Missions and Abiding Obsessions:
Social Media is devouring our minds, limiting the scope of our imaginations, and filling us with anxiety.
The key to a fulfilling life is to stop waiting for great things to happen and start doing great things ourselves. Yet too many of us live our lives in a rushed blur of scrolled-through images, disappointed in advance over the next post on our feeds, but too overextended to overcome our brain-wide malaise. We treat this holocaust of precious minutes and hours by turns as an obligatory act of friendship, a vehicle for the advancement of our careers, and an avenue for exploring the full range of our potential relationships, all the while unwittingly training ourselves to doubt that our own off-screen lives could offer up anything worth rescuing those irretrievable moments for.
There is a movement gathering strength, as yet comprised of little more than a chorus of disparate voices—Tristan Harris, Cal Newport, Franklin Foer, and others—crying out for a culture of mindful experience and an ethic of focused work, urging us to resist the siren song of constant connection, reclaim the space for both rigorous thought and unbounded fantasy, while simultaneously rebuilding our capacity for sustained concentration and targeted attention, so that we can all start devoting time again to doing the kind of great things that make for a fulfilling life: working diligently, carrying on meaningful friendships, and treating every fleeting moment as precious, as no one’s but our own to savor or squander.
I want to join my voice with theirs.
I’m not a meditation expert like Joseph Goldstein or Sam Harris. I’m not a software engineer like Tristan Harris or Cal Newport. I’m not a productivity guru like Charles Duhigg. To be sure, though, I’ll share the insights, strategies, and techniques I learn from experts like these. I can’t offer any simple hacks for skyrocketing success at school or promotions at work. What I do hope to offer are ideas on how to slow down, luxuriate in the most lavish of thoughts, and stake a claim on a share of the heavens where your imagination is free to soar.
My writing focuses on the experience of literature and science, the science of literature and the literature of science, with an emphasis on the set of meta-skills underlying an appreciation of all these domains: the reading habit and all that goes into supporting it. Teachers and scholars bemoan our society’s waning interest in literary fiction, but they fail to see their own role in undermining the stature of the narrative arts. All art, but the narrative arts especially, are facing a threat from the same set of bad ideas that claim to have exposed science as immanently racist, sexist, and homophobic.
The battle for our freedom to reason and imagine our way to better lives, not just for ourselves but for the whole of our society, and for the vast interconnected global civilization beyond it, is thus being waged on two fronts: our mental faculties are being hijacked by Silicon Valley megacorporations, while humanistic ideals like the pursuit of beauty through art and of discovery through reason and evidence are being toppled in favor of brain-dead ideologies inspiring nothing but the most futile of exhibitionistic moral posturing and the most simplistic of identity politics.
I read for the aesthetic experience of wonderful literature, and to cultivate that very wonder that propels me through the pages. It’s the same wonder that emanates from, even as it is stoked by, the pages of the best science writing. So the mission of The Storytelling Ape begins with small incremental efforts at rescuing our own minds from the culture of constant connection and leads into refutations of, and alternatives to, the virulent ideologies promulgated on campuses and enacted as pure theater on social media platforms, offering a remedy to the insane teaching that every work of literature must be tried according to the principle of guilty until proven innocent, trials in which every imaginable variety of spectral evidence is admissible, and the equally tragic idea that science is anything other than our brightest candle of hope in a vast immensity of cursed dark.