Potential and peril are two sides of a coin.
It’s often the case that the more potentially brilliant a thing is at its best, the more potentially disastrous it can be if it were to go bad. I first got that idea from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where he argues that the potential of any creature, and especially humans, cuts both ways, for good and ill. For Lewis, humans are capable of so much catastrophe precisely because we’re capable of so much beauty and wonder.
Potential, meet peril.
I’ve since found that idea insightful, and applicable to many other things. It helps me remember when things hurt, that sometimes, it’s precisely their potential to be great that makes their brokenness so painful. Take relationships: the more intimate they get, the more hurt we are exposed to. But on the other hand, as we looked at in last week’s Note, the more we minimise our exposure to pain, the more we also shut ourselves off from the richness that’s possible when we let ourselves be vulnerable.
I thought of this again recently at a meeting where someone was arguing that social media is “just bad for humans.”
Now, on one hand, it’s hardly debatable that social media has facilitated a lot of terribleness. But so have knives, and fire, and cars—all of which kill people every day, but all of which are also wonderful tools that make our everyday life possible—cooking, comfort, commuting. Similarly, social media has also unleashed an incredible amount of human creativity through the connections and collaboration it’s made possible.
Social media is how I talk to my parents back in Nigeria (via WhatsApp), how I found and keep in touch with an online writing community, how youth in my country (and others) have mobilised again and again, how you might well have found my writing and are reading these very words.
We need to keep thinking hard about social media not simply because it’s “bad” but because it’s powerful. Reframing it that way allows us to move from an unhelpfully reductive stance of “How do we stop this new thing?” to a more useful, “How do we make the most of this for human flourishing?”
Sure, it’s possible the answer might still come to, “The benefits aren’t worth the risk.” But I’d be hard-pressed to take that answer seriously from someone who hasn’t shown a good grasp of the benefits, who can’t see that potential often cuts both ways.
(Not my best pun, but it’ll have to do!)
You might have noticed that I’ve shared the last couple of my essay links from Medium. The essays are on my website too, of course—my website is my online home, the place where you can find all my writing if you want to have a poke around. But I’m prioritising Medium because whereas before I used to imagine I’d somehow gain an audience for the website directly, I’m realising more and more that it’s much smarter to make the most of the inbuilt audience Medium offers.
I learned that from reading a book by Mark Ellis, who I first found via his YouTube channeland then got to know a bit better after joining his Discord (one of a very few online communities I’m active in). He is also very active on Medium and wrote said book about it. I also joined his recently launched course to learn more but also connect with other Medium writers, and our first assignment was an essay on why we joined.
Which became my essay for this week. Here’s the opening:
I signed up to Mark Ellis’ Medium Academy because I need help. This is my story.
I’ve written online for years, including on Medium, and while I’ve grown in my writing, I’ve also struggled to share it more widely. It’s the perennial creative paradox of longing for your work to be seen while simultaneously fearing the spotlight. And although I originally decided to write this as part of our first assignment for the course, I quickly realised it’s a story I’d never publicly shared before now. This changes that.
Read the whole thing here:
What’s your face for?
Circling back to social media’s problems, the best thing I read this week was an essay by Addie Page on the “real problem with TikTok’s ’glamour’ filter”—a filter that’s become recently popular for how it “beautifies” people. It was great because she digs beneath the obvious issues of beauty standards or AI to something deeper: our expectations for faces, and especially female faces. She argues:
My point is: most people believe that the #1 job of a female face is to make others feel comfortable.…
That was the killer line for me. And as she goes on to argue in her closing lines, maybe we should stop worrying about how beautiful or desirable we are, and focus instead on what she argues our faces really are for beyond pleasing other people:
Because it’s not your face’s job to comfort. Its job is to communicate.
Faces can be vehicles for meaning—why would we reduce them to less?
The whole essay is worth reading, so do check it out.
The point on social media is like medicines good to cure ailments, inevitable because of the importance and have side effects.
We can’t bet going back to the format things use to be if we keep emphasizing/ pin-pointing its lapses.We should rather embrace its benefits for this generation.