So over six weeks ago, I took a long break from social media. I was really busy with work and needed to focus on it. But also, I wanted to avoid all the holiday hubbub that had absolutely nothing to do with me, even with a Christmas birthday.
Bah humbug, basically. It does make me wonder if Scrooge was a Capricorn.
Ultimately, this has been something I’ve been wrestling with for years–what is social media’s use to me, besides making me feel like I’m not enough and too much?
I’ve reckoned with the looming fact that as much as I have been online for my entire adult life, I don’t really understand social media anymore. And maybe I never did.
It makes me feel competitive and jealous over appeared differences, and that makes me feel ill–mainly the humblebrag that isn’t humble, just bragging. I imagine if I was in a face-to-face conversation with someone, telling me about great their life is…well, no one wants to hang with that person, and very rarely do people talk like that. But on social media, it’s totally OK!
Recently, I was reading posts like this on Instagram and Facebook and it made me punchy. It’s not that I begrudge anyone of their successes, nor their celebration of them–even if for me, 2018’s only true success was that I SURVIVED. It’s just…I don’t know how this discourse became so braggadocious.
And maybe posts like that inspires or heartens others. And sure, I’m definitely in a place in my life that could use some inspiration and uplift. But somehow, when it’s said on social media, it doesn’t feel inclusive. It feels very impersonal, and like we’re competing for some unattainable prize of most awesome.
If you have even one modicum of dissatisfaction in your life, social media will exploit it.
Anyway, it’s nothing new, right? We’ve all felt less than after reading someone’s post about how fucking amazing their lives are. And then the winter holidays make those albeit natural but very weighty feelings even more heavy. I felt both like Scrooge and Tiny Tim at the same time, even before Thanksgiving.
So, I mercifully logged off, because no one needs to feel even more alone during the holidays while watching people celebrate with friends and family (as they edit out all the tough conversations and heartache and grief), and you are a party of one–which there should be no shame in.
So while I was away, I finally decided not to be ashamed of my life, which goes beyond the holidays. It’s not easy to not compare your life to someone else’s when you’re online, even when you know that so much of this fake or at least not the whole story. So logging off solved that. It may be something I do every year, no matter how awesome or awful my life is, because it really fucks with your head and your sense of worth, even if everything is OK.
What if life could be better? Why aren’t you having people around that love you? Why aren’t you financially successful? Why are you hashtag blessed?
Well, the messy and complicated answer to these almost ridiculous questions is–well, there are a lot of reasons–many of them you can’t control, and some of them you will never be able to ascertain or perceive.
I believe, I hope, I filled all those heart-holes that social media is always trying to widen and fill with resentment. It’s probably going to be a process because part of me is like, whoa, how did I get here? I used to not give a flying fuck about this stuff. And in that way, social media isn’t necessary the root of that problem. That’s just my life sucking.
But here’s the difference for me–I remember back in the 90s turning to social media when my life was sucking. I found a lot of amazing people to be friends with. There was no competition or bragging or curating or branding or selling. It was just people talking about each other’s lives.
So back then, social media was a savior and a beacon during a long bout of clinical depression. But now, social media has become completely the opposite. And I’m not even talking about harassment. That’s a whole separate topic, which thankfully, for now, I have rarely experienced.
Whatever deeper connections I was looking for online, like I found in my youth, I don’t really believe they are there like that…anymore, like ripened fruit dropping from trees. Now, I tend to just luck upon them, and even then they don’t last very long.
So one of the biggest things I’ve had to come to peace with is the age that I live in now. It’s not the 90s or the 20th century anymore. We are well within this millennium and century and decade, and for me, it’s too impersonal and transactional for me.
Also, there’s a generational shift. I’m not millennial enough to get this social landscape anymore (although it’s arguable that some Gen Xers created this mess we’re). And although there are probably plenty of Gen Xers killing this game…well, that’s the thing. This has never been some game for me. If social media is just a popularity contest, then I will always lose. I’m fine with that since I understand that is a game. In 1997, it was just me talking to people about stuff. Now it’s commerce and buying fake followers and YouTube views.
