You probably all saw the extremely disturbing documentary on Netflix—The Social Dilemma—that discussed how social media algorithms build up a psychological profile of each of its users to then serve them content that it knows they will click, regardless of ethics, morals or principles.
It was a very insightful show, even talking to some of the inventors of these systems about how detrimental they now are to society and how technological advancements have essentially turned them into thoughtless, emotionless society controlling monsters.
I mean, sure, they’re not quite the Terminator, but they are incredibly harmful nonetheless, only in more subtle ways.
How do you feel about large chunks of your attention and time being dictated by an AI algorithm that has one objective; feed you the information you want, regardless of the truth, so that you spend more time on their platform?
If you’re someone who values your time and quality of life, you probably don’t feel that great about it.
Although these algorithms are a thing of great concern, especially for the younger generations who have grown up in the world of social media, the bigger question that I have is “why?”
Why do we feel the need to spend most of our time looking at life through the window of Facebook or Twitter?
Why is it that we can spend hours at a time aimlessly scrolling down our feeds without getting concerned about or even aware of how our time and attention is being sucked away from us, yet reading or studying for an hour a day is too much of a chore?
Here’s my take on it.
Our lives are currently so uncertain and unfulfilling that we feel the need to look elsewhere for mental and emotional satisfaction. Instead of trying to make our own lives better, we spectate and admire the lives of those around us, either our favourite celebrity, our ex from years ago that we aren’t quite over or our buddy that we haven’t seen for years despite living in the same town.
It's not our fault, to be fair. We are raised into this kind of thinking, these days. It has become the norm.
The issue with this kind of behaviour is that we are basing our views and ideas on something that may not be entirely true or accurate anyway. That post from your old pal about how extraordinary their life is going may make you feel that you should have done something differently, and then you might be as happy, but the reality is that they likely have their own set of challenges and difficulties that they aren’t broadcasting on social media.
That new relationship your ex is in might look flawless from the outside looking in, making you wonder what you did wrong or how you could be more like “that dude”. The likelihood is that, just like when you were together, they also have arguments about things and fall out from time to time.
That’s just life.
My point is don’t take everything at face value. That being said, we should probably be happy for our friends and exes when they are doing well because holding onto that kind of resentment will kill your soul regardless.
Don’t compare yourself with these ideal scenarios that people publish all over there socials because the chances are that they face their own similar trials and tribulations, and they just don’t share them with others on Facebook.
To think that nobody else is going what you’re going through just because Twitter says otherwise is ludicrous. To think that someone has a perfect life because it looks that way on Facebook is naïve. Everyone has challenges, everyone has troubles, and everyone feels pain (except sociopaths, of course, of which I’m sure we all know a few).
I know that the show pretty much painted this picture, and you might think I’m just repackaging this message in a written format, but going back to the title of this article—The Spiritual Dilemma—although the show was downright terrifying in what it was saying, I don’t think we are just in the midst of a social dilemma, I believe we are also in the midst of a spiritual one, and that social media is more of a symptom than it is a cause.
Let me explain.
The world is in a lousy state economically, environmentally, politically and spiritually. In fact, with the invention of the internet and the developments in high-speed communication, bad news has never travelled so fast around the globe. The world’s poor circumstances can no longer be hidden or stuffed in a corner where nobody notices it until it’s too late.
We’re undoubtedly close to another economic depression, one which was probably coming anyway, but that some argue has been pulled forward due to the recent pandemic. As we know, with economic turmoil comes societal breakdown. We value this imaginary notion of cash so much that it dictates our lives to the highest degrees.
Our quality of life is often governed by the amount of money that we have. Some inherit large sums at birth, and some work hard all their lives for meagre wages. Not only does this kind of imbalance cause rifts in society, both socially and economically, but it means that some of the worlds greatest minds may never be realised due to being locked behind a wall of poverty and reduced opportunity.
This alone not only causes gaping chasms to form within society, but it also limits the worlds potential to create and discover. It keeps people locked into boxes their entire lives, never reaching beyond their current situations and aiming for goals that they could otherwise achieve due to the self-limiting beliefs that society has instilled within them.
The poor economic balance and governance leads to enormous spiritual and emotional damage. I’m not saying that wealth should be shared evenly amongst everyone or that money should be removed from society; it’s way too late for that, but what I do think is that the system needs to be more robust and fair.
