Let me start by saying this is a personal chronicle of a slow realization, one that has been held in cryostasis by both unreasonable hopes and extreme fear of missing out. Skip to the end if you don’t want to hear me preach.
I have been through many stages of finding place for, and becoming disenchanted with, social media. It has been, in phases, a fascinating rabbit hole, an obsession, a useful tool, an escape, a place to struggle along with or against humanity…and a source of endless frustration.
What I am frustrated by is best described as shallowness. It is not the shallowness of the participants (you know I love you guys), but the shallowness of the scope one is permitted through the medium. I’ve long suspected that there is no way to connect on a deeper level through social media, but accepting the reality has been difficult. It is not designed for depth — it is designed to bring reality down to bite sizes, and the smaller the bite size, the less depth there will be. This is simply a fact, not a judgment. There is nothing unusual about humanity wishing for bite sizes to make tough meat easier to swallow, easier to sift through, easier to digest. This wish is as old as the dawn of time.
I could go down several roads with this. I could examine how each new form of connection sets off a chain reaction of societal binging that we all are willing to participate in without much preamble because “it’s just what people do now”. (Pamphlet printing, newspapers, and telephones surely had their heyday.) But that’s another thought train for another post.
The latest version of “connection” is an interesting conundrum, to say the least. Bite sizes are given in little fifths of a second — as we keep scrolling, the little thought-provoking that is happening gets interrupted by another person’s thought, and another, and another. Then there are algorithms. Then there are ads. Before we know it, the shitstorm has little to do with social connection, and the steps are hard to retrace. This bothers some, and it doesn’t bother others. The crux of that bother (or, in my case, grief) seems to rest in the expectations of the user: do we expect this to bring us deep, meaningful connections? Or do we understand that it is in the business of replacing deep, meaningful connections? I was expecting the former, slowly realizing the latter, and I kept coming back for more because I feared missing out.
Exceptions proved the rule: I met a few beyond incredible people because of the Internet, and that kept me believing just a little. However, I have been well acquainted with online social platforms since I was six (clocking hours a week on AOL Instant Messenger, Angelfire homepages, MySpace…), because that’s where everybody else was at, and dude, I wanted friends… I’m still waiting for the binging aspect to ease. That’s twenty-three years of my life that virtual socials have pushed their noses into outdoor enjoyment, talking over meals, giggling at actual faces actual people are making, and letting everything that happens in real time become more and more awkward because those of us who are affected by the virtual are no longer able to give the immediate moment our full attention anymore. (I qualify all of this with “those of us who are affected by the virtual” because I know some of you are vulcans who are not…please rock on.) For those of us who are affected by the virtual, this is what getting to know someone is comprised of: looking up their profile on Facebook.
The irony of writing this in a blog post (blogging is so last decade) has not escaped me. I have wondered if I’m being a wuss with media by waiting until the apex has passed to use a tool, i.e. waiting until long after beta/shakedown/1.0 of anything so that I can be more aware of its pitfalls…instead of being the guinea pig. But I will refer to a few paragraphs ago as my witness. I’ve been at this Internet thing a long time. I already was the guinea pig.
I should have figured a lot of this out long ago, but, like the stars-in-her-eyes, give-it-another-chance girl I am, I waited until it became a veritable shout and scream before I was determined enough to do things about it. That scream was the beauty I am finally able to experience and bask in when I forget the whole dang thing exists.
As I am about to turn thirty, I have less and less interest in boiling down my life and the essence of my thoughts into bites. More than anything, I am more determined to mine out the depth than I was ten years ago. This change of mind has allowed me to stop being annoyed and frustrated by bucket loads of petty crap. I am more concerned with the tangible/the long term ripples/the strength of an overall movement and its heroes than I am with the latest talking points. This is a contributing factor as to why I have struggled to see the same value others see in these tools: not because they are not useful, but because I am becoming more committed to relating the abstract to the concrete and vice versa, and I believe these fragmented mediums of interaction do this very poorly…if at all.
In the world of social media, everything is abstract. There is no concrete. Abstraction is an incredible view when within context, but out of it? It’s more like an inverted Eifel Tower — an eyesore and a bit of a menace, too.
I have, for most of my life, believed this is merely a part of playing ball with this beast. If I participate, I have to take the good and the bad and understand the limitations.
But I was actually affected on a deeper level than that. (If Nicholas Carr’s summary of the emerging research is correct, this is actually common because of brain plasticity. Scary shit.) The growth curves, the deep, inward turning of the soil that was going on in my soul in the past ten years was something I couldn’t share in small bits, and so my internet-trained social self didn’t share it at all — I just hit the talking points, like everyone else, but was unable to verbalize the deeper things. This paralysis spilled over into other places in my life. I didn’t even journal, or watch the clouds much. I don’t blame technology or the Internet, I blame my own tendency to binge on them; to find them fascinating enough that I allowed them to translate life for me. I realize, in hindsight, how sad this was. I go back to the instances I have managed to synthesize my thought processes enough to “share” something satisfactory, and a blog post here or there was all I found. Even blogging became impossible for me as I attempted to hold back anything too heavy or too strong or too mean or too myself to annoy any of the skilled boilers who are far better at bite-sizing emotions and epiphanies than I; my entire interaction became all about not being as opposed to being, and it wasn’t healthy, that’s for dang sure.
I’ve had my heart wrapped up in a hope that someday, it will get better, someday I will understand these compulsory attendance apps enough to transcend their hold on me. It hasn’t gotten better, and I haven’t transcended, but I have finally stopped hoping. (For those of you who have been listening to my rants as I analyzed and researched, bless you.)
Maybe that means I’m not cut out for where this century is headed. Square peg, round hole, and all that. Well peeps, if this century is headed for shallower ground and more binging and more fragmentation, hell yes I am going to opt out and hop onto the grassroots train that is headed in another direction. I don’t see this as backwards or forwards motion, as progress or reversion, not anymore; I see this as paths that run alongside each other. Choices we make every day. The truth of the matter is that we don’t need a digital footprint to make our physical footprint more real — it was real all along. And while you could say ditching these tools of connection is a lot like ditching my family car, it’s okay — I’ve walked places before.
I want to say more about this when I have gained another dose of distance and objectivity. I have only been off of Facebook for three years and Twitter for one. So, for now, I’ll confine my digital explanation to a personal post about my own experiences. Although my overall impression as I mull over my own words is “Really? Doesn’t this generation have bigger fish to fry than over-thinking social media?” and my answer is yes, this girl of this generation has bigger fish to fry than social media period, I don’t intend to expand on those themes without locking myself in a cabin to write in somber silence.
Fear of missing out, rest in peace.