1. Details about Facebook’s privacy and data-mining policies that bother me. In short: I don’t see myself or the details of my personal or inner life as commodities. Facebook, especially, does. Everything I’ve ever written is marketing research for them. That means that after I was raped, my status updates about it were used as marketing data. It was used as information that could possibly help Facebook to target ads at me that I might want to see. Is that not disturbing? (Answer: That is disturbing.) It’s not really a universal evil; we all know that Facebook is doing it, some of us are comfortable with it and some of us aren’t; I fall in the latter category.
2. I realized that I could not give less of a shit about most of the things I’ve ever said on any social network. Like, I didn’t get sentimental about deleting 5,000+ tweets. I never said anything within those ~700,000 characters of any great import. I’m slightly more sentimental about Facebook because it contains interactions with friends and information about milestones, and serves as a journal of sorts. Even so, it’s not really a journal because it has an actual audience other than me. Status updates are meant to be read by other people and they are therefore written for other people, not for one’s own edification. So I never said anything that was so exceptionally authentic and truthful and insightful that it would be worth keeping, because the point of Facebook was to cultivate a persona, not to be authentic and truthful and insightful.
3. I do not like my social media persona. Everyone has to have a public persona, of course, and I certainly do, because I write - sometimes about myself - on The Frisky. The benefit of long-form writing (and by “long-form” I don’t mean in the traditional sense but in the sense of “not a tweet or Facebook update but rather a complete string of logic, usually in excess of 500 words”) is that the persona I cultivate therein is way, way closer to who I am/what I am like IRL. There are omissions for privacy and style, but if you read my work on The Frisky (or here, for that matter), you will be reading something that I thought was important to write about for one or another reason, and it will be written in something resembling the voice with which I actually speak, and I will explain my reasoning as fully as is necessary. Social media, rather, promotes sort of impulsive thought fragments, usually about frivolous shit, and because it’s impulsive it tends toward outrage (for me, anyway). So my social media persona was frivolous, impulsive, and outraged. That’s neither reflective of who I am IRL nor, in any event, how I wish to be perceived.
4. I am uncomfortable with addiction. I just finished David Foster Wallace’s maybe-seminal 1990 essay on TV, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”, toward the end of which he describes a book by “media futurologist” George Gilder, titled Life After Television: The Coming Transformation of Media and American Life. In it, Gilder basically called Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and social media, decades before they existed. It was a prescient piece of work. Gilder thought that “telecomputers” (I mean, what are our computers now if not that?) would increase choice, control, and quality of immersive experience for the consumer and therefore democratize entertainment (this was a super-Libertarian way of thinking), which could only be a good thing. What Wallace was after in the essay was a way out of the six-hour-a-day television consumption that had had alienating, isolating, generally very detrimental effects on the human psyche; and Wallace didn’t believe that an increase of choice or quality would help consumers out of their TV-dependent rut:
“The more enhancing the mediation - see for instance binoculars, amplifiers, graphic equalizers, or ‘moving pictures hardly distinguishable from real-life images’ - the more direct, vivid, and real the experience seems, which is to say the more direct, vivid, and real the fantasy and dependence are… Jacking the number of choices and options up with better tech will remedy exactly nothing so long as no sources of insight on comparative worth, no guides to why and how to choose among experiences, fantasies, beliefs, and predilections, are permitted serious consideration in U.S. culture” (From A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, p. 75).
Um, yeah, pretty much. We all know that the Internet has indeed democratized information and entertainment and “experiences” such as they are on the Internet, and has simultaneously made it almost impossible to tell what of those things is actually really good or not; the sheer volume of information available has actually become the problem. Nowhere is that more true than on social media, where we get an endless stream of tiny packets of information thrown at us literally all day and night in real time. We scroll through and read and it’s boring but we can’t tear ourselves away, and why? A lot of people think that it’s because of dopamine addiction, that the surge of dopamine that our brains receive when we learn something new is being repeated when we read tweets and updates, without us having to actually do a whole lot of work to learn anything, without the information being challenging. And so we become dopamine addicted, and it’s hard to give up the constant reading of and contribution to social media feeds.