This has been the longest time I haven’t been on social media, and I finally feel like I fell out of step with the emotional tone of this…place. For example, I was lurking a couple of days ago, seeing people I know and love rage-tweet about something that just didn’t seem to be worth the energy. If I had been on there all the time, I may have been more into this, but it just seemed almost like a privilege to sit around and bitch. I could be wrong about the topic, which I will not mention, but it was something that wouldn’t really directly affect me.
And maybe that’s something I should digger deeper in, too. Maybe I get caught up in rage storms just because I’m there, like I’m a piece of driftwood. It’s not like what matters to me is rage tweeted by others, either.
That speaks to the cult of personality that I have never been into or never will be. My personality doesn’t really invoke a following, but that’s how you make it in the world today–which, whatever, I’m opting out.
So I suck at this, hardcore. And yet, I didn’t used to. The landscape has changed. And I’m tired of being frustrated about it because that’s what social media now is designed to do. It’s like one long commercial provoking you to hate yourself and other people. It feels dirty and gross.
I mean, clearly–it’s not the only way social media works. At least one of you reading this right now found me through social media. So I’m not completely terrible at it. But in a numbers game? After 10 years, there should be more to show for it. Allegedly. And I don’t even need to invoke quantity vs. quality here. Twitter, for example, is a very transient place. Lots of people I knew who were on more regularly have gone.
Still, being myself, being “authentic” doesn’t work in the way I’ve “marketed” myself as a brand. What “value” am I adding? Who the fuck knows?
All those truisms work for some people, but not everyone. Yet everyone gets on this mindless treadmill to get to this unreachable place of popularity because that’s what all those stupid likes and retweets force us to do to be allegedly relevant.
To that end, if you haven’t watched the holiday special Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas on Netflix, you should (here’s a review from io9).
My “game” has always been to connect and I saw the internet as a way to connect to people I otherwise wouldn’t AND as a way to keep in touch with people I rarely saw. But, at least on a metric level, I just can’t do this here. I can barely stand that it’s OK to tweet to someone and not reply–and this person can be your friend. I still find that to be rude because there’s no way that would fly offline (although it’s happened to me offline, too). Yet somehow, if we’re online, it’s OK to (pretend to) be distracted.
It makes me just ask: so…why are you actually here?
It’s not to say that I still don’t have some good people in my life from the internet. And the internet IS IRL. More and more, our lives are being reliant to being online. I couldn’t work without the internet. But it’s more that my offline life isn’t being augmented by my online life–like it used to be.
So maybe if I made connecting offline more of a priority in all ways, I can find what I used to find back in the happy, shiny 90s. Even connecting with myself more these past six weeks has been great, dare I say a necessity. I loved this story from over the holidays where this woman logged off for a week and tried to read 30 books in this time. She read 12, but good for her.
And, while I was away, I’d be remiss to not mention all the ridiculous news re: Facebook and how it handed our data on a silver platter to companies. Social media is a gotdamn shitshow.
Oh, one last rant about online life and then I’ll update you on my offline activities–people suck at email. For example, I’ve been trying to write a few stories and talk to my sources. I know it’s still kind of the holidays but seriously?! Maybe I should have taken off some more time.
I really don’t feel like I was made for these times. Maybe I was born too late, but that would make me an insufferable Baby Boomer. Ugh.
Anyway, so I’m back online now. And I feel like I’ve changed a lot, which I will write about later. It could be coincidental to having lived a life where I wasn’t curating my thoughts online, but I doubt it.
