Several weeks ago I was engaging in a Facebook post on my friend’s page. He can best be described as a troll and I love him dearly for his fearlessness (even though I disagree with him on much). As I was furiously typing out one of my classic long-winded responses, I thought the following: “is this making me happy?”
The answer came instantly, “you know that it is not.”
Is that an epiphany? I don’t know. I’ve had very few epiphanies. Almost all of them have come during the most dire and emotionally charged moments of my life. The Facebook post I had been engaging in wasn’t dire, but it was emotionally charged. Perhaps I had a mini-epiphany. Or an epiphany-lite.
It seems that every Facebook post is emotionally charged these days. Literally the slightest disagreement between friends, family, strangers, the media, celebrities, it all comes at us in wave after wave of frantic energy and the need, not the want… the deep instinctual need, to be right. To be proven authentic. To shine the brightest with the most shares and reacts and mentions. To perhaps one day have that viral moment which will legitimize all of that time spent online hiding from your mental health, harming it in the process, and fracturing your grip on reality.
It’s not just Facebook. Twitter does this. And Instagram. And Snapchat. And before that it was Myspace. And before that it was Yahoo Groups. And before that it was AIM.
These time-dumps are changing me. They are desensitizing me to my love of humanity and authentic human connection. They put me against my peers in a battle for political and social and cultural supremacy. They distract me from more important tasks… admittedly, I have actively sought these distractions (because I am not perfect and I question myself constantly). They distort my sense of reality, feeding me a constant stream of negative press and an unhealthy obsession with life/death politics. I feel my perspectives being manipulated, fueling my outrage at every insignificant controversy, selling me a world which is thousands of times better than it is currently presented in individually curated lines of code.
Perhaps this is because my mind and resolve are weak. You probably cope better than I do.
One day several weeks ago I attempted to count the number of times I used social media. I lost count at around the 30th time I opened one of my apps or pages. In a one day period, based on my count, I would estimate that I opened an app or page more than 50 times.
I thought this might have been an exaggeration. I tried it again a few days later and discovered that in that one day I spent almost six hours using social media.
Not all days are equal. But even at four or five hours a day, my addiction is significant. But why? Why do I spend so much of my time engaged in something that makes me feel so unfulfilled?
I’ll focus on Facebook, which is my drug of choice when it comes to social media usage. After having my lite-epiphany I deactivated my Facebook. I put up a goodbye post on my Instagram, and I went about the process of deleting apps.
I deleted my Twitter account because that was easy, I hardly used Twitter.
I didn’t delete my Instagram… maybe I want to go back one day. It’s basically just an online photo album.
I didn’t delete LinkedIn, I need that for marketing myself in the digital age!
Snapchat can go, I’m not a rapper or a porn star (you’re welcome, mother — not that you’ll read this).
But what about my Facebook pages? I’ve spent years building them up. I finally have more than 500 likes! That’s five hundred people who follow my Facebook page to read my opinion. Which is, of course, a unique and individually brilliant opinion.
(who am I kidding… they follow my page for the spicy memes)
Okay, so I scheduled my page for deletion. AND TO NOT BE TEMPTED… I even started deleting the thousands of memes I have saved on my phone for future posting. How much time have I spent curating those memes? It’s impossible to know. A lot of time. Time I could have spent reading one of my countless unread books.
My grandfather was just in the hospital again. Yesterday he turned 78. We’re not close. Should I post about this on Facebook? Do I let the world know that I’m in pain and I need them to spend 3-4 seconds worth of emotional energy to say “thoughts and prayers” or “hugs” or “I’m thinking of you and your grandpa” or “I sure do hope Sam gets better”?
What are my responsibilities to the world when I share myself so thoroughly online?
Will Grandpa Sam get better? Who am I kidding… he’s 78 and spent more than half of his life smoking two packs a day. He drinks Fireball. At 78 you are too old to drink Fireball. Also, I don’t think we like each other. Is this over-sharing?
Honestly, the happiest Facebook makes me is when I’m watching music videos or pet stories. Even memes have lost their luster. When I read the comment sections of even the most mundane stories (“Rand Paul wins settlement against neighbor who viciously attacked him”) the interactions are CANCER:
“the libertarian using the big bad government to steal from his neighbor”
“too bad he didn’t get run over by his lawn mower”
“had to go to socialist Canada to get treatment for his hernia”
“worst Senator in history, I hope he dies”
(by the way: these are all real comments).
Yesterday I read a story about a man who stole someones credit cards and identification and tried to use them to buy himself some drinks at the club. The bartenders noticed he looked nothing like his I.D. and the man was arrested. I call him a man but he must be in his early twenties. I remember what that was like… and can confidently say that I was not yet a man.
Anyway, the story went viral because the man had a unique look about him (he was obviously queer). For some reason I searched this man’s name in Facebook and found his personal page. It was soaked in comments from complete strangers calling him the worst types of names because of his crime. This made me intensely sad for the man.
What he did was wrong and he deserves to be punished for it. But does he deserve to be punished forever? That’s what will happen to him if he doesn’t delete his Facebook page. The story has already gone viral… anyone who ever google’s his name will know what he looks like, what he did, where he did it, and how he got caught. When factoring in the criminal justice aspect of him being caught, isn’t this eternal shame enough?
Not for the complete strangers who decided to berate him on Facebook. A process that I now feel complicit in because I, like them, searched for him on Facebook to see what his profile was like. What I found was a young man who isn’t unlike a lot of young men I know. That knowledge depressed the shit out of me. I felt like I was peaking into the private life of a person who was in the process of experiencing one of the worst weeks he will ever have.
Why did I do that? Because I, like so many other people on Facebook, am a voyeur. And that voyeurism is supported by Facebook perfectly. They curate it and I explore, engage, and expand my voyeuristic possibilities every. single. day. Without end.
Social media has become a forum for all of the worst parts of myself. My ego, my vanity, my obsession with being right (even at the risk of my relationships), and a need for my being to be quantified.
Social media is all of my worst tendencies carried with me at all times in my pocket.
Social media makes me feel like I am wasting myself.
So I am leaving. For as long as I can. I am going to run away. I admit that I don’t have the will power to limit my time. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t want to. Because even though I know that this technology is addictive, and even though I know that it is amplifying the worst parts of my humanity, I want it. I want it as much as I have ever wanted anything in my life. It is my booze, my drugs, my day time soap, my romance novel, it is all of these things and none of them. AND I WANT IT.
I don’t want it. It leaves me feeling alone. It so very clearly wants me to fight with you. It provides me with a bully pulpit to announce to the world that you are wrong and I am right and if you challenge me I will destroy you. And the invert of this is also true.
And… I am so tired of always wondering what the cost of this is. Why do the creators of this technology not use it? Why don’t they let their children use it? Why do so many of my mentors and some the academics I respect the most not use it? Why can’t I seem to quit it?
Divide, distract, distort. The three keys to the brilliance of this technology. Perhaps I’m waking up to it a little. Perhaps I finally understand that I’m being sold a world that isn’t real. And, perhaps, in understanding that I’m being sold to I have discovered that I loath to be sold to.
Anyway, I’m going to share this on my social media. One final post. My au revoir. If you want to keep in touch, you know how to do it.