Time to reclaim my peace and sanity.
The Covid-19 crisis has provided far too fertile ground for reigniting my love affair with social media. In isolation, I found myself reaching for my iPhone more and more, not only to check Instagram (my usual go-to social media account) but to start scrolling through posts of Facebook. “Hey, it okay to be digesting this more than I have been doing,” I told myself. “This way I can stay connected.” But, like a person with an addiction to alcohol, it was like telling myself that one, two, or three drinks would be okay to take the edge off. That’s how addictions lure us back.
Let me back up for a minute…
I had dramatically reduced my love affair with social media after the 2016 presidential election. My head and my emotions had become royally fried, especially with my engagement and participation on Facebook. The behavior I’d witnessed online, and the barrage of sensational stories left me with a profound sense of sadness and a big helping of hopelessness. I didn’t like who I became when I was “plugged in”—so much in fact that I completely deleted my Facebook profile. I pretty much abandoned Twitter (I still have my profile, but I almost never touch it) since it became, in my opinion, too much a mouthpiece of hatred and provided so little inspiration. Instagram became my one concession. I loved it because I love photography and making artistic statements through photos vs. rhetoric
All seemed fine for a couple of years. Then I created a new Facebook account, promising myself, “This time it will be different and I WILL practice restraint.” I did, for the most part, and prided myself on taking the high road with interactions and not jumping into the fray when people started piling on clickbait designed to light a fuse to humanity’s most negative emotions. I connected with people I cared about. In fact, one of my sisters urged me to do a virtual exhibition and retrospective of my paintings from the last twenty-five years. That was great, really great—for the most part.
I was heading into another love affair with social media.
How did I know? Well, I found myself reaching for my iPhone with alarming frequency. First thing in the morning and last thing before turning out the light. It almost became unconscious. The primary reasons? First, to check people’s responses to my painting posts. How many likes was I getting? Validation is a powerful drug, isn’t it? Then, I was comparing the likes of different paintings. Why did so many people like one and not another? Why didn’t so-and-so comment on one when I expected they’d be first to do so?
“Uh-oh,” I began to think to myself. “Here you go again.”
The second reason? I started scrolling (i.e. a deep dive) through all the posts showing up on my feed. Then, the politics started seemed to multiply before my eyes (how did they suddenly seem to “find” me?). I landed on one post from a follower. She was gleefully pointing out a “hidden” news story about Hilary Clinton having to be deposed and testify about her emails in September. Mind you, I wasn’t Hilary’s most enthusiastic supporter, but my immediate reaction was, “Is this next election going to be diverted to putting Hilary Clinton on public trial again rather than just looking at current facts and making logical, rational decisions?” Comments already were piling onto this Hilary Clinton post. One person’s response was something along the lines of “I’d give this a thousand likes if I could!” I felt my blood pressure rising, and my fingers readied themselves for jumping into the conversation with a well-worded zinger that surely would shut this nonsense down.
But, somehow I found the strength to restrain myself and I muted this person’s feeds.
All the above was showing me that I was creeping dangerously close back to another full-on love affair with social media. I saw the hallmarks of my former addiction. And, it was spilling over into obsessively checking the news feed on my phone.
How did I let myself get hijacked like this again?
The dark clouds were rolling into the skies of my psyche again. I could see and feel the potential for this to get worse with both the Covid-19 crisis and the nearing presidential election. Yes, a perfect storm was gathering.
Then a voice, seemingly out of the blue.
Sure, I was gratified to connect with dear friends and family on multiple levels through social media, especially since the Atlantic Ocean became a big fat barrier to seeing friends and family on U.S. soil. But what was the overall price I was paying and the net effect on my psyche? This was the key question to reflect on hard and deep. And then, someone just “happened” to mention a guy they’d heard about, Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley guy who’d written a book called Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. The hairs stood up on my arm. I hadn’t mentioned anything about the current scrutiny of my love affair with social media. This was as though the Universe was saying, “Well, you did ask, so here’s some perspective.”
“An unfortunate fact is that you can train someone using behaviorist techniques, and the person doesn’t even know it.” —Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social media Accounts Right Now
Uh-oh, my love affair with social media was about to be in a heap of trouble. Here was one of them, you know, the guys from the heart of social media land, sharing unpleasant truths about how social media is fueled, perpetuated, and grown. And, primarily as a cash cow of profit for the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in particular.
