This morning I opened my Twitter feed to see what was happening in the world and stumbled across one of the first tweets from @claire live-tweeting going into labor with her first child. Claire Diaz-Ortiz is an early Twitter employee and Head of Social Innovation for the platform, historically with a focus on how to leverage Twitter to do as much purposeful good as it can in the world.
I knew what I was witnessing in my stream in 20-minute bursts was getting further from social innovation than we have ever been in social media, and moving rapidly towards social degradation. Perhaps this is the milestone social-media version of selling your baby pics to Hello magazine, but without the money and without the gloss?
We are all different. But for me, it was thinking back to being there for the labor and birth of my first child 18 months ago which grounded me in a personal awareness that the idea of live-tweeting the process of bringing a new life into the world made me sad. I didn't and don't feel it's a high point in our maturity of understanding of the Internet. Nevertheless, whatever the situation I encounter, I always try to ask: what good can I take from this?
I had to think hard for a few minutes, but then it came to me.
Situations like this prompt us to question our attention, and to remind ourselves how vital it is to live and be fully conscious. Aware. In the present.
To be conscious and to remember that what we are doing or loving is not necessarily what we should be live-streaming. The more we create and sharpen these increasingly blurred divides in our lives and our homes, the more we will grow up from being social media infants to teenagers, and finally mature and conscious of how to live in harmony with devices and feeds capable of taking over our lives.
The generation growing up attached to their devices and feeds are losing the art of conversation and presence -- which you can see at any restaurant you go to. You can see it in the new art of the Instagram "photo," which is now a photo in pursuit of an audience and digital reaction vs. a photo in pursuit of memories and history.
Many in my generation (myself included) who grew up with the development of all of this as we entered the workforce also struggle to switch off and stop using devices, or checking feeds. So, as much as I fail often, I try very hard to create dark zones and dark times -- places and times that no matter what or where I am in the world, I'm offline and device-less, ranging from just a few hours up to full days on end.
Could we argue that by having to think about each unfolding turn of events and converting it into 140 characters is forcing us to be more "present"? Possibly. But maybe more so as the equivalent of 1980's tourists taking the world in through a new-found Canon or Nikon viewfinder, but never having taken in anything at all?
With the social and environmental challenges that we need to address today, is this constant distraction and audience-pandering the type of human presence and thinking that is going to help us get out of the situations we are in and to think our way forward boldly enough? Or are we instead building a culture of habits that are going to undermine our ability to focus and be clear in our thoughts and in our daily lives?
Twitter is interesting for many reasons and powerful for many more that we all know, but perhaps Sean Parker and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund frame it well on their website: "we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."
As a technologist and somebody who's made a lifestyle out of leveraging these burgeoning forms of media (particularly the ones streaming through our hands), I appreciate and understand the risks and opportunities of all advancements and even that I might be construed as hypocritical when I attack them from time to time.
However, as a human being, I am now constantly aspiring to be far more present, which means in many ways to be less connected.
I am convinced it's the only way I can create the clarity to be the best I can be for the world, and for my family and friends who I owe so much to. I don't feel alone in this, knowing that there is an entire movement building around greater consciousness in everything we do.
I was expecting that at some point @claire would put the phone down, experiencing a shift into a deep consciousness and awareness of being right in the middle of one of life's miracles -- bringing a child into the world. Or at some point it would all get a bit overwhelming and painful and the device might just drop to the floor by itself. But neither happened and the baby was born to the Internet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't stop there, as the tweets have continued to flow from the post-delivery room over two hours later.
I imagined that the first photos of the new child would be on the Twitter feed as soon as he or she was breathing and screaming and getting wiped down from the ordeal and weighed. And she was. Re-tweeted and trending at a minute old, probably as all hoped and designed for in search of a social and cultural milestone. I suppose I'm playing a small part in fueling it just by writing about it here.
Claire has a reputation as one of the people who got the Pope to become more active on Twitter -- and given how incredible and groundbreaking this Pope is, I'd consider that a divine act which matches the one she just underwent by bringing forth a new life into this complex, challenging, volatile and always-on world. I wish her the very best of luck and that her child is safe, healthy and beautiful. Welcome to the Internet, @lucia, child of @claire.