A couple of weeks ago I left social media – I had given up on Twitter months ago and Instagram before that, but Facebook was the last page in the story for me (I never did get into any of the other forums).
Leaving is not easy – a fact I will return to at the end of this missive – but regardless it feels good.
The final straw for me was an online discussion with an acquaintance. We differ vastly in political philosophy and world view, a void that I hoped would be rich ground for exploration. It wasn’t.
In fact, there was no room for discussion at all and our ‘conversation’ ended with his pronouncement that [I paraphrase], “… I see everything as black and white and shades of grey annoy me … .” Because I see everything in shades of grey, I guess my very existence annoys him.
So, we were polarized at a level that left no room for any productive social discourse.
I find it quite discouraging that two adults cannot conduct civil dialogue about challenging subjects on a medium dedicated to conversation – the whys of it are interesting to ponder.
Contemplation of such topics must include an uncomfortable level of self-reflection that for me brought into focus some personal character traits that aren’t all that attractive: pedantry, opinionated certitude, and smugness come to mind.
Un-Com-Fort-Able. Do the behaviours learned online manifest themselves offline? I wonder, but that is a subject perhaps for another day’s consideration.
Social media is the home of the riposte, quick thrusts in a fruitless duel of wits. Even our day-to-day banter on social media is perfunctory and remarkably devoid of meaningful thought.
We admire the new baby, wish happy birthdays, acknowledge an accomplishment or two, share cartoons and vapid aphorisms (you know, the cute little banners and quotes), and too often dispense a whole lot of righteous indignation and mindless vitriol.
Tellingly, conversation in any meaningful sense of the words is remarkably absent. In fact, any depth of thought is pretty much discouraged – it most often will be ignored completely.
The feel-good, fun-stuff on social media is pretty much harmless. We have always done it to one degree or another.
We share jokes, give someone a knick-knack engraved or painted with a dumb saying they probably won’t put on the shelf, send cards and flowers, and generally try to make everyone feel good.
That’s nice. However, righteous indignation and mindless vitriol are different beasts altogether.
Both are about anger. They are divisive, seldom founded on verifiable fact and, at the risk of being trite, on social media they spread like wildfire. Before social media we pretty much stewed in miserable solitude.
We may have inflicted ourselves on a few family members or workmates, but our anger was pretty much ours to own.
In truth, nobody much wanted to hear our rants. Not so on social media, which always has an audience for indignation, vitriol, conspiracy theory and partisan lies.
Anger spreads. That that anger is absent of fact or reason is completely ignored and instead, buoyed with long lists of supportive ‘posts’, it moves into the world, shared over and over with the authority of truth, but in reality, is devoid of truth.
An undiscerning audience on social media is a propagandist’s dream. Spreading doubt and dissension is as simple as creating a few fake accounts, writing semi-plausible lies and propping them up with a few supportive comments.
It is a dirty trick used by individuals, interest groups, political parties, and, indeed, national governments.
A good lie or crafty insinuation posted into any social media forum will be off and running with little questioning of its veracity. Not good! Not good, indeed.
Of course, there is all the other plain nasty stuff on social media: bullying, criminal scams, exploitation, victimization, privacy problems galore, stalking and the fact that research shows it just makes too many people feel badly about themselves.
It’s also a bit voyeuristic and exhibitionistic at the same time if that turns your crank.
So, then, if social media is so awful, why is it hard to leave Facebook?
Hmmm … well, that could lead to a whole series of psychoanalytical couch sessions, but perhaps it is enough to say that Facebook isn’t totally useless, mindless or counterproductive. It might be a modern vehicle for the emergent ego, but at a slightly less Freudian level, it does allow one to link to people with whom one otherwise would not have contact, to find old high school friends, and sometimes to attach faces to names.
That’s nice, but is it enough for me right now? Well, not really, but there is also the likes of Kitimat Buy and Sell and I have a lot of stuff I want to sell. The utilitarian facet of Facebook works very well for that. That’s a good draw, it’s getting closer, but still no cigar.
One can’t predict the future, but never is a long time, so who knows? In the meantime, I’m free of social media and it is proving to be a wonderful respite.