Some time ago I decided to step away from social media. This was done without clicking delete or deactivate; it was a simple measure of stepping back, of being more conscious of the activity. Eventually, as more control was attained, small steps back were made until eventually it resumed its prior foothold.
Time passed and what was frequent activity turned into a routine of only ever checking Instagram and in fact, never really posting. It was entertaining to a degree, looking at the various pictures, as a myriad of accounts were on there from athletes to dancers to nature accounts and all. Besides Instagram, however, I never got online. Even though there were accounts with Twitter, Facebook, Thinkspot (the intellectual-focused network developed in part by Jordon B Peterson), and Ello (an artist-focused network), they remained mostly, if not entirely, dormant.
But Instagram was enjoyable. And that was part of the problem. It was enjoyable without being useful beyond the entertainment value. And even then, the feeling after use was largely empty. There was no fulfillment found in how much time was spent on it. Even when there was a post that I would make, the effort appeared forced. Unnatural would be another way to describe it. It felt far too much like jumping up and down waving my arms frantically for people to pay attention to me rather than a simple display of real life. In real life, social situations are exhausting (with exceptions in close friendships and relationship), as they are for most introverts. Social networks foster that need or desire for attention that I really do not have— which is weird considering the desire for people to read my writing. There is a “but” to be placed here.
Writing and reading is in fact more similar to an intimate relationship. It isn’t overt or grandiose, even when the writing is. Something about the way words function when written has much more of a one-on-one relationship between reader and writer. Strangely, social media tends to negate that. Even when longer posts, stories, poems, etc are placed on social media platforms, the effect feels counter to that of when its on paper, or when on a website (like a blog for instance), or shown on a device through something akin to an ebook. Think for a second on how many writers are quite introverted. How would it be possible if writing was inherently attention seeking? Even my wife wonders at how I am a writer when, to put it in her words: “you suck at talking.” Writing is different from talking as it is different from activity on social media.
Yet social media tends to grip us in a way that reading does not. Being social creatures, we crave— no we need acceptance within a group. Friendship, family, community are all tiers in that network. In a way, through things like Twitter and Facebook, it’s been expanded out to the world. Through a virtual platform, one can be a part of a near infinite number of groups unrestricted by physical distance. Those groups can be real or perceived.
Now there little thought that they are inherently bad. While plenty of arguments do exist that show nefarious intentions on the part of designers and owners of social media networks, the core opportunity to connect with others that the platforms offer has done good and is good for many. How many though? Who knows? Some people do find friends online where real life they have struggled to find anyone like them. Others find loved ones long lost, connections long ago fizzled out or severed, or people to share their life with. But where there is good, there is also bad.
What I see more of (and it may or may not be only anecdotal), are large proportions of people ignoring what they have in real life to chase down some perceived acceptance on a platform that actually fosters little fulfillment. People connect with others not for social acceptance, but as a measuring stick— to base their own life standards on the displays online. Given that it happens much in real life, as “keeping up with the Joneses” was an old cliche long before social media, the difference is that social media has spurred the ability to create a facade many cannot even detect. The tools to show only what one wants others to see have become ubiquitous (and easy) with the platforms. It’s no wonder news outlets and wellness advocacy groups then begin to cry foul. Whether the claims are true (as that target of this article has little to do with decrying my opinion to leave and the reasons therein as facts to the truth of the situation), these are all issues that I consider in life while using these sites.
How am I using social media? As control is limited to one’s self, it does little to dwell on externalities of the system until one can garner control in their own realm. To look at it in this manner then changes the scope of whether these systems are inherently good or bad. At the level of the self, it matters little the end goals of the designers; what matters is how they are serving an individual’s, my own needs, desires, and goals. There was no answer needed as soon the examination was turned in that way: social media did not serve my needs, desires, or goals in a way that was worthwhile for me to place my energy there.
Who knows whether this will last. After being the third or forth time of going through this, history shows that a return will be made. Given one of the axioms learned through my psychology degree, “the best indicator of future behavior is found in past behavior”. However, as life changes, as goals and focal points change, and change towards where interest in anything online continues to wane, it might be that a return is never made.
All in all however, I will not return to social media in any way unless it can be used strictly as a tool and if there is enough interest to deal with it in that way. But the future is always unwritten.
Update 12/5/2020: Too soon? Maybe so. Read the next post where I backtrack… “Hold That Thought” (coming after 12:30 CST 12/5)