If the world economy can’t take a year or two off due to something like a pandemic without the system almost collapsing worldwide, then it isn’t a very well thought out system.
Another aspect of The Spiritual Dilemma is that the economy is fragile and has way too much of a sway over our lives. People associate money with joy. Sure, having money is nice, but money can’t buy happiness, as the old saying goes.
We depend on cash to get rid of all our problems and worries when it’s not the answer. I’m not saying that I know the key to happiness; I’m just saying that it’s not cash alone. It’s something far more meaningful (at least I hope so!) Even Biggy said, “Mo Money, Mo Problems!”
I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about politics, nowhere near enough to start suggesting what needs to be changed or calling for this or that to happen, but I do know that we have a large problem with politics in society; people don’t trust it.
The rift between politicians and the population is growing ever-wider, more so in some countries than others, but it’s happening across the globe nonetheless.
Politicians often come from entirely different social and economic backgrounds to those they are charged to govern, causing large gaps in understanding or experience on how best to rule.
There’s even a term for those groomed for politics—“The Ruling Class” — a term that often invokes animosity towards politicians. In England, some less polite names are used to describe this political class, but the point still remains that these people are often almost from different worlds.
They are brought up in a sphere, far away from the woes and worries of the average working person, groomed for positions of power regardless of their inability to rule. This is a large part of what causes such division in societies.
How could someone who has lived all of their lives in relative comfort and far away from the struggles of society at large be fit to dictate to those people how to live their lives? How could a person who has never been in these kinds of positions make the rules for those who are?
Granted, not all countries are like this, and some are way ahead in terms of political progressiveness and equal representation.
But, for those dominated by corruption and ignorance of the average person’s plight, things are very divisive, as we have seen in places like the US and the UK. People are being pitted against one another, not realising that they have more in common with each other than those of the political elite.
For this reason, politics these days cause a hell of a lot more division than they do unity, another aspect of The Spiritual Dilemma. If we can’t trust those in power to understand the troubles that we face adequately, how can we live spiritually fulfilling lives under a ruling class that we feel doesn’t understand or care about us?
It’s no secret that the powers that be have knowingly been doing untold environmental damage to our planet in the name of profit. Deforestation, unethical mining of natural resources and burning fossil fuels are just a few. This kind of stuff has been happening for decades, and scientists warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
Well, now we’re reaching a drastic turning point. The earth is in such a poor environmental state that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it inhabitable within the next one hundred years. Sea levels are rising, the seasons are shifting, and the weather is getting wilder and more erratic than it has ever been.
Some would argue that the world goes through cycles like this anyway. The ice age and the shifting of the poles happen every two to three hundred thousand years.
I’m no scientist, but it’s widely agreed that global warming also has a genuine and noticeable impact on the world, perhaps speeding these cycles up and polluting large parts of the world beyond what they would have to endure naturally.
Going back to the spiritual effect of the destruction of the environment, schools teach very early on about global warming and its terrible impact on our world.
Kids grow up being taught the importance of preserving the planet and the many dangers we would face if we didn’t, yet they also see the contradictory lack of action taken by those in charge due to economic factors taking precedence.
We grow up into adults watching politicians and organisations decimate the environment to turn a profit. We see our favourite natural spaces being torn down to build new houses or factories with little to no regard for the negative effect on the surrounding environment.
The attitude of “Cash is King, Screw the environment” is perpetuated throughout their actions and embedded into our psyche from a young age.
So, it’s no surprise then that this contributes to The Spiritual Dilemma. If anything, we need more natural spaces to explore and relax in, not less of them.
Nature plays a huge role in the emotional and spiritual development of all individuals, and this is being slowly swapped out with being stuck indoors surrounded by screens (video games, Netflix, social media).
That’s why I feel that the disregard for the environment has negatively affected our spiritual development both in terms of having less nature to explore and relax in and also inadvertently teaching us that nature isn’t that important.
In summation, all of the above leads me to this heading and the article’s very point, the lack of spiritual connection or meaning, or what I refer to as The Spiritual Dilemma. Going back to what I said before, I see The Social Dilemma as a gravely concerning symptom of The Spiritual Dilemma.
Although what these social media companies are doing is scary and of immense worry, it’s not at the core of the problems we are all facing. Sure, it exacerbates the situation and allows us a way to fall further into ourselves whilst not addressing our emotional and spiritual troubles, but it isn’t just social media that is our issue.
