Cheri's Hypertext Monster

17 Jul 2021

No Social Media Club

The first rule of no-social-media-club is that you shut your yap about no-social media club.

For years I’ve wondered why 99% of articles about quitting social media are written by people who haven’t quit social media. Sure, they “quit” for a week, a month, or in rare cases, a year. The Pew Research Center says that 30% of Americans don’t use social media at all. Where are their thought pieces?

Now, I kind of get it. After you opt-out the whole notion of explaining yourself to “the internet” feels kinda nutty. The invisible audience we’ve all been narrating our lives to since 2008 is gone, and you realize you’ve mostly been talking to yourself.

Hence the lip zippage.

Also, if you’ve quit social media there’s a good chance you’re enjoying the experience of feeling like a private citizen again. In a way, I feel like I’m living in 2005, except that maps talk while I drive and notes from my mom and my friends are beamed into my pocket from SPACE.

When you quit social media, you might feel like you’ve escaped a mass delusion. I’d developed a casual habit of narrating my days, selecting the choicest nuggets to share out as offerings to the Gods of Attention. Old choices may baffle you. I told Twitter when I went to a donut shop? With a picture of a donut? Why? Why would I do that?

HOW MANY HOURS HAVE I WASTED IN STATUS UPDATES, DOOM SCROLLING, AND MEMES? HOLY SHIT. I’M FORTY-TWO!

I can hear the voice of my younger self, giving me a lecture:

“You all do WHAT for hours and hours? You people are NUTS. No wonder the world is ending in flames. Go outside and plant a fucking tree or something. Do something that matters. Do something real!”

She’s harsh, but she’s right.

Fuck, I think. I’d like to do something real.

The Impact of Sharing Thoughts & Feelings

Right here, I stumble upon another reason not to talk about no-social-media-club. My feelings are true to me, but I don’t want others to feel judged for what they choose to do. There was a time when our messier feelings were shared in certain contexts. At home. With family. With friends. With a therapist. Not online. Not like this. Not where someone who recently shared a donut photo might feel momentarily stung by my essay. You see my dilemma, no? What is currently truth for me might be a hurtful barb to someone else.

My brain speaks:

Words are not inert. They can hurt. The casual sharing of what flits dimly through our brains has caused a lot of harm to the world these past 12 years. It’s destroyed families. It’s torn communities apart. And it’s ended friendships.

Sharing feels good, but it can cause harm too. I see this more clearly now, but I’m not sure what to do with it.

Where Does Blogging Fit In?

Lately, I’ve struggled with why I’m blogging. Am I merely an attention-seeker in a different venue? Might it be emotionally healthier to disappear entirely, to take up full residence in the flesh-and-blood world, to keep my damn thoughts to myself?

Perhaps. Yet here I am breaking the one and only rule of no-social-media-club by writing about it.

Writing is how I think. These essays turn a vague swirl of emotions and opinions into something I can work with. And why share? I tell myself it’s because I want to be useful. Heaven knows I’ve scoured the internet for helpful information before only to find a bunch of dead-eyed listsicles about ten things I learned by quitting social media over my lunch break that one time. But is my motivation pure? No.

Every writer wants to be read. Every writer feels a little thrill when something they wrote plucks someone else’s heart or mind like a guitar string. But where do I draw the line between the various types of sharing? Is it all the same? Am I a narcissist?

I don’t think sharing makes someone a narcissist. We’re just people being people. And I like people! Absent toxic manipulations, the blogosphere can be an extension of the real world. I so enjoy posts by my fellow micro bloggers. Yes, even donut photos.

Still, I remain leery of my own motives. I am harder on myself than on others.

Being Dead // Being Alive

In South Park season twenty there’s an episode where Heidi, having seen how social media is tearing her community apart, quits Twitter. Her teacher and classmates react as if she’s dead. They process their feelings together and tweet eulogies while she’s sitting right next to them with a WTF look on her face.

I laughed! You can always count on South Park for biting social commentary.

Is that a joke, though? During the pandemic I read an essay by a guy who’d had something similar happen to him. He dropped off Facebook and his friends literally thought he was dead. They didn’t email him. They didn’t call or visit. They just exchanged panicked messages with each other on Facebook.

When you drop off social media, you might experience a kind of death.

Two years ago, I tried to quit Twitter. While that attempt didn’t take, I spent the summer with my cell phone turned off unless I was using it. I rode the bus, and I remember sitting there, looking around, while dozens of people around me stared down at their phones, swiping, swiping, swiping, their faces slack, the light from tiny screens illuminating their cheekbones or flabby chins. It was an eerie experience. I felt like a ghost, neither fully dead nor fully alive. The bus was still there, and the world was still there, but the people weren’t. Only their bodies.

It seems to me that there are two worlds now. One online, one off. Post-social media, I’m returning to the flesh-and-blood world to find it somewhat abandoned.

I want to repopulate the real, but I don’t know how.

Do you?