But is it quality information? If I don’t care about anything I’ve ever written on social media, and I don’t remember any one particular thing anyone else has ever written on social media, how good could that information be? There’s a whole world of books out there that I could be reading that require way more effort and attention from me, but that will actually teach me something. There are artworks out there begging to be stared at, looked at hard, analyzed visually, for 20-minute sittings (this is a thing I do). There are movies, for that matter, that regardless of quality merit our dissection and discussion. There is writing to be done, food to be made. There are paper flowers to be crafted and paperwork to be filed. There are people to be talked-to. All of those things are higher-quality intellectual experiences than scrolling through social media because they simply require more application.
5. What exactly are we doing on social media, anyway? Maybe I’m just too preoccupied with my mortality, but I’m pretty sure that people who are successful and who do interesting things do not have time for bullshit like social media. Yeah, it’s bullshit. I’m not going to make the claim that like hashtag activism (there’s a trendy word for that that I can’t recall) isn’t effective or useful, or that social media personalities are necessarily vapid, but the social media-oriented lifestyle is not the lifestyle to which I aspire. I’m generally not regressive or conservative when it comes to technology and you won’t hear me saying that the world has gone to shit because of social media or gizmos or whatever. That’s demonstrably untrue if you bother to study history, like, at all. And certainly, to each their own - if social media is a part of your lifestyle that fulfills you and makes you happy, then tweet away, friend. But that’s not me, those aren’t the conditions in which I want to live. I want to make a lot of art and write a lot and be like jacked-up, muscley fit, and I want to think hard about a lot of things and continually develop my sense of focus and patience and dedication to a single task at a time. I don’t think that the world is going to move past me if I decide that the most current technology just isn’t my dig. It’s possible to engage in the world without paying more than glancing attention to social media.
In fact, my line of thinking is that when we (pop culture writers and the people who read our work) talk about The World, we tend to see it as a homogenous entity, the current version of it being globalized, super-connected, fairly instantaneous, saturated in information, tech-obsessed, and social (think of that monologue in the movie Birdman: “There's a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day. And you act like it doesn't even exist! Things are happening in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already forgotten you. I mean, who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist.”). The truth is that there are many, many worlds here on this planet. Many people are living many lives in worlds that are not like The World As Perceived By Pop Culture Writers. The irony is that we talk about the world that we live in as if it is really capital-letters The World, the one and only, and it must be engaged-in in order to be relevant; it’s a matter of assumption that you have to have a Facebook page “for work” and a Twitter profile “for work” and a Tumblr “for branding” and so on. But simultaneously, so many pop culture writers fall into outrage about a lack of sensitivity to other people, other cultures, other lives. Do you see the contradiction? We are not permitting, in our way of viewing The World, ways for other people, other cultures, and other lives to actually exist as real possibilities. No, really, a lot of people don’t have Facebook pages. A lot of people don’t Twitter. A lot of people think Tumblr is spelled with an “e” and is a type of cup. It’s not quaint, it’s not idealistic, it’s not naive, and it doesn’t make those people irrelevant.
And that’s not outrage, I promise, it’s just me trying to shake some of the people who might read this, and say, “IF YOU’RE UNHAPPY, I PROMISE YOU CAN SURVIVE WITHOUT THIS SHIT!” Other people do it every day! Other people are content without being saturated with constant connectivity. If you’re unhappy, just - we live in a universe that is full of things we don’t know, full of possibilities. Find those things out, follow those possibilities. Call it sentimental that I care this much about social media and what it does: Social media makes me very, very unhappy most of the time that I’m using it. I become mean and anxious. When I use social media on the reg, I feel like I’m dying. There’s an existential balance there: I am dying, technically. Everything that exists is in a constant state of both living and dying, and the question is really just, what do you feel like you’re doing? If I’m not doing something that makes me happy or fulfills me or improves me or is teaching me something, or if I’m not working toward or accomplishing a goal, I certainly do not feel like I’m living. I’m doing none of those things on social media. So it has no place in my life.