Changing our online experience will happen as quickly as we see that the desire to be loved is fulfilled in the act of loving.
Who hasn’t felt the desire to be loved, to be connected with others? We can’t deny the power of love, and we know it’s necessary for a well-adjusted life. But isn’t there danger in having a mindset that passively waits for love to happen?
The invitation to connect is everywhere. Consider Instagram with its breadth and depth of photographic filters, enabling users to create and recreate the perfect portrait; YouTube and the exhilarating hope of endlessly growing subscriptions and views; Twitter, where the pied pipes of powerful personalities play out for followers, or the determined seeking of the highest possible number of Snapchat conversation streaks. Facebook helps us to remember birthdays (in my opinion, one of its greatest assets) and to express love for others at the saddest of times.
I’m thinking of a Facebook friend. I did not know her well, but social media helped me know her better: Her voice—her character—was unmistakeable: witty, pithy, entertaining, and in spite of the occasional illusion of spikiness, clearly deeply compassionate. Then suddenly, and all too soon, her life ended. And her wall became a way to say goodbye, to say thank you, to comfort mutual acquaintances and friends. The platform has allowed me to be more in touch, more able to celebrate a life that touched my own. Her wall has become a memorial—sentiment has become action as feelings have been transformed into tributes, small but significant acts of love, both given and received.
Such posts may be carefully and sincerely thought out, in the hope they might reach and touch others for good. And on occasion, this hope will succeed, garnering positive responses and multiple likes. Of course this is exciting, rewarding, and validating. At its best, it is the experience of nurturing friendships, the making and remaking of shared memories, the receipt of love; the fulfilment of one’s desire to be loved.
That’s the upside. But there’s a trap I sometimes make and lay for myself online: I post not out of a genuine desire to share and connect, but in a self- concerned (however unconscious) bid for attention. These bids can initially be exciting, like fire. The intensity of online interaction may create the illusion of love, but all too soon, and all too frequently, it ends in the cold and lonely ashes of digital silence. Stoking this social media fire, requires the constant commitment to flame-feeding. But fed this way, like fire, social media consumes and leaves us burned out and bereft. Even the potentially validating can quickly become a vortex.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Changing our online experience will happen as quickly as we see that the desire to be loved is fulfilled in the act of loving. But what does it mean to love? Across the ages people have wrestled with the practical meanings of applied love. The call to extend compassion is a call echoed in the deep wisdom of traditions and cultures across the world, as well as a recurring theme of our own time, recently applied to life online by Professor Mark Dueze in ‘A Call for Compassion in Social Media Studies.’
Our online posting can help us discover what love means to us. Our digital comings and goings reveal patterns at our core, and are more revealing than we think. This is because over time our online behaviour compounds, revealing us for who we really are. Our voice, manifest in our manner and style of writing, in the patterns of our topic selection, suggests and eventually confirms our values, and in seeing our values we see the ultimate nature of our being (consider how everywhere online our activity is engaged by algorithms). But if our writing reveals the dimensions of our identity, writing (or postings of all kinds) can also help us redefine who we are.
Imagine if in all our digital comings and goings we were able to:
- Meet hostility with consistent kindness;
- Be content with our lot, and generous about the lot of others;
- Be honest and humble;
- Be true at all times, and thus undistorted;
- Be dignified and gentle, considerate, mindful;
- Be patient, non-manipulative, accepting of others’ agency;
- Assume and see, at core, goodness in others;
- Feel sadness and pity for others’ mistakes and wrongdoing;
- Submit to truth;
- Accept the unpredictability of life and the unpredictability of others’ agency;
- Be rooted in, and alive to, what is real;
- Trust and validate the best in others;
- Be committed to the habit of love, whatever the outcome.
If we were to post with these principles in mind, how would we become different in every area of our lives?
And so our primary task then is to know how to love. What’s more, careful compassionate reading alerts us to those whom we can help, a discussion point raised here. Happily, there is a way. The desire for love can be answered in meeting the need to love. And this vision will change the nature and experience of our shared online lives.
WarnerBoothe welcomes author Seth Wilkins of Chorley, England. Seth was educated at Lancaster University where he completed an undergraduate research degree before receiving master's degrees in history and creative writing. He is a certified high school teacher and a published novelist.