On Twitter and Hope

I suspect many parents of teenagers who have a Twitter account have, at some point or another, read a Tweet and said, "What, in the world, would possess my child to make such a public statement?" Even as a mere teacher, I'd have occasion to see things my students would commend to the internet and I'd wonder, "What the hell was this kid thinking to put this online?"

As I read William Lynch, I am coming to realize that Twitter is actually a theater of hope. Lynch contends that, in the most general sense, hope involves three basic things:

  1. What I hope for I do not yet have or see.
  2. It may be difficult.
  3. I can have it - it is possible. 
Re-read some of the Tweets sent by your kids or students. Go read some of the Facebook status updates. Heck, go look at some of your own postings. Are you shocked by what you see? What do these public statements say about you?

Quite a bit, I suspect. 

We live in a culture where we have a "deep repression of the need for help" (42). Americans, as I learned when I sold riding lawn mowers at Wal-Mart, do not need anything. They deserve everything. Indeed, many times students would come to me and I'd have to offer/suggest/cajole them into accepting a bit of extra help. How much time would have been saved if they'd just admitted that they needed help!

When adolescents Tweet or post things to the internet, it might be helpful to consider why they are doing this. Some would say, "Oh, they're teens and they're just testing their limits." That may be true, but I suspect there's something deeper. I would like to suggest that each line-crossing Tweet or post is an expression of hope, an outward demonstration of the "interior sense that there is help on the outside of us" (40). 

In a nutshell: intelligent people don't post ignorant things to the internet because they are ignorant. They do so because they are desperate to know that they are not alone, that they are relevant, that their thought/idea/quip/insult matters. The more viral one becomes, the more "likes" one receives, the more one matters. Every one wants to matter. 

By no means am I insinuating that every text, tweet, or post is a mark of some insatiable urge to belong. I would say, however, that many of the more risque things posted are not a reflection of the moral fiber of our young so much as a desperate desire to be relevant, a hope to be noticed by others. 

To speak of Twitter in particular, I know a young woman who Tweets upwards of 200 times a day. Why? Because once, two years ago, something she Tweeted went viral and was passed along to thousands of others. Since then, she Tweets so frequently in the hope that she'll be noticed again, that she'll be relevant one more. Her life, Tweeted at every turn, has become a virtual existence where her value as a human is measured not in the lives she touches but in the number of 'favorites' and 're-tweets' she receives. 

Twitter, in this way, is the parody of true hope. For William Lynch, authentic hope (1) leads us to the real and (2) demands mutuality, a relationship that brings the best out of those involved. My young friend spends more time in the 'virtual' realm than in the real, more time attempting to be relevant than in relationship. Her Tweets sound to me less an "innocent pastime" that a cry of quiet desperation. 

Each of us needs to consider, daily, how we use social media as a tool for expression. For those graced with children, it is a duty to monitor how they express themselves. There's an old philosophical adage - agere sequitor esse or to act follows on to be - and it's vital that we take note of how our young behave because their behaviors indicate a great deal of how they are as young persons. My growing suspicion is that we are raising a generation marked with great desperation, a group desperate to be relevant but increasingly alienated from others and unable to form healthy relationships. 
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