Oklahoma State Fair | September 21, 2021
A couple years ago, I was irritated when Netflix abandoned the binge model for several of its shows. I think it may have been The Great British Baking Show that simultaneously made me happy and mad about it. I had become accustomed to sitting with a series and blazing through it before moving on to the next one. It seemed everyone in our family had their own thing going, and, looking back, that wasn’t too healthy.
Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Pinker says:
“This finding aligns with a mountain of research showing that our brains sync up when we interact in the same location, participate in the same activity, or simply agree with each other. The new study goes one step further; it tests whether our heart rates become synchronized while taking in the same narrative—even though we’re not in the same room nor even listening at the same time as other listeners.”
Last year, when our family picked up our lives and moved to Oklahoma City, one of the things that held us together during the rough patch was a weekly commitment to watch a television show together. We started with the new series on PBS, All Creatures Great and Small, and were pleasantly surprised when the teenagers got waaaaay into it.
Since then, once a week, we gather round the tube and watch TV together. I don’t think any of us is willing to give it up at this point. And when the show is lights out good, it not only makes family time more enjoyable but we get to have vulnerable conversations we maybe wouldn’t have. Watching Ted Lasso for the last three months has been a masterclass for us about vulnerability and fragility and resentment and forgiveness for which I’m unbelievably grateful. We’ve shared things with one another about our inner lives because this “same narrative” invited us to.
When we hear the same story at the same time, Pinker says, our “heart rates rise and fall in unison” making clear to us “we’re not alone.” I think the world needs less bingeable narratives and more opportunities to take time to hear the same story at the same time.
Hank Green spends 20 minutes helpfully unpacking Facebook and our response to it. There’s some YouTubey inside baseball stuff at the beginning, but skip to the 2 minute mark and you’re off to the races. Here are his time stamps:
2:00 So… Facebook is scary
3:56 We’re babies
6:58 Ok, but what is Facebook?
10:43 What should we do?
16:10 Platforms don’t just host!
19:02 Facebook is regulating society
19:40 The end
The thing that spoke to me was his exploration on our feelings of “righteous superiority” as a result of our social media activity. I teach a book professionally that tells me to “consider others as better than ourselves.” What results from social media is almost always the exact opposite. I’m trying to take hope in Green’s point that the technology is new and we’re still babies at this, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged about it.
I heard an interview with my favorite author the other day, Colson Whitehead (I’m a hipster about him, btw. Been reading him for 20 years now. Get back to me when you’ve read The Intuitionist and Apex Hides the Hurt.). He said that in the last 18 months, he’s lost the ability to read for pleasure. I was so sad that this mind I adore, who has shown us all so many incredible things, couldn’t hold space for anything other than getting through the work day. It also made me feel seen and not alone. I’ve suffered the same fate.
In a week or so, it will have been a year since I stood in front of a new congregation and accepted the invitation to be their pastor. This last year of moving on top of pandemic has stretched and challenged me like I’d have never before believed. It’s been good, but there were so many things I wasn’t prepared for. But we never are. Mostly, I’ve grieved the loss of any kind of expansive personal pursuit. I’m a boundary pusher by nature, and I’ve just not had the energy to gear up for a push.
More than a few things in my life have become “normal” recently. Probably not normal, but at least “the way they were.” I’m shooting more photos, I can read for a reason other than writing a sermon, and I’ve been running again. I sprained my knee earlier in the summer, but a couple weeks ago I finally got out on the road and it felt good and normal.
There’s a phrase in the Bible I love: “He came to himself.” It’s when someone has been a bit nutty and lost and they remembered who and where they were. I feel like I’ve come to myself again. Lots of people haven’t reached this point yet, but I’m hearing about more and more people who have. I’m praying it starts to come in waves soon.