Twitter and the Pain Body

Who doesn’t know him, the guru with the allure of the friendly Hyundai-driving next-door neighbour? Eckhart Tolle. With his ubiquitous spencer and ever-present smile, this particular neighbour is an international bestselling author, friend of Oprah Winfrey and a source of inspiration for 700,000 followers on Twitter and 2,000,000 on Facebook.

In his book, “The Power of Now”, Tolle introduced the concept of “pain-body”. The pain-body is that dimension of the ego where all unresolved trauma lurks. The pain-body feeds on everything that goes on in our head; all our judgments and negative thoughts. We identify with these thoughts and we find ourselves stupid, ugly, failures and so on. Because we never stop listening to that hellish grinding machine in our head, this negative self-image is constantly reinforced. And so the pain-body stays alive and even flourishes.

Thousands, perhaps millions, torment themselves with this identification with the ego, taking refuge in Tolle and many others. Burn-out, stress, impotence, aggression; you don’t need to be a psychologist to see and understand the untold psychological suffering in the Western world that leads people to Eckhart. His books, vlogs and courses show you that the problems in your relationship, your stress, your burnout, your borderline behaviour have pain-body at their source. And teach you what to do about it. So, if that greedy pain-body monster tries to give you negative and painful thoughts again, beware!

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, USA … Started in 2006 and gaining momentum in 2010, the social medium Twitter. What a fun idea! Low-threshold, free for everyone, where you can post short, 140-character, later 280-character, messages. A feast for the freedom of speech, a pillar of democracy, the whippet of news gathering, right?

But more than any other social medium, with the following characteristics:

Short: any elaboration is impossible, context is absent. 


Fast: post, re-tweet in a flash, without taking a step back, without reflection, without counting to 10.

And last but not least…

Everywhere: these often contextless cries are bounced millionfold into the universe.

The Twitter format, through its deliberately chosen technical principles, mainly appeals to our limbic system, the part of our brain where our emotions and instincts are regulated. The limbic system is an old and important part of our brain, but not very suited to rationality, depth, coherence and nuance. All those qualities that we need to solve complicated world problems. The Twitter principle leads to escalation after escalation, from the left or the right, of aggression, anger, indignation and always knowing better. The Twitter principle is pure ego. Twitter is a product that has been deliberately crafted to constantly grab our attention through our instincts. That it often appeals to the impatient, irritated and know-it-all in us? Too bad, it is a goldmine for the owners.

Twitter is the ultimate pain-body generator; no war or natural disaster can beat it when you consider the scale on which it is used. So Twitter feeds the pain-body on a much larger scale than Eckhart Tolle’s methods can resolve.

While the dictionary simply claims that “medium” means “anything that serves the transmission of information”, the reality is that Twitter is not a neutral chunk of infrastructure, equipped with some algorithms, but a product with a probably very measurable negative effect on our gross national happiness and on our collective mental health.

Reason, I would suggest, for some serious introspection at Twitter head office. But no, not introspection but projection: Jack Dorsey, CEO of this pain-body doubler, takes to moralizing, telling us what we can and cannot post. It’s like the tobacco industry telling us that smoking is not a problem as long as we only do it at the weekend whilst breathing deeply: veeerrry dishonest.

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