I (We) Need a Social Media Exorcism

I think, for Independence Day, that I want to remove myself from social media. I need a fucking mental health break as much as a fish needs water. How will we stay in touch with each other? Friends find a way.

And that’s the rub. I’ve tried to leave before but I always come back because I miss seeing what everybody is doing. Today I thought about that for most of my morning. I’d say, going back to MySpace and including Twitter and Facebook, that it’s been a good 12-13 years since I first realized that my laptop or mobile device could be my window to the world.

In short, I need an exorcism. I need to break the glass and step out into the real world. I need to stop browsing and start living.

That’s exactly what it is, isn’t it? We jump on our personal computers and window shop data feeds, offering our opinions – which are never really asked for mind you – on the juicier tidbits we stumble across.

We have become habitual intruders, our addictions fueled by the opinions of others, able to justify encroaching on the individualized public because opinions are willingly divulged. The golden age of unlimited optimism is gone thanks to sites like Twitter and Facebook. And though you may think that we’ve simply checked unrealistic idealism, it’s pretty tough to find anything in our new feeds that represents a semblance of hope for today or tomorrow.

Where were you while we were getting high? Probably engaging an avatar.

Social media, in principle, is important as it represents the democratization of news and information. As long as it’s embraced by people who believe in it and used responsibly, what’s the problem? The problem is that social media sites are not used responsibly. Businesses use them to freely market their products. Individuals use them to unleash the hedonistic side of their inner narcissisms.

The Internet, of course, has erased the nature of accountability of one’s actions. Hiding behind an avatar enables people to lash out and assume the true nature of their character, without any possibility of consequence, save for occasional rebellious backlash. Spend an hour on Twitter and you will come away with the impression that people are horrible beings bent solely on flame-throwing vitriol at others in the most caustic ways possible. You know a good percentage of your social media contacts, but do you know them personally? For the most part you do not.

That type of communal anonymity – which I admit sounds like an oxymoron – allows for the bastardization of free speech. Someone you know may have spent the last month or two looting businesses and destroying property. The people responsible for inciting that reprehensible behavior probably did it from the comfort of their sofas, free to watch it all unfold in real time from behind their curtains. When a center of calm is reached, all it takes is a well-placed tweet or two to reignite those fires.

Conversation has now become an antiquated social grace, and listening to others rarely exists. Internet media has fueled our ever-shortening attention spans, and robbed many of the ability to rationally game any potential scenario to its logical ending. One of the more astonishing peculiarities is the notion that people believe they can police themselves because they do such a fine job as community activists on Twitter and Facebook.

Our path to this point in time is one which has slowly evolved. We have now put the power of coalesced (occasionally biased) media into the hands of the people, transforming each of us from content consumers to content producers, and this blog is a perfect example. It is no longer just enough to share information. We need to birth ideas and opinions of our own, whether in blog form or as a 280-character expression of our thoughts, and launch them furiously into the world wide web.

Like the many advertisers who are now bailing on social media, I am starting to feel the discomfort of my words and pictures intermingling with rampant violent, extremist, and abusive content. In scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw the photo of my dad I had posted on Father’s Day sandwiched between a racist post about syrup, and a video of street gangs beating the shit out of an old lady. It was even more appalling than it sounds.

I’d like to think that Americans might welcome a rapid removal of extremist content from social media platforms, but they’re less likely to accept that type of censorship – and at the core of my beliefs I agree – of all political content in a matter akin to platforms in countries with overreaching governments, like China for example. That’s a conundrum in and of itself, as a large swath of the social population leans on the growing cancer that is cancel culture to exterminate those deemed ethically criminal.

I’ve asked myself if I truly believe I’ve become addicted to Facebook and Twitter. Addiction is an attractive metaphor, and certainly those of us who like using our electronics to stay connected can see the appeal of the metaphor. But the problem is that I am not staying connected outside the comforting glow of my various screens. I am spending less time with my friends outside my home, and too much time with them in the confines of my data feeds. Worse, I’ve sometimes ignored the messages of real friends for those that are avatars only. We all do that. It is an obsessive and deranged way to socialize.

I’m not an addict. Swear.

So I’ve devised a plan.

Last week my screen time was a little over six hours, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but adds up to nearly two weeks of wasted time per year. That’s just on my phone. So I am going to budget and reduce my consumption of electronic media, and in doing so, declaring my own independence of sorts.

  1. On week days I am going to limit my posts to personal blog links only. That’s my work, and I like to share what I write.
  2. On weekends, whenever I leave the house or visit friends, I am going to refrain from attaching my activities to my data feeds completely. As our country continues to open up, I want to retrain myself to engage with humans without the anchor that is my mobile phone. We’ve forgotten what a genuine courtesy it is to attend to those who take the initiative to spend quality time with us.
  3. If I have no plans, or am stuck in the house on weekends for any myriad reasons, I will engage with my avatar friends as long as the conversations remain productive.

Life is just too fucking short, am I right? I can’t wait to actually watch the next Super Bowl instead of raising my eyes above my iPhone screen to catch the highlights of the plays I missed. But it’s not just sports, is it? All of us are missing out on life – in real time – because we’ve sold our souls to social media’s live, stream-of-worthless-consciousness.

Published by Michael Canter

I love music, particularly indie music. It's a bittersweet affair that has been equally fun and soul-crushing, but I couldn't live without it. Personally, I'm a Deadhead, but my passion for all music styles is unparalleled. If I like you I will let you call me Mickey. If you look hard enough, you'll find me at SXSW every year.

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