A few days ago, I watched my yellow labs, Grace and Oakley, race from the large living room window to the equally large dining room window, barking and whining and mesmerized by something outside. Their nails clicked incessantly and it reminded me less of pleasant rain on a tin roof than a scene in a show I once worked during my theater tech days where the director had his young cast tap the ends of unsharpened pencils against the set. Tap-tap-taptaptap, faster and faster, until each droplet blended into a torrent of sound. Those dogs ran, furry Olympic sprinters, window to window, back to window, back again to window, then back again. Their barks and whines intensified and sat in my ears like Stevie Ray Vaughn building a solo note by note.
Whatever was visible through those windows had reached out to Grace and Oakley, grabbed hold of their scruffs, and demanded they participate. Maybe participation meant coming outside and sniffing some butt. Maybe it meant noising up the house as signal to the world that they were involved. Either way, I realized, watching them, listening to their sound and fury, that all their earnest movement and heart-rending passion signified nothing.
It occurred to me that those windows had become, for a short while, Grace and Oakley’s social media.
One window, at perfect medium-sized dog nose and eye height, gave them a particular perspective: dead-on perpendicular to the action, a broadside vision filled with detail. The other window, also at perfect medium-sized dog nose and eye height, presented at an angle. It was the same event—probably a dog being walked down Grace and Oakley’s street—but an altered view, which gave them an only slightly changed perspective.
I can only imagine that, as with human social media, the altered perception changed how those two yapping mutts thought about that event.
(And yes, I know they’re ‘just dogs’ and I realize I’m anthropomorphizing.)
Yet watching them, and realizing how they continually changed their view but only a little, made me realize I was seeing one of the myriad problems with social media. Like drug slingers, both legal and back alley, the algorithms give us what the tech behemoths think we want: endless videos of cats playing with twine, or dogs splashing in the water, or high-speed police pursuits, or angry politicians trying to convince you The Other is coming to steal one of your three cookies while they protect hundreds of plates of their own cookies.
Eventually, as hundreds and thousands of statistical analyses have shown, we become desensitized and require harder content, with just a bit more of whatever drew us in: fluffier cats, more swimming dogs, faster chases that now end in crashes, angrier politicians. Our dealers must up our dosage to keep us happy or we go find that fix somewhere else. So each algorithm-inspired suggestion has to be a bit more extreme until we’re in a mouth-foaming, enraged lather and simply can’t think of anything but what they’re showing us.
Just like my dogs.
They were completely, absolutely in that moment. Nothing else existed in the world. Not food or water, not treats, not going for a walk. Those things, and the rest of everything, had ceased because of the view out those two windows. Had Grace and Oakley gone to my office instead, their view would have been completely different, which would have led to a different focus and response.
Instead, the mutts chose to narrow the focus to just that single event, regardless of how crazy it made them. Having not much in the way of higher reasoning, not realizing they could walk away from what angered them and see the rest of the world, they simply followed their baser instincts and lost their collective mind.
Fortunately, the dogs were smart enough to realize there was more to life than just those two windows, more walks to take, more treats to eat, but mostly?
More butts to sniff.