I am drowning in a digital sea
I am slipping beneath the sound
Here my voice goes to ones and zeros
I’m slipping beneath the sound
The above chorus from the song “Digital Sea” by Thrice expresses the concern of Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a time of Transparency. Busch strikes a cautionary note, part anthropology, and part sociology, about the impact of personal exposure in the digital age upon human identity. Using eclectic examples found in nature and society, she advocates for intentional times of retreat and rediscovery of the benefits of invisibility. Busch asserts, “It is a time . . . to reevaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life, to search out some antidote to the continuous exposure, and to reconsider the value of going unseen, undetected, or overlooked in this new world.” Generally speaking, hiddenness gets perceived negatively, while digital visibility appears normative and desirable in this day. Busch argues that “Invisible presences can have a stature and status of their own.” She articulates numerous benefits of being invisible at times rather than constantly being exposed digitally.
The book’s structure presents a single argument for the profits of an invisible life through personal and societal examples as varied as having imaginary friends, life in a coral reef, and the use of invisible ink. Busch states her book’s goal when she writes, “…my hope is to compile a field guide to invisibility, one to reacquaint us with the possibilities of the unseen world, to reimagine and reengineer our places in it with greater engagement and creative participation.” While not following a more standard structure of parts, the book contains one idea, illustrated and argued with many examples. Busch points out the application of invisibility to the spiritual realm and humanity’s search for meaning when she states, “…the quest for significance mandates that, somewhere along the way, we confront our insignificance.” In the cultural tide that pushes people toward public significance through visible means, could it be that the life we desire must include intentional invisibility? Confronting our insignificance proves challenging on platforms used to communicate our significance.
Busch’s argument for invisibility strikes a tone similar to Simon Walker’s analogy of the front and back stage. Busch’s hidden life sounds comparable to the back stage, where we house all the elements we do not show publicly. The hidden part of us conceals our feelings, dreams, hopes, plans, fears, frustrations, and thoughts. The visible life so common today through digital media allows for an almost constant stream of performances in front of our virtual audience. Busch and Walker both warn of the results of an imbalance between the visible and invisible parts of life. If personal behavior as performance becomes a source to affirm our identity, a life lived networked, constantly connected, and always on the front stage can lead to a dangerous imbalance.
Living in a Mormon-dominated culture, the detrimental results of stressing the external, exposed life over a healthy inner life manifests itself in several ways. Part of the LDS belief system asserts progression eternally and temporally as the outcome of faithful practice. The promise of Mormon faith includes a life that constantly moves forward, circumstances that get better, an income that grows, a family that thrives, to name a few. In this broken world, those promises rarely manifest themselves for long, if at all. If the push of a cultural current always drives toward positive growth, yet on some level but you know that is not reality, how do you deal with it? A few connections drawn between public expectations and private struggle in this culture seem to produce harmful results. Utah leads the nation in the abuse of prescription medication and has the third-highest suicide rate per capita. Numerous LDS people have shared their concerns about the pressures of progression, especially on their youth. “Our kids cannot be honest about their struggles” sounds a common concern often shared privately.
Our ministry context may teach some of the same promises of progression without stating them literally. Is the church growing? Is income up? Are we moving forward? Are we taking the next hill? In contrast, how many questions inquire about the inner, hidden life? My own experience finds that the questions we ask are primarily about the public parts of ministry, not the invisible part. I follow the podcast series “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” which details the public failure of more than one Christian church ministry. The podcast posits that what eventually played out publicly resulted from numerous aspects of unhealthy, unchecked back stage life.
I appreciate how Busch recognizes certain unhealthy dynamics of hiding. “I can tell you what invisibility is not. It is not loneliness, solitude, secrecy, or silence.” Sometimes hiding happens out of fear, like vulnerable animals avoiding real or perceived danger. Predators in the wild also hide with the intent to prey. Busch argues for a healthy disconnect from a life of exposure to reap the many benefits found in hidden places. More than any other benefit, she helps us understand the impact of disappearing on our identity. “I am convinced more and more that understanding how to disappear is part of understanding who we are. How to be depends on knowing how to be fully present and how to disappear as well…” May leaders find a healthy balance between their visible and invisible lives.
 Akiko Busch, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency (New York: Penguin Books, 2019), 9.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 195.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid, 198.