Blog / 2024 / Walking the Information Superhighway with Jonathon Stalls

January 23, 2024

Back in the 90s, the Internet was known as “the information superhighway.” Even at the time, it seemed like a dorky way of talking about the movement of information that was happening via our phone lines, but it definitely captured the feel of the new speed we were navigating.

Of course, today, that speed is only speedier. And I’m not talking about how images used to be a special treat on World Wide Web and now we stream video without thinking twice. The acceleration I’m most interested in is the emotional one.

With the invention of social media, the information that’s zipping around the globe and our minds has a different heft to it. By encouraging us to compare ourselves to our peers, it can leave us feeling inadequate in a way that ad agencies of 1960s Madison Avenue only ever dreamed of doing. What’s more, the information we receive from these apps can cut like few exchanges IRL ever do, because many of us permit ourselves to be way harsher from behind a screen than we ever would be in person.

All of which is to say that, these days, the information superhighway is, more than ever before, a psychologically hazardous place to be.

In fact, it’s sort of like how it is for pedestrians on the real-life highway—or in the many places without adequate sidewalks or crosswalks in our modern world.

Jonathon Stalls’ book, Walk
Jonathon Stalls’ book Walk: Slow Down, Wake Up & Connect at 1-3 Miles per Hour

Which brings me to Jonathon Stalls. He’s a poet and an ink artist as well as being the founder of Walk2Connect, a project whose focus is to invite a greater awareness of the pedestrian experience in our car-centric system.

We first started chatting because Jonathon was trying to figure out how to best cut back on social media—how to slow down his pace on the information superhighway—and he’d heard some of my advocacy on that topic. Since then, he’s deactivated his personal social media accounts, and, though he’s still posting now and again on the profiles associated with his art and his work around pedestrian dignity, it’s a lot less than it was before.

When I asked him what this transition feels like, he summed it up beautifully:

“There is confusion in my brain and in my heart, but my body feels grateful and open and honored. And so my gut realm is just like ‘thank you.’ And my heart’s confused in terms of so many of these connections and people. And my brain is like: ‘Well that was a dumb thing to do. There were so many opportunities, and you just took yourself out!’”

Jonathon’s description reminded me of what artists tell me all the time:

“I wish (guts) that I could get off of social media, but I don’t think (brain) that it’s possible to make my art career work without it.”

And I get it.

It’s been three years since I deleted Instagram and Facebook, and Jonathon’s description still resonates with me. In my core, I’m so pleased to have excised the Meta company from my life, and my heart and my head are mostly content with my decision. But there are moments, including this one, when I wonder if my career wouldn’t be better off with a social media presence.

And I’m not sure that these twinges will ever go away, at least not while social media remains such an enormous force in our society. Of course, I’m also not certain that it matters.

Jonathon Stalls’ Universal Hum
Jonathon Stalls’ Universal Hum

It’s like with Jonathon and his advocacy around slowing down and connecting with the real world. He’s all in on walking (or rolling in a wheelchair) as a way of life, but he still rides in cars sometimes, because it would be incredibly difficult to function in our society without making that concession at times. Plus, he’s clear on the fact that his work isn’t about car-shaming, but about drawing attention to how our car-centric system harms all of us. It’s about acknowledging the problems cars create and sometimes still riding in them because there’s no way around it.

I feel the same way about deleting socials. I think that, even with all the good that individuals try to create with them, corporate social media apps have been designed to destroy our mental health and foment hate, and they do their job with sickening accuracy. So I’m glad I’ve found a way to quit them entirely, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the information superhighway. I’m still on the Internet. I still have a vibrant site that I update on a regular basis, and I still love how the Web connects me with other humans.

We don’t have to have the right answer and it certainly doesn’t serve us to be rigid in our approach, but the one thing we absolutely must do is keep checking in with ourselves and with our world. We can’t ever stop questioning.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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