Videos go viral for all sorts of reasons. One I saw recently really caught my attention, as it perfectly captured one of the defining characteristics of our generation; the obsession with keeping our options open. In it, Harvard University student, Pete Davis describes the experience of browsing Netflix looking for something to watch. You scroll through titles and read reviews, but you just can’t commit to watching any given movie and find yourself stuck in infinite browsing mode. In the end, too much time has passed, and you cut your losses and fall asleep. Davis identifies this indecision as typical of my generation.
In fairness though, there are just so many podcasts, books, TV series, articles and tweets to choose from! Today, content in various forms is churned out in excessive amounts, most of it accessible at your fingertips. What’s interesting is that many psychological studies now suggest that having more freedom of choice doesn’t actually make you happier, just more stressed out about what to choose.
I want to premise this blog by stating that I love content. I am an introverted content-junkie! I’m fascinated by ideas and curious to learn new things. I love stories and narratives and imagination. However, I often don’t know how to manage all the choice. I have this tendency to jump around without properly finishing one thing. There’s just so much on offer: I start my day with poetry from Pádraig Ó Tuama and Richard Rohr’s meditations. I’m currently immersed in an audiobook about Leviticus with Impasse. Fiona and I have about 5 Netflix shows on the go as well as our non-negotiable Thursday evening ritual of First Dates Ireland. I do the dishes and go for walks listening to podcasts audiobooks. Our sitting room table is scattered with copies of The Economist, The Irish Times and Self-Build Ireland. And my bedside table has a stack of unfinished books on it; at the moment I’m simultaneously reading books about breathing, child development and a riveting John Le Carré spy novel. I just love content!
But I’ve noticed recently that the sheer volume of content I take in has left me a little overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s like my brain is screaming at me “WARNING INFORMATION OVERLOAD.” But what else are we supposed to do at the moment?
This past year of physical distancing and lockdowns have created both a connection deficit and a content overload in our society. We can no longer have people over for dinner, meet friends for pints or drive out west to visit my Granny. And so naturally enough, consuming content fills that void.
However, the brain is a social organ and our relationships with one another are not a luxury but an essential nutrient for our survival. Our brains are wired for social connection. So, in the long run, being alone on a desert island (even with your desert island discs) would be quite detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Our relationships with other people matter more than just about anything else in the world. I don’t think it’s a question of choosing either content or connection. Both are important. But let’s face it – content is consumed quickly, hungrily, whereas building connections with others often takes more work, effort and sacrifice.
Jesus was a master at good content. He taught ideas to simulate the mind and told parables to inspire the imagination. However, he also built meaningful connections with other people. He travelled with a rag-tag band of disciples and was patient with their persistent ‘missing-the-point’ questions. He sat and ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes. He gave his time to Roman centurions and zealous pharisees, Gentile women and outcast lepers.
I will always love content, ideas, stories and cold war spy films. I recognise that as an introvert, it’s important to recharge the batteries. But for me anyway, sometimes I don’t realise how good connection is for me. How much I can learn from being with people, how essential community is, how it actually is more blessed to give than to receive. As Spring sets in and as vaccinations roll out, I’m looking forward to bringing more balance to the connection deficit. Until then, here’s to great content on Netflix, chosen in 10 minutes or less.