The only reason I signed up for Facebook 10 years ago was to please a girlfriend. I didn’t see much point in it, but I signed up anyway since she asked me to. At this point, I wonder if that was my first social media mistake.
I was online far earlier than most people. In the early ’90s, I was active on CompuServe message boards. I quickly became a discussion leader and then “SysOp” — which originally meant “system operator” but eventually just came to represent the managers of a forum.
I liked some of the people I met online and I loathed others. At times, I got involved in horrible flame wars that embarrass me now. Years after that, I was quite involved for awhile on a message board for independent filmmakers. Again, it was a mixed bag. A lot of the people were insufferable, but I’m also still friends with some of those people and I ended up meeting some of them in real life.
As social media services have become more and more important in modern life, I find that it’s become a more and more toxic environment. I’m seriously questioning whether I still want to be part of social media.
For several years now, I’ve had a horrible feeling about what the online world has become, so I’ve already slashed my use of social media quite a bit.
• I’ve gone from 5,000 Facebook “friends” to slightly fewer than 750.
• I’ve reduced my level of posting greatly over the last few years. I no longer get involved in online arguments. I frequently don’t even read comments about controversial subjects and I respond to such comments even more rarely.
• My involvement in social media other than Facebook is pretty much token at best. People constantly tell me that I need social media for success in the 21st century, so I’ve maintained a presence, but I fail to see much that’s positive, especially when it comes to Twitter.
By any sane standard, I’ve cut out the worst of social media by trimming my contacts and avoiding arguments when possible. Although I still post a few things which are politically and philosophically charged, I don’t argue with people who disagree. I don’t even post to change anyone’s mind. It’s merely to express frustrations about things which seem obvious to me.
But what’s the point?
Isn’t most of the time I spend on social media wasted time? Doesn’t it suck up my time and offer very little in return?
There are definitely some positives to social media. I’ve met some good people I’d never have met otherwise. If I cut myself off further from Facebook, for instance, there are some people I’d miss. I’d no longer share jokes and comics with certain other people who appreciate the same odd humor that I do. I’d no longer have a way to share my photos — of cats and Lucy and sunsets, for instance — with some people who appreciate those pictures.
But overall, why am I sticking around?
I joined Facebook for a woman and I stayed active for the last few years mostly for another woman. There was someone who I’d lost active contact with and I hoped we could resume a relationship one day. But after I found it necessary to painfully end contact with her, that killed most of my reason for remaining. Facebook seemed pretty empty after that.
Even after reducing my use of Facebook and other social media, I’m still left with the empty feeling that they’re still sucking up too much of my time and giving me little in return. And I can’t decide what to do.
How do we maintain contact with the shrinking number of people online who we truly like when the modern way to do that is to do it on Facebook? How do we use social media to promote our careers when we’re wading through toxic sludge and wondering when the positive promotion starts?
If I give up on social media entirely, will I find “real life” social activity to take its place? It’s odd to think of it that way, but more and more of our social contact really is the digital kind. Is it possible that pushing the digital world out of the way would lead me back to a more of the old-fashioned analog connections that I need?
I feel as though this is a disorganized stream of consciousness, because I have so much to say about this subject, both for good and bad.
I realize that it might seen odd to be using a form of social media to call social media toxic, but I’m not really sure that my writing here qualifies as social media. This is more akin to a modern-day version of someone who writes books or pamphlets and publishes them for the world to read. I still have things to say, but I’m interested in publishing and producing — not in the toxic shouting matches which characterize most of social media.
There’s a short film I’ve been wanting to make for the last year or so, but I haven’t had the time or budget to make it. The short is based on the notion that the social media world is a cacophony of voices which are all screaming to be heard — sometimes with nonsense, sometimes with anger and hate, sometimes with random ideas.
What if nobody is listening? What if we’re all screaming from our rooftops to be heard? What if all of us are shouting or whispering into a void — hoping that someone hears us and understands us and accepts us? What if we’re all so busy hoping to be heard that nobody is heard?
Social media has lost most of its remaining purpose for me — ever since she isn’t there anymore — so I’m struggling with what the point is. When she was still there, I’m not sure I realized the degree to which I was talking to her all the time, even though I was ostensibly talking to everybody.
I want to walk away, but I’m afraid I might be missing something. I’m afraid there might be some way to make it safe that I’m overlooking.
All I know is that I’m closer and closer to walking away, maybe for awhile and maybe for good. Something has to change.