At first, I was incredibly skeptical.
This was going to be yet another person making more than a few bucks from sensationalism about social media. And here was someone challenging me to make a whole-hog decision about my love affair social media, not simply a pared-back approach that still allowed me to dip into Facebook and Instagram (in particular) for my cherished dopamine hits from being liked and having a respectable number of friends and followers.
My hackles were up and I was ready to protest. Then I saw the guy in a video, an obese fella with unruly dreadlocks. “Why should I listen to someone who looks like that?” I asked myself before realizing how I was reaching for nasty little prejudices to discredit someone who was about to tell us something I didn’t want to hear. Ouch. It’s amazing how many biases we have lurking in the shadows.
But, having properly chastised myself, I started to listen. By the end of the talk, I was leaning forward and found myself on the edge of my seat. I swallowed hard. “Crap,” I thought, “This man knows his stuff. And I have to make a change.”
More fuel from those who’ve “been there” and lived in the heart of social media.
In the first part of Lanier’s book is a quote that shook me to my core:
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works…. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem… I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen…So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.”
– Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth at Facebook
Pause, and think about that for a few seconds, particularly, “It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other.”
What do I do?
Frankly, I haven’t made a decision yet, other than putting Facebook and Instagram on pause for at least a couple of weeks. You know, enough time to clear my head of the constant sneaky barrage of influence that just wants me to jump into the wrestling match of humanity that seems to tipping the scales to the ugly side. I’ve got to let my head breathe and I’ve got to find my footing. I have to find peace in the middle of the current storm.
An important challenge.
Am I ready to make some hard breaks in my love affair with social media? As Jaron Lanier posits, unless enough people make a significant enough statement by stepping entirely away from the “biggies,” nothing will really change.
If you’ve been following the news these past couple of months, you may have heard that Facebook seems to be a leading source of misinformation about Covid-19.
“Misinformation about COVID-19 is more likely to be sourced from Facebook compared to Twitter or YouTube, research suggests.” — Newsweek, July 6, 2020
As Zuckerburg has resisted making real, lasting change to Facebook, advertisers have been steadily falling away and the company’s value has dropped significantly. Now, suddenly Mark Zukerburg is hopping on a white horse to “launch a new section to debunk coronavirus myths.” Source CNBC.com
Staunch the bleeding. Well, it’s taken long enough. And, while it does seem the right thing to do, I have to ask whether this is a strategy to smooth things over, to position FB as the good guys, lure advertisers back, and then head back to the same steady grind of income from the people who pay to get consumers engaged and stirred up.
Lanier suggests that, unless enough people walk away and say “no” completely to companies like Facebook, there will never be a truly healthy alternative. He points out in the YouTube video above that television programming quality has really taken off with companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime now that people are paying for them. The challenge is that most people insist all this digital stuff must be free and accessible. They feel entitled to it. As long as they do, they’re going to be giving headspace to some unsavory profiteers who thrive on bringing out the worst in people.
My blogging experience.
I love almost everything about creating and building my blog. What I don’t like is the inquiries I get from people with thinly-veiled demands for detailed answers to hastily-worded dilemmas. It as though my presence on internet suggests to people that I’m a free and readily available service. I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like I’m a drive-up window for many people. I’ve experienced some people who, when they “place their orders,” can’t even say please when asking or thank you when I take the time to craft a thoughtful reply. So, I get how the internet and social media, as they currently exist, embolden behaviors that are less than courteous.
For me, it comes down to this essential question:
Does my love affair with social media bring me peace?
I can’t answer this just in the moment. I have to ask this from thirty-thousand feet so as to not be overly influenced by the little dopamine hits that tell me I’m happy for a moment and that if I can string together enough of them I’ll achieve some kind of long-lasting euphoria.
Other supporting questions: Do I like who am I while consuming social media? Has my window on the world become my iPhone or iPad screen? Can I leave home, go out with friends, go to dinner, without feeling sad (or deprived) because I’m leaving my digital device behind?
So, yes, a minimum of a two-week hiatus from Facebook and Instagram are essential for me to truly reflect on the questions and be honest with myself. If I pare back my involvement with the digital world, might that provide me more time for my creative pursuits? Might I take ItalyWise, my paintings, my photography, my videos to new levels?