Facebook, Instagram, whatnot. It’s fun, I suppose.
You can keep in touch with friends and family! (or not, and then that’s just hurtful)
You can keep up with the news! (I am being sarcastic now)
And, of course, you can watch endless short videos of meaningless drivel with the occasional cool or funny thing!
My recent obsession is watching videos of bears in the wild, which was then followed by watching monkeys care for their babies. Before that I tended to watch whales leaping and tourists screeching. Disturbingly, judging by the stuff that pops up in my feed, I also have an appetite for 911 calls, sad addicts swaying back and forth, and street brawls.
It is fascinating to see what the algorithm feeds you, because it is clearly responding to how long your eyes stayed focused on an image. It is embarrassing, and revealing. And we know that everything we have viewed and searched is an open book. The police, or whomever, can look through your searches and find out what you have been watching or thinking about, and if they follow your phone, where you have been!
What a little trap the cell phone is! The radiating little box of distractions! Maybe if I look there today there will be a message from one of my children. Maybe something good will come of opening up this box and looking inside. At the very least I might laugh. I love the absurdity of a good meme. I love humanity, to be honest. I love all of us idiots. The absurdity and the wit that is all mixed in with the dregs, it draws me back, ever hopeful.
FB can be fun! Hearing from friends and comments from friendly acquaintances! FB has quite a bit of actual utility too. First of all there is the free phone, or facetiming. This is huge and anyone cutting costs would be reluctant to give that away! They got us with that, alone.
And FB is also often necessary, even essential, for work. I used social media for my work when I was a Communications Coordinator, checking out what was happening in the theatre world and adding it to my weekly bulletin. In fact, if I needed to locate an actor or playwright for a professional reason and the email/phone number was out of date, I was generally successful when I searched for the person on Facebook. It is a useful tool for communication.
Also, FB’s is useful for advertising, whether you are planning a community event or you are promoting your own work or art; I do get most of my readers for my blog posts from Facebook. And this is where the whole utility idea gets murky, even downright dirty, because we if we need FB for our work, then our FB must be tailored for our work. We can announce our opinions and politics on FB, but it might not ‘jive’ with our employer or potential market. So then we have to decide whether to censor ourselves.
It is possible to have separate opinions than our employers, if they are good enough to ‘allow’ people to have a private life, but it is tricky. There can easily be fallout. We have all warned young people not to post too many ‘partying’ photos on their social media. But these days a ‘like ‘ on the wrong post can get you fired. I remember last winter when a representative from the LGBTQ community was ‘outed’ and fired from their positions for expressing support for the Trucker Convoy.
We have all found that we must monitor our online presence or we may find ourselves on the wrong side of our ‘community’. We are policing each other! I think most people have experienced peer pressure regarding their posts. There is pressure to post the correct sentiments and issues for your particular ‘group’. Have you ever been questioned for not posting ‘enough’ about a particular issue? I see young people working on their posts and reactions as if updating their social media is a part time job, and I guess it is!
FB is work, and it can get you work. If you aren’t employed you are creating an online presence that will help you get work. For many people, one job is not enough, and even if you have one job, you must always be prepared for a layoff. In this stark environment with everyone on the prowl for work, most people are forced to behave like entrepreneurs with their own private life. So many young people now see their social media presences as an essential part of their ‘hire-ability’. In one of the saddest developments of late stage capitalism, we have become the CEO’s of our own personal stories and must create a ‘vision’ for our lives.
So FB, fun and easy, is a voluntary surveillance system in which we police each other. Lovely. And we know it is true. But it is difficult to turn off. I know this because I can’t seem to close it down. I enjoy posting my photos and little essays and getting responses. We are social animals and we cannot resist a tool that increases our ability to communicate. We are always hungry, and never satisfied. One more video, one more text, one more look!
I would really like to a break from all of this. I want to remember how it feels to live without this constant surveillance. Constantly tied in, constantly hooked up, constantly on stage. I would very much like to end the endless scrolling and the directed marketing of ‘news’.
I want to remember what it is like not to have social media or a phone. I’ll work on the old desktop and print on WordPress, but that’s it. And like any strict diet, I will give myself a set time. Two months? Wait, can I shut down FB and keep the free Messenger? (yes, ‘they’ say). And it just so happens that I have just begun an actual clean food diet, with just the bare minimum of food for two weeks, and only the cleanest of food. I am trying to heal my sensitive gut. Why not clean up my habits on the computer at the same time? ? Close it down. Walk away from cookies and muffins and waffles. Let my body heal. Let my mind heal.
This should not be a big deal. But just saying that I will quit social media makes me feel a momentary hesitation, as if I was letting go of a life raft. And that alarms me even more. Why am I hesitating? What would I actually be losing?
I know it will be tough at first, like cutting out sugar. I crave the sweet in my mouth but not the effect on my stomach and nerves. Sugar is basically a poison and we keep ingesting it for the momentary sensation. That is the effect of social media, transitory and destructive. And once I am off sugar I am amazed at just how many really unhealthy things I ate!
I am emotionally split about my relationship with social media. I love connecting with people. I like the feeling of making someone happy. Maybe I can make someone laugh, or feel joy, or connect with me about something I have written. Maybe they will cry, but in tune with the universe. I love making connections. I think it is our purpose. On the earth. That’s why I liked waitressing. You get a moment to pass happiness, to give joy, to serve a good meal. You serve, and like a mother, you receive pleasure in return.
One of the highlights of my Facebook life was early in the COVID years when we all thought the virus was a passing crisis with an end in sight. During isolation and lock down, we walked every day, an hour, through the woods, across the empty highway, all the way to the beaver pond. We walked and talked, kept working, kept dreaming, even hoped that the world could be improved by less air travel and more conscientious local shopping and living. We were idealists, it seems.
I took photos of my beautiful region every day as I walked and then I posted them on a Facebook page that I had set up for our region. I got a lot of comments and some of the comments were from faraway, from people who had moved away and missed the seasons and the beauty of their old home. Someone commented that they would love a calendar made of the photos and I decided I could do that. I searched through all my photos and found appropriate photos for every month and I went to the fabulous Acadia Printing company in Amherst NS where they set it up.
I sold the calendars on Facebook for the cost it took to print them and I set up a date in Port Elgin to sell them out of my car trunk for pick up. I also drove off into the winter nights and delivered the calendars to cozy homes lit up by Christmas lights, meeting new neighbours and standing in warm kitchens during the ‘crisis’ lockdown. I mailed calendars to addresses in Canada and in the United States. It was quite a bit of work but the experience was heart warming.
I have not repeated the experience, though you never know, I might. But if I leave Facebook, how would I even connect to everyone? We’ll see. Right now I choose to fast, from bread and sugar and endless scrolling. It’s a fast. Not a complete rejection. An experiment to see how it feels to live with less indulgences. No muffins, no memes. I can do it.