My hubby and I just watched the documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. Now we’re chatting about it while he makes dinner.
This is probably one of the major reasons why we both managed to quit social media several years ago. We actually talk to each other, often for hours at a time! Face to face!
There was a time, probably around the same time for a lot of people, when we both got sucked into the void and started spending hours a day on Facebook. This felt necessary at the time, in the compulsive way that eating chips can. I can recall feeling antsy when I wanted to go check in on a conversation. When it started, we both shared a desktop computer, and sometimes we would want to edge each other out of the way.
He quit before I did. I couldn’t remember why, so I turned and asked him, and he reminded me that it was because he was unfriended by his former best friend. Someone he had known since they were five years old, best man at his first wedding. Obviously he was crushed.
(I didn’t realize that was why, although I knew the unfriending had happened at the time. I thought he was just getting fed up overall).
For me it was more gradual. I started feeling like logging in was an obligation, and then it started to get tedious, and then it started to get annoying, and then finally the very idea of logging in made me start physically breaking out in hives. I couldn’t even force myself.
Neither of us have ever really seen the point of Twitter or Instagram, probably because we’re older than the target demographic. We don’t have Snapchat or WhatsApp or... anything else that is too hip for us, although we do know what TikTok is.
One of the points raised in “The Social Dilemma” is that social media did some good in the world. It helped people find organ donors, it helped people reconnect with long-lost family members. I can agree with this - Facebook allowed me to track down a couple of old friends, one of whom then came to my wedding. There were a few good laughs and touching moments along the way.
At what cost, though? My husband isn’t the only one who lost a true lifelong friendship due to the weird, toxic dynamics of social media. Spellcheck thinks ‘unfriending’ is not a real word to this day, even though we all know exactly what it means.
The connection that “The Social Dilemma” makes between social media, political polarization, and civil unrest is very surprising, yet as an historian I know I won’t be able to unsee it. Nothing much good can come of a lot of people sitting alone in their rooms, staring at a heartless glass screen, and trying to decode each other’s thoughts and feelings through text alone.
Can anything be done about all of this? That’s where the conversation went between my honey and me.
I say yes, probably. The same people who created this manipulation machine know precisely how to manipulate it, having built it, and they may be able to make a few tweaks in how behaviors are incentivized, how platforms are monetized, what boundaries they set on content, and whether they ever start moderating the way that bulletin boards were in the mid-Nineties.
Something else we talked about was where the time went, and what we do now with the roughly three hours a day that somehow got swallowed up in the gaping maw of Facebook. My blog, for one. A truly absurd amount of news articles, including my beloved gator news. Toastmasters. Martial arts. My tech newsletter. Playing with our critter(s) and building Noelie’s parrot fort. Cooking. Reading novels.
That’s part of what helped me pull the plug - realizing that one year my reading had dropped by about half. Reading less had not made me a better person; it had made me a less recognizable person. I like myself better when I’m reading more books, rather than stewing over some rude conversation between “friends of friends” I’ve never even met in real life.
I have, though. Social media IS real life, even though in a lot of ways we think of it as a simulacrum. Maybe it can turn into something - not better - better isn’t really good enough - but something pro-social and positive, something that helps us feel more genuinely connected and that helps us to hold each other in benevolent and affectionate regard.
It could be happening right now. My husband and I watched a TV show together, and then we talked about it for an hour, and then I wrote about it, and now you’re reading it. Are you going to find someone and talk about it, too?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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