Monthly Archives: August 2018

More thoughts on the internet: how social media kills social life

I have spent the day writing in journals and reading Atlantic articles on my porch, crossing items off my to-do list and sitting with my thoughts and reflections, and now that I am a couple drinks in (Troegs Dreamweaver because I love wheat beer) I think I can talk about social media some more and just see where my thoughts take me.

I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to disconnect from the internet and compulsive smartphone use, to tune in to my own voice again. The husband was gone, and I played Decemberists and Bruce Cockburn albums with the guitar out and the volume up, found myself dancing around the living room singing my heart out, probably annoying my neighbors, straining to play the B-major chords I picked out without help from the guitar tab apps, and thinking “this is who I am, this is who I was, this is who I want to continue to be.” I woke up early and walked the dog. I bought incense and wrote all the things that caused me stress and anxiety down on a dry erase board in the kitchen. I didn’t miss the Netflix subscription I cancelled. I took a walk on my own without headphones, and I started running again, my legs craving to strain against uphills. I wrote in my journal until my hand hurt, sewed endless semi-straight seams on my basic sewing machine, punched holes in a plastic creamer canister to water some new hand-me-down plants and stacked rocks to defend them against the landscaping company’s apocalyptic weed whackers, and I thought of ways to make old stories, stories that 12-year-old me and 14-year-old me had once imagined, all melodrama and giant-eyed characters with Japanese names, into something relevant and meaningful in 2018. I jotted down notes for original ideas. I did lots of things that my smartphone has, at some point, tried to take away from me.

Social media is a great way to kill off a social life, but it’s not in a way that I’ve heard acknowledged. I listened to a podcast from Hidden Brain about about FOMO, the fear of missing out, complete with social scientists and studies about how time on Facebook contributes to depression. Maybe this is true for some people. I don’t think it’s true for me. I don’t have FOMO, and my time on Facebook, when I browse the feeds of friends, is generally pleasant. I use social media selfishly, sending off quick quips that I think are funny, without scrolling through my news feed, unless I catch myself doing it unconsciously, like right when I log in.

What I do have, though, is the experience of being separated from a significant other by 2,000 miles and trying to figure out how to maintain a relationship that way, a relationship that is often filled with silences. Social media, the diving line of the screen, forces you to alchemize words, to form a shape around something that, in in-person interactions, usually remains shapeless. My husband and I, my mom and I, relatives and friends, just being in their presence is often enough. You don’t have to constantly verbalize how you feel, don’t have to rely on articulation as your sole source of communication. But you do when your social media platform of choice presents you with a cursor and the question, “How are you feeling?” or “What are you up to?” followed by a blank space. When your friends or relatives are in front of you, you can fill that in with a slight movement of your shoulder, the way you pull your eyebrows or the corner of your mouth. You can’t do that online. Even on the phone, the way you say “I’m doing fine” can mean dozens of things depending on your delivery.

And social media isn’t even designed to communicate how you’re doing. Not lately, anyway. Going by Facebook, I know more way about how Upworthy is doing than about the interior lives of my friends. And those shares, because they come from your friends even if they really have nothing to do with your friends, still demand that you react in a socially appropriate way following the complex rules that govern interactions. I’m supposed to do the little bewildered face here. The like button here, except it’s a close friend so I should probably do the heart. And I’m angry that I’m being forced to respond in a certain way. Facebook manipulates some of the basest behaviors we have – the desire for attention and approval – and reduces me and my friends into desperate attention seekers. Facebook doesn’t care about my thoughts. Facebook only cares about measuring me and reducing me to a sellable product. The same with Twitter and Instagram.

Even WordPress, the platform I’m using right now, works the same way. I find myself look at my starts and relishing days when I get particularly high views. But this is not why I use WordPress. I need to get my words out, and I love writing and want to do it more, and this is great practice. It’s much easier for me to get my thoughts out with a keyboard, rearrange them, refine them, than it is with the paper journal I keep. I also think (like most people, I hope) that my ideas are worth sharing with other people, and that my writing can help them understand something about themselves, or that it can spark a meaningful conversation. I don’t know if I’m succeeding with that. There’s so much noise out there, so much other stuff that flies by in the Facebook feed that we barely have time to process one idea before we need to respond and click on the angry face for the next idea that’s forced unwillingly in front of our faces.

Other things from the world of social media that I don’t feel like writing paragraphs about, and I might have covered it last time anyway:

  • Memes are not thoughts, and nor are they valid responses to arguments. Memes shut down conversations. They’re often esoteric, used to insert oneself into a conversation in which they have no part (count how many times you see “that escalated quickly” suddenly pop up in threads from an unfamiliar account), usually casually offensive, and require no mental or emotional stakes from the person that posts them.
  • We have enough time on our hands to divide people into types – here’s the person that posts a bunch of food photos, here’s the person that uses social media to support their business – and talking about those types or is a way of making people fall in line. You don’t want to be THAT person. So you further keep yourself from sharing what you actually love, even if it’s food or your business.
  • Social media in general had been terrible for individuals to voice who they really are. If you have a dissenting voice, or if you want to be educated about something that gets typed in a way that isn’t woke or socially acceptable, chances are you’ll get a meme thrown at you from somebody you met three years ago at your parents’ barbecue, instead of responses that are patient and thoughtful.
  • I spend so much time sharing photos and reports of things I do outdoors, it cuts into time that I spend outdoors. And then after I hit “post,” I get sucked into somebody’s feed as I’m putting on my running shoes, and an hour passes by and I’ve further lost my outdoor time.