, the one where the shepherd leaves 99 sheep and goes off to seek a lost one, one and only one. Or maybe not. Jesus was a tricky teacher, and a bit cheeky sometimes. It’s best not to treat his words as Gospel. Nevertheless, it’s sharing the small details that connects us to each other to such a degree that we would leave 99 others in peril to find just one. From a numbers point of view, leaving 99 folks in danger for the sake of the one doesn’t make sense. Mr. Spock taught us as much before he sacrificed his life to save the whole ship. It doesn’t make sense to leave the 99, but if the one who is missing is someone that we really love, then it doesn’t have to make sense.
Whether they be the the building blocks of the creative imagination or whether they are simply the small trivialities that we have been exchanging with each other, for no particular reason, since the days when our ancestors shared campfires, it’s the minutia that connect us. I for my part, had a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast this morning. Now I’m having coffee, a house blend with two shots of espresso in it, aka, “the red eye.” It’s my favorite coffee drink. But that’s a story for another day.