The Jewish holiday of Passover requires adherents to not consume or possess any leaven during its eight days. Leaven symbolically represents excess, to be puffed up and arrogant. As I became increasingly aware of the time I was wasting on social media, I hit upon the mechanism that sites like these use to identify you: cookies. Which are leaven, right? So I decided to spend Passover without Facebook or Twitter.
It started small: I would stare at my phone where the apps had been idly looking to kill a few moments. Instead of needing to be on top of my newsfeeds, I found myself putting my phone away more readily and engaging in what I was doing. I began to notice details in the objects and buildings around me, but human contact proved elusive. Without sifting through other people’s half-baked ideas on an hourly basis, I felt like I had a tremendous amount of free time on my hands. The time I would have spent clicking “refresh” became time I spent walking around campus lost in thought. Unplugging led to a good deal of, not necessarily loneliness, but solitude.
Sometimes details matter, and a focus on trends leads to dangerous generalizations. The problem with social media is that it’s all details, with no underlying story or pattern to cling to. Our brains are taxed by trying to glue these shards together, but no two come from the same whole. Occasionally we manage to create a passable mosaic.
After all this introspection, I came to be more at peace with my religion. There are things that we know to be true, like evolution, and we should promote them. And there are things we know to be patently false, like homeopathy, and we should decry them. But a lot of things fall in the middle, not least of which is the human condition. The most visible parts of religion espouse certainty, but the Passover seder is really about uncertainty. It invites questioning and varying interpretations. Judaism embraces ambiguity and even contradiction. (Especially contradiction.) This is a welcome break from a world of pithy opinions crammed into 140 characters and relationships pigeonholed into a dropdown menu. It’s complicated, indeed.
Is slavery a presence or an absence? On one hand, I still feel that social media distracts us as a society from what really matters. It fragments our thought processes, and our relationships, by prizing efficiency over effort. On the other hand, technology connects and empowers us; without it we regress. Is social media a way to break down the interpersonal walls on campus, or a cause of their existence? Does the spread of information strengthen the spread of knowledge, or short-circuit it?
I have always felt that long-form writing helps me put together my thoughts on factual issues. In writing this piece, I realized that the same is true in the personal realm. True connection means giving people the freedom to think independently and then express themselves to others. Slavery is to uncritically compress and post whatever comes to mind.