As I wrote last week, I've been on a social media fast since August 8, logging out of Facebook and Twitter on my phone as we left for vacation in Point Reyes and leaving my computer behind entirely. (I still feel both very lucky to have gone on said vacation when we did and a bit obscene talking about having vacationed there while the park is still closed to visitors due to the Woodward fire there.)
Two weeks in vacation mode made it easy to step away from the scroll machines; everything about life was different, novel and entertaining, and I knew social media would dull and disrupt that shininess. I also largely avoided the news, only sneaking quick glances here and there after a number of days of abstinence. I did amuse myself by repeatedly attempting to navigate to Facebook in my phone's browser, thumb moving on auto-pilot whenever there was a bit of an idle moment.
Since returning to "normal" non-vacation sabbatical life, I've managed to keep myself logged out. It took even longer to stop typing "tw" and "fa" into my computer's browser bar than it did to stop on my phone. I admittedly did log into Twitter twice on one day, first to yell at J.K. Rowling for more transphobic bullshit, then to share last week's blog post, as I expect I will also do for this post. (How else do you get people to read your blog posts besides social media these days?!?) I figured I'd at least stay logged out of Facebook for another week, but now I'm aiming for an entire month off from both platforms, taking me all the way through Labor Day weekend.
Don't think I kicked my social media habit so easily: I fully intend to return to both platforms, at least temporarily, or so I tell myself regarding Facebook in particular. (Twitter, I don't even pretend I'm trying to leave more permanently, at least not right now.) Just now as I looked at my calendar and realized a full month's fast doesn't let me back on until next Tuesday I felt a little shook, like I might not make it after all. I've steeled my resolve again, and most likely my stubbornness will win the day and I'll make it to my goal, barring some really truly horrible human catastrophe that drives me back to connect and check up on people (hey, it's 2020, who knows what's next, knock on wood.)
But why the compulsion and fierce attachment to social media in the first place?
I always love an audience, at least when it comes to the thoughts I think, the little quips, complaints and observations that bubble up bigger and louder than the others, demanding attention. Today as I thought yet another one of those thoughts that has come and gone, never to be recovered to absolutely no one's detriment, I remembered that Twitter is called microblogging for a reason, and that's why I think I took to it so much strongly than Facebook. It's perfect for posting that kind of little random thought shit. Tweets, like these blog posts, feel like I'm just "putting it out there," with no demand or expectation that others will read it and respond. Of course, I desperately do want people to read and respond to my tweets and blog posts (hint hint.) It's just that for some reason, Twitter and blog posts don't come with the expectation of a response like direct emails and (weirdly enough) Facebook posts seem to. With less expectation there's both less responsibility to share something worth everyone's time and less disappointment if the in fact coveted response never materializes.
I also always love to be entertained, and I think that for me entertainment largely has to do with the introduction of new information, new material for me to absorb and react to. Since returning from vacation I've lifted my self-imposed news restrictions and find myself reading news websites and asking my device to play the news many times every day, not just my usual once-daily listen over breakfast. No matter how frequently I know I've listened on a given day, I'm still disappointed when the news lineup is still relatively similar to the last time I listened, despite knowing that's probably a good sign that some new awfulness hasn't occurred in the interim. But Twitter and Facebook aren't like that; they don't run out so easily. There's a seemingly endless amount of new information and opinions to absorb and witness and like or comment on or retweet or share or rave about or respond angrily about or any number of other reactions. It's not necessarily content that's particularly good to me or for me, but it's plentiful and readily available, and I get to engage with the material and the little bubble of people around it in real time.
In the absence of social media to feed my information addiction, besides my frequent news hits, I've managed to finish four books (three of them read start to finish) in the past four weeks. I'm also reading more full-length articles these days (not just the headlines and the social media summary!), both in our weekly print newspaper indulgence and online. Granted, I also haven't had to work, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be quite so ravenous in my reading of actual books and articles were I diverting some of my newly abundant time and attention towards Facebook and Twitter. Curating and consuming whole books and articles? That takes time, commitment, discernment, decisions, prioritization. I can't simply dip in for a few seconds or minutes or hours and be spoon-fed (scrolling Facebook) or force-fed-with-a-firehouse (watching Twitter via TweetDeck), no decisions required beyond whether to linger over something for some number of seconds longer than usual and whether to take a few additional seconds to engage via a click or a quickly banged-out response. It's so much easier, and so much shallower.