Here’s the running list of things I had to say while I was away:
- The Pet Shop Boys are perfection. I believe I started listening to them in earnest because I was listening to a lot of Robbie Williams, whom I also love and adore. He did a cover of their cover of “We’re the Pet Shop Boys” so I was intrigued. I listened to their whole discography and pretty much liked everything. It was great to listen to while I worked, but then I would get distracted. I really want this book by Neil Tennant One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem which is on my Christmas Birthday Wishlist if you want to get it for me. *wink wink*
- Australians have given us a lot of slang. The word “selfie” is an Aussie word. I learned that from this side work I did which took up a lot of the time while I was away from social media.
- Motown really is amazing. Another thing I learned from my sidework. I watched In the Shadow of Motown later and learned about the greatest bassist who ever lived, James Jamerson. I wrote about that for my patrons on Patreon if you want to read it.
- I’m from Alabama and had no idea that Muscle Shoals was a thing at all. I watched the music doc Muscle Shoals and had no idea that Helen Keller, Sam Phillips, and W.C. Handy were from there. I also had no idea about the music studios and producers that helped to create iconic albums from the 60s and 70s. I honestly thought it was in southern Alabama, too, not northern Alabama. I once had a friend who lived in Florence, which is a part of that area. So basically, I had no idea where she lived.
- I listened to the top 2018 songs on Spotify and it all sounds the same. I decided on New Year’s Eve to listen to Spotify’s playlist and it was just variations of The Hamsterdance Song. I really wasn’t missing out on much except maybe the Black Panther soundtrack. My ears bled otherwise.
- OMG, the Chicago Bears are doing well! WTF? I really missed Twitter when the Bears were playing. They freaking beat the Green Bay Packers. And then I watched them play the Minnesota Vikings and win. I cannot believe we’re headed to the playoffs!
- The is macabre, but the Catherine wheel should have been one of those times God flood the earth again. I was listening to a Crowded House album, one of the deluxe versions with outtakes and demos, and they had some lovely song about the Catherine wheel, which I never knew what it was. I knew it was some 90s band that I never listened. It was a medieval torture and killing device which I still don’t even understand because it was so ghastly. I’m not even going to write about it, but man–Europeans have some fucking issues, and that is putting it mildly. That would have been an epic tweetstorm, but alas, I was offline.
Anyway, that’s just a few of the things I almost wish I was online to talk about.
I tend to want to come to complete answers and solutions quickly, but my relationship with social media is more of an ongoing conversation. The conversation has changed over the past decade. So while I was offline, I mourned that this virtual place has become a place of longing and not lasting connection. It’s an early adopter issue, for sure.
So basically, I don’t know how to be a healthy, connected human on here like I’m used to. I can only do that by being on here less. I put way too much of my heart and emotions into something that has given my diminishing returns. That insanity ended last year.
I just can’t take this place as seriously anymore, even though there are clearly serious ramifications from being online.
So when it comes to disseminating my own thoughts and feelings about anything online, I realized I was mainly speaking in a cold, dark room with very little light. Or, like a few years ago in grad school through a Facebook and blogging mishap, I was speaking to people who were insecure (just like I was). So at the very least, I’ll speak to people who want to listen.
If social media had helped me with my immediate needs, with poverty and loneliness, I’d be a lot more grateful. But really, a big lesson from this sabbatical was that I had to learn to deal with this stuff myself–at least this time, that’s what was required. And I’m really proud that I dug myself out of this hole. I feel less anxious, abandoned, and ashamed. I feel more like myself, more expansive, more like a real person with real emotional needs.
Social media isn’t really about my relationship to the rest of the world or American society, though–it just pretends to be that conduit. Yet it can be a very powerful distortion that unfortunately starts to affect society and the people in it. The past few weeks, I had to remind myself I had more control of how I feel and how I communicate with others–if at all.
This isn’t a zero-sum game. And it’s not even a game I have to play at all.
So my hope is that my life will look a lot more like it was in the early aughts than it does now–more balanced, more with people I love and who love me, and less concerned about people I may never meet offline.
This may be real life, being online, but it doesn’t have to be my whole life any longer.
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Thanks for your support! Happy Holidays! 💘