Hold That Thought

One of the blogs I subscribe to, or rather, the newsletter or emails or whatever of said blog, is Nir Eyal. His blog Nir & Far has been a frequent visit site since discovering it. In the emails, Nir sends links to interesting articles, often dealing with psychology and social media. On the heals of posting Again? on my site, I found his latest email. At the top was a review he wrote… on “The Social Dilemma”.

For those not living connected online, in the back woods of some remote area, “The Social Dilemma” was a Netflix documentary about the hold social media has gotten over the psyche of humanity. For its part, it painted a bleak picture. Nir however offered a differing opinion.
Nir is an expert in the field, not unlike Tristan Harris or many of the others featured in the documentary. In a way, I had been surprised in watching it that I didn’t see him. He wasn’t in it. Although he should have been. Apparently, he had sat down with the producers of The Social Dilemma for roughly three hours for an interview like the others. The problem? As Nir asserts it, his narrative didn’t fit the film’s agenda. Yes, even documentaries often have agendas— in other words, a goal to persuade rather than inform. Few are like Icarus, which start out with one idea only to shift directions the second some truth is discovered.

Nir is an optimist. While he knows very well the methods that are used on these platforms to garner greater attention, he says we have much more power than we think we do to counter them— without relying on deleting one’s account or calling for strong government regulations.
Reading his review got me thinking more on it. A lot more. Enough to make me reconsider my initial call to delete accounts. So I am holding… at least on Facebook. Instagram and Twitter and the others didn’t have a waiting period, so they are simply gone, for now. Investigation and research was needed. Given that the conditions I set though at the end of Again?, I didn’t want to just rush back because one person, expert or not, says its OK.

Technology, though possible to have negative consequences, are tools. One cannot blame a hammer when someone chooses to use it for harm rather than to place nails into materials for construction. It is one of the central premises behind what Nir tries to convey. Social media is a tool, and while I might not be interested, or I might be afraid in learning how to use a particular tool (i.e. Twitter or Facebook), it doesn’t change that it is one. The question that needs asked here is: what tool or tools are necessary to further what goals I have? What tool(s) will be worth learning to operate effectively while also being useful?

These questions are a lot harder to answer. Being anti-social does not help the situation either. It introduces noise into the equation that makes the problem take longer to solve, if at all possible. When one speaks of marketing to me with my writing, there’s a small fire that catches hold of my throat— anxiety— and it causes me to sputter and choke with any attempt to place myself out there. An excuse as it may be, and something that I do wish to overcome, social media always feels like the last place to do it. Possibly it’s that accumulative feedback mechanism of the “like” button that makes it so difficult. It places a finite answer upon attention seeking. Not seeing likes, or fuck, even seeing likes is panic inducing. All of this caused by that retched quality of my being.

At one time I heard a fascinating explanation into the shyness/introvert/extrovert realm that laid it all out for me giving me a much better understanding. In short, I am a shy introvert. Sounds repetitive, right? Aren’t shyness and introversion the same thing? I was one who used to understand shyness and introversion in that way. However, shyness was a characterization of someone who avoids social interaction, typically due to fear or anxiety. Introversion though is the characterization of someone whose energy is sapped or drained from social interaction. They instead gain energy from their time away from social interactions (i.e. being alone). Counter to that, extroverts will find themselves energized by social interaction. That means one can be a shy extrovert, which up to when that was all defined, seemed like an oxymoron.

Introversion can make overcoming shyness more of a challenge. Who wants to overcome something that essentially guards them from losing energy?

Now that is not to say that there aren’t social interactions that are beneficial, fun, or even energizing to me. Those tend to only be regulated to my closest friends, of whom I enjoy long complicated philosophical conversations with at least one of them. Social media does not provide that kind of interaction. Not even close. The digital steals that away.

This circles back and amends the question slightly: how can one learn a tool when one is generally stressed out and unenergized by its use?

The primary feature to overcome is the shyness. Introversion can be dealt with through keeping small, controlled interactions online— small and controlled enough to prevent that energy drain, which weirdly still happens through a screen. As was said in the last post dealing with this topic, although writing is an intimate matter, social media tends to negate it. Thus any online interaction on those platforms creates the same end effect. Controlling the time spent and activities, it can be managed effectively. Fear and anxiety from shyness are the other matter.

People tend to be biased towards negative information. This isn’t something new. Psychologists and philosophers and far more people have known this for a long time. If one thinks about it, it is why fear is such a resoundingly useful tool in politics. It works even when the man behind the curtain is revealed. That’s why when even one negative comment appears, most people tend towards focusing on that. Or when a post garners fewer or even zero likes, the tendency is to assume it is a negative assertion. Getting over that won’t be easy. But perhaps getting over it isn’t the goal. Maybe there is another way.

In his latest book “The Practice: Shipping Creative Work”, Seth Godin emphasizes the need for creatives, writers included, to focus on process rather than outcome. He asserts that outcome is what drives us to take less risks, to steer towards less fulfilling or rewarding work, or worse, that focusing on outcome kills our creative drive. He shares many examples of this in the book, of how creation is something that is done by pushing beyond what we know. It also mirrors some of the same lectures I’ve heard from Jordon B Peterson, of how artists need to explore the unknown— the land beyond order.

Changing the focus can be one way to bypass the tendency towards negative thought. Instead of focusing on results, a switch towards process and effort can be effective. Basically the goal is to focus the act of posting, on sharing my work and moving on. Once in a while I could analyze the gross feedback to figure out what methods get more of a response if I so choose to, but there is the whole idea of having fun with it— the goal of creating art for art’s sake.

In truth, I’ve placed far too much pressure on myself for social media. Posts had to do something, even when I would say that they didn’t. It too often felt wrong, like a sales pitch or a cry for attention rather than an organic sharing of something that mattered to me. If I can change that mindset, then maybe social media doesn’t have to be this evil entity. Maybe it can be something more meaningful and useful?

Then there is the fact that there are so many others, sharing their lives and work on these accounts that I used to follow. Artists, writers, dancers, photographers… all putting their work out there into the world for people like me to see. It should be an inspiration. We should all feed off the energies of the art the we put out there. Without social media, my ability to see these others, and for others to see me is diminished, and that is to be avoided if I want to make it eventually.

I might rejoin. At least Instagram. Maybe Ello too. I’ve already canceled the deletion of Facebook and restored the API for my Facebook page. Twitter, from what I have seen, has become an exorbitantly toxic place more concerned with political tribal conflict than togetherness. Twitter will likely remain dead. I was never on there anyway.

Who knows what the future will hold. Thanks to people like Nir and Seth though, I’ve gained new insight into the thoughts that led me to call for abandoning social media to begin with. Maybe by treating it different, by shifting that focus, I can return with a clearer head on the matter. And maybe I will bookmark these two posts to remind myself later of what I went through and why I decided on what I decided.

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