I think about it all the time, and I wonder what I would do without it.
It satisfies a strong internal craving.
I know it is probably not good for me, but I still do it anyway.
Sound like an addiction? To me, it seems like it.
As discussed in an earlier Social Musings confessional post, (https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/my-interview-with-susan-b-anthony-and-a-confession-from-the-author), I am battling an addiction to social media.
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse, especially for someone like me who has struggled with mental health, addiction and self-esteem issues, which I discussed in my post about The Story of the Denim Jacket (https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/the-story-of-the-denim-jacket).
In fact, the only way I know how to deal with this powerful, paradoxical addiction is to literally put my phone in another room and fight the urge to go look at it. Executing this self-imposed break from my phone’s presence has helped me be more present when I am with friends and family, and I have found this social media separation, along with meditation, yoga and mindfulness, to be greatly beneficial to my overall mental health. Unlike any moment in my life before, with a digital detox, I feel that I can now stop and smell the roses, enjoying precious moments all along the journey. All the memories of racing from one business meeting to the next seem to fade away as I take in the world's scenery and experience life to its fullest.
Walking around as a modern day flâneur* these days, I try to be as observant as possible. I cannot help but notice that so many people’s faces are buried in their phones (I am guilty of the same from time to time), and I think we all must admit that some portion of our perceived status in society has become how many followers, likes, etc. we possess on the various social media platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Texas Freeze only added fuel to the fire as millions of Americans were left with little to do except surf the Web.
* a flâneur is an ambivalent figure of urban affluence and modernity, representing the ability to wander detached from society with no other purpose than to be an acute observer of industrialized, contemporary life. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur
Speaking of flâneurs, I have been visiting my mother in Las Vegas for the last week. I know that Vegas isn’t normally considered the “mental health capital of the world” for many, but I have been exploring the daytime sights and enjoying quality time with relatives.
I am also here to study society - and in what better place is there to do that than Las Vegas, also known as Sin City? This spiritual visit is inspired by the ancient philosopher Diogenes, who would wander around the Olympic Games because he felt that "it was his custom at the great assemblies to make a study of the pursuits and ambitions of men, of their reasons for being abroad, and of the things on which they prided themselves." (see footnote 1)
Hmmm, Diogenes' description of the atmosphere around the Olympic Games seems analogous to Vegas to me.
Always eschewing public norms and displaying lewd conduct, apparently Diogenes also thought masturbating in public under his "philosopher's cloak" was a perfectly natural thing to do (see footnote 1).
Yep, that checks out as Vegas behavior all right. I guess I am in the proper place to explore human nature after all.
Another thing Vegas has going for it in terms of an ideal social laboratory is the wide range of human emotions the city evokes, including a significant dose of human despair (I will never forget overhearing some poor, destitute soul on his cell phone on the casino floor begging his bank to give him access to more money).
As philosopher Søren Kierkegaard remarked, we can only truly understand ourselves and make sense of our own existence when we are in the throes of despair, and by walking the casino floors, especially at 8am, indeed one can readily decipher what human despondency looks like (you can also go to McCarran Airport Departures on any given Sunday to study the same humanity).
For some, escaping occasional desperation in life means sharing that perfect post - capturing that epic moment of life, which you can share with the world. What a powerful emotion, I mean who wouldn't want the kind of public validation that one is leading their "best life"?
Due to this societal FOMO trend, there are destinations around the world which have become “Insta-Famous”. One of these such locations is in the desert outskirts of Las Vegas, the Seven Magic Mountains art installation.
Learn about the Seven Magic Mountains from its website:
Internationally renowned Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains is a large-scale site-specific public art installation located near Jean Dry Lake and Interstate 15, approximately ten miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. Comprised of seven towers of colorful, stacked boulders standing more than thirty feet high, Seven Magic Mountains is situated within the Ivanpah Valley adjacent to Sheep Mountain and the McCullough, Bird Spring, and Goodsprings ranges of mountains. A creative expression of human presence in the desert, Seven Magic Mountains punctuates the Mojave with a poetic burst of form and color.
Click here to learn more: https://sevenmagicmountains.com/
Google considers The Seven Magic Mountains a “Tourist Destination”, and in addition to being a world-class art installation, I would add that the uniquely evocative scene has become any self-respecting Angelino’s final stop on I-15 on their way out of Las Vegas before they get to the long stretch of desert crossing California.
These stunning boulder stacks, which social media has dubbed “Nature’s Fruity Pebbles”, rise out of the drab desert landscape a few miles from the highway, and as you pull into the packed parking lot, replete with taco stand and roadside salespeople, you realize that this is a special place in modern day America.
The sight evokes creativity, spontaneity and bewilderment, and many visitors are there to photo-document the fun, majestic and neon-colored stone monuments. Seven Magic Mountains has a huge presence on Instagram, and here is my social media post from the site (celebrating PRIDE Month):
While I am all too aware of the dangers of social media, I have discovered some positive aspects as well.
First, it helps me connect with others. Due to the Social Musings by Austin blog and corresponding social media marketing to increase exposure for my business, I have reconnected with so many important people from my past. Hearing their stories of how they are making the world a better place is incredibly inspirational to me and helps to give meaning to my existence.
Second, Instagram and Snapchat help me connect with the zeitgeist of our age. Millennials and Xennials are our future, let's face it, and they have some amazing ideas for the world, especially around work/life balance and social justice.
Finally, social media has the ability to bring the world together, a way for us all to collectively experience our lives and feel a sense of belonging to something, anything. Social media can create a sense of community and help individuals struggling with loneliness to find others, when used appropriately. Importantly, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram can help fledgling, socially-conscious entrepreneurs get their message to the masses.
After seeing the large families - of all colors, creeds, shapes and sizes - congregate together, I suddenly realized how important Kodak moments have become in this post-pandemic world. Sharing your images of hope not only is a symbol of spiritual togetherness but also cherishes the celebration of our existence on God’s Green Earth.
Having borne witness to the unbridled positive energy of others as they enjoyed a family Sunday spent together, I left Seven Magic Mountains feeling less jaded by Sin City and with a big smile on my face.
So as you go about your day today, think about all the images that bring a smile to your face. We are privileged to be part of a beautiful world filled with exploration and wonder. Do not feel guilty about sharing your special existence with others - as long as you also honor what makes all of us special too.
Please just be sure to avoid the Instagram-induced, mental health pitfalls I experienced, which were caused by living in a virtual reality of social media influencers rather than the actual reality in which I was fortunate enough to live.
Keep Smilin’ Earth.
Connect with me on social media so we can take the conversation further:
(1) "Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche" by James Miller. From my public library.