People these days, myself included, seem to often lack purpose or meaning in their lives. That’s not to say that peoples lives are meaningless because they certainly are not, it just means that we are seeming to struggle to find our purpose or meaning or are failing to create one for ourselves.
We grow up watching those around us live how they believe life should be lived. We watch our parents toil in unsatisfying jobs to put a roof over our heads, often sacrificing their own happiness to do so. We see ourselves, friends and coworkers work long shifts day on day, month on month, year on year, getting stuck in loops of monotony and dissatisfaction that we can’t escape.
The problem here is that, for most people, there is nobody to tell or show us otherwise. Our minds perceive this to be the only way that things are done and that there are no alternatives. We lock ourselves into compartments of our own design fashioned by our own self-limiting beliefs.
It’s for those reasons that lots of us are unhappy, not because we don’t have enough cash or a nice enough house or a fast car, but because we don’t fully understand what we’re doing here.
We don’t know what it is that we genuinely enjoy doing, the thing or things that bring us a sense of achievement, purpose and joy to our lives.
Instead, we fill our free time with recreation and procrastination. Why go for a walk to the local park when we can stay warm and binge Netflix until we can’t stay awake? Then we go to bed late and crawl out of it in the morning with reduced energy and passion, only hoping to get through the day so that we can get home to Netflix again and repeat the cycle.
Finding Spiritual Happiness
To remedy this, we need to find out what it is that we love to do and do it.
Find something that is hard work, something that is effort, something that gives us a sense of both achievement and enjoyment. Think back to the first thing you wanted to be as a child and, if the idea still excites you, do it.
Maybe you wanted to be something extraordinary like an Astronaut or President but you’re now in your 40s. It doesn’t mean that you can’t start to learn about everything that an Astronaut or a President would and use that knowledge to become something similar like an Astrologist or a Local Politician.
Who’s to say that your passion and determination might not still carry you to space or the White House?
Perhaps you wanted to be a Photographer or a Journalist? Most people have a camera on their smartphone and a computer or laptop at home, so what’s stopping you from starting to write or from taking pictures of your local nature spots?
The beauty of all this is, once you find something you genuinely enjoy, it doesn’t matter whether it pays the bills or not. Those who love what they do can create with ease and passion that they would never have for their 9-5 jobs.
You can get home from your tedious job and spend an hour or two a day on a creative project that you have in mind rather than trawling social media looking at information specifically curated to keep you in a state of perpetual hypnosis.
The sense of achievement you will begin to feel after you’re done will be far more impactful than the minor blips of joy you receive from Facebook or TikTok.
Taking Action Is Hard
Although it’s much easier said than done to make such a shift in mentality and start doing something that brings us a sense of joy, achievement and purpose, it’s by no means impossible.
It doesn’t happen overnight, either. That’s why persistency is also crucial. Don’t do something once and expect your whole life to change or to start feeling totally fulfilled that same day.
These things take time and effort, like anything worthwhile. Instant gratification is what we get from playing games, watching Netflix or scrolling social media feeds. If something doesn’t satisfy us instantly, we disregard it, yet another symptom of The Spiritual Dilemma.
Delayed gratification, however, teaches us disciplines that we would otherwise not form. It teaches us patience and persistence. It teaches us to work harder for longer to get a better sense of achievement and fulfilment. Most importantly, it makes us feel more worthwhile, like our time has been spent productively in an endeavour that we actually enjoy.
So, if you feel like something is missing or that you haven’t yet found your purpose, don’t fret; you’re not alone. Billions of us are in the same boat.
You’re probably just suffering from The Spiritual Dilemma, and although there is no one magic pill that cures it, it’s about finding what that medicine is for you and taking it every chance you get.
Walk more in nature, work on that article, learn the guitar, draw that landscape, create that YouTube channel you’ve been talking about.
Whatever it is that you love to do, start now. Take small steps. Don’t expect instant results. Endure the hard work that will come with it; it’s part of the process. Measurable progress in reasonable time; that’s what you want.
If you don’t know what it is that you love yet, that’s fine too. Try different things, step outside of your comfort zone, push your limits from time to time. Each time you do something different, you improve your chances of finding something that might be your calling or purpose.