Engagement is Beautiful

One thing many people often forget is that engagement does not describe a status so much as it describes an activity.

People who are familiar with my thinking — and even moreso the thinking of the giants I sometimes attempt to jump up on their backs — may recognize the similarity of this post’s title with the title of a collection of essays by E. F. Schumacher (namely “Small is Beautiful”). Ideally, this book would be required reading for anyone with the ability to read at the level of college freshman. But I digress….

Engagement is not merely a matter of choosing a ring, making promises and exchanging a kiss. First and foremost, to engage is to participate… and even beyond mere participation, it is a binding commitment and a recognition of an inseparable interconnection… that our lives are intertwined, some might even say something like interdependent.

It doesn’t need a ring.  It need not leave a trace. It is here and now, but not necessarily manifest “in real life”. It is both visible and also invisible at one and the same time.

Yet in this moment I wish to leave philosophy aside a little, and focus instead on a very commonplace kind of engagement, something more mundane, so common that is might even be considered downright vulgar… — at least in some communities.

In literate society, there is something known as “online” — and also “online engagement”. Online is the presence of someone’s attention within the sphere known as the world-wide web. Online engagement is their active participation in the online space.

Up until now, online engagement has been assumed to result in some manifestation, some kind of virtual media trail in cyberspace that roughly corresponds to what is commonly referred to as a “paper trail” in paper-space. This might be a media file, or it might be just a couple bits that get passed along as the result of a click, a swipe, the press of a button, the movement of a smartphone through the ether of the physical “real world”, etc. As you might be able to guess from what I have written above, I want to change that.

My concept of online engagement is more on a cognitive level: It is at the level of caring. I do not restrict the notion of engagement to such statements as “I did not engage in any sexual activity with X”. The way I see it, simply caring about X is already an act of engagement… — engagement is possible even if no bits are involved.

This is so because I view engagement in a way quite similar to the way people think about being able to speak a language. To be fluent in a language does not require that the speaker constantly speak all of the words in that language (indeed, this seems more like a nonsensical construct — it is not even possible to speak [or even think of] more than one word at a time). Yet we do realize that there are people who can speak a language… and that means they can express their ideas with words at a level that is appropriate in any given situation (and that they can also understand the meanings of other people’s expressions in a similar manner). Therefore, when people choose to express some ideas, they also choose not to express other ideas. This vacuum, null and void of any “data bits”, is nonetheless a choice of engagement in X and also an act of avoiding something that might be referred to as “not X”. Disengagement, however, is something else… — more like disinterest, disentanglement, indifference, independence and so on.

I want to sum this up and come to a preliminary close. We can choose to engage online — sometimes more, sometimes less. We will participate in some things in some ways, and we will not participate in other things at all. We cannot participate in everything, everywhere, all the time. If we engage in a thousand different things, then our level of engagement will be relatively thin across all of those things. If we choose to engage in only 10 things, then our narrow focus may be parochial. That said, there are so far no clear measures of engagement.

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