And fInally, I'm expected to be on social media. Facebook, specifically; this isn't something I experience with Twitter. It's funny to write about it in terms of external expectations; when I started writing this I thought I'd talk instead about missing the connection Facebook provides with people who I actually know to one degree or another in real life. And I do miss those connections, especially with old friends who live across the country and for whom I rely primarily on social media to keep in touch and make small, usually emoji-based appearances in each other's now very separate lives. But of course, as with the other benefits I get from social media, there are other, usually better media for connection; and as with many things, there's a trade-off to be made between breadth and depth. I've been staying in better touch than usual with the people in the relatively small but abundant concentric circles of my communities. I do miss some people, but with most of them I know they're a mere email, text or phone call away, and I can make it happen if and when I need or want. So I'm luckily not feeling any lack for interpersonal connection during this social media fast.
But Facebook has informed me that other people expect me to be there, via email notifications that managed to catch my eye among the barrage of Facebook's attempts to lure me back. When you're inactive for a while Facebook starts sending more and more notifications about random things FB friends post; only just now did I realize I could unsubscribe from these "Recent shares from your friends" notifications.) But hidden among the spam are legitimate notifications from a few people who have mentioned me about something or another, I barely know what, Facebook is careful to show you only just enough to get you interested then hide the rest so you're forced to click through, log in and see the whole thing. I worry: Do folks need something of me? Will I respond too late? Has someone sent me an important private message that I won't get because I don't use Messenger? Will they think I'm rude?
I vaguely intended to post a "Leaving FB for a while, see you on the flip side!" message like I've seen some wise, responsible friends do when they're taking a break from these things, but never got around to it and now feel a bit anxious and guilty about the delayed responses, few as they are. But also: ugh to the fact that so much of our communication is mediated by this fairly evil for-profit company (Facebook) rather than going through our sometimes less evil (at least in scale), more mindfully selected and usually more private email providers. (By the way, friends: email me if you need me!)
So, yes. Next week I'll be signing into both social media networks again. From what I've written above you might be able to tell which social media service makes me more anxious and bothers me more both in its form (i.e. content displayed to me at Facebook's discretion in accordance to its self-interested algorithms) and its function (to make Zuckerberg and the rest of the company and its investors as much fucking money as possible, privacy and anything else be damned.) I'm strongly considering posting that I'll be logging into Facebook only once a month for the foreseeable future to check messages and what not, but that otherwise folks can find me on Twitter, via email, and here on my blog. But will I stick to that?
I think about the impending November election, my stomach sinks and I think nah, not gonna happen, that's gonna pull me in. But we shall see.
Sumana HarihareswaraFri, 09/04/2020 - 8:44am
I hear you. I call Twitter an attention casino. :( I'm using LeechBlock a lot.
Yes! This! But also, I'd like to keep up with you via my feedreader/RSS reader. I had a bit of a hard time finding the RSS/Atom/syndication feed for this blog -- what is it?
jackFri, 09/04/2020 - 2:33pm
Hi Sumana, thanks for the comment, so rare these days! :)
Ah, I remember LeechBlock...abandoned long ago, oops!
Ah, thank you for the heads up -- I'm building this site little by little and forgot to enable an RSS feed! I've got one set up now at https://jackalop.es/blog/rss.xml.
Sumana HarihareswaraFri, 09/04/2020 - 3:01pm
Thank you! Subscribed!
GWBWed, 09/09/2020 - 7:52am
So impressed that you made it a full month off the blue shapes! I have deleted Twitter and FB off my phone (but use FB in my phone browser when needed) because I find myself obsessively stress scrolling instead of paying attention to my kids and their endless desire for attention (hello, month 7). I obv still use it for/during work on my computer. But, I leave Instagram on my phone. It's like a friendly tunnel of pictures of friends and landscapes and art that I slide down into and back out. I started doing a 30 day poetry challenge thing with a friend (both of us ex-academics) that I had no idea wrote poetry & my wife, and it's like... fun? Like a shared activity amidst the isolation and the 23 hours a day demands on my time. Carving out 20 min to write and share the messiness and connecting with another. It's kind of amazing to me how far a little social connection goes for my mood - even if it's done through the corporate tubes. Anyway, now I'm blah blah in your comments. BUT! Love the long form blog share and looking forward to more!
jackWed, 09/09/2020 - 10:45am
Thanks for being impressed! LOL. Instagram does seem more calming but also extremely addictive; I've never let myself get into it. (Easy when I'm not much for taking and sharing photos or videos!)
The shared activities and social connections, though -- I hear you. So valuable these days, even in these small digital ways!
And thanks for the encouragement to keep blogging. Please stay blah blah in my comments!