Recently there has been talk about people leaving social media for various reasons, especially Facebook because of its use of account holders’ information for financial gain. However people feel about that, users on Facebook and other social media sites must accept terms of service, but more than 50% probably have not read the fine print. This does not mean what these sites do with personal information is ethical, but it does indicate that users have a chance to not accept those terms of service.
These are the times that try our souls, but perhaps that can be said about many moments in the history of the human race. During my lifetime I recall a number of times feeling scared about things, as if the world were coming apart – wars, riots, natural disasters, and political turmoil all seemed to weigh me down.
I don’t know if it is a comfort or not to think that many generations have had similar anxieties, but right now seems a difficult time for many people, yet that burden may have a bright side – because life is a series of a good times and bad times, and the heft of the darkness is necessary in order to appreciate the light, but light is not lightness. Light purifies and is cathartic after the heavy dark times, but lightness is merely a distraction, allowing us to drift somewhere between light and dark.
The Anomaly of Social Media
The thought of going home and reading a good book used to be comforting to me, but now I come home from work and feel compelled to sit down, turn on the laptop, and “check on things,” which is my euphemism for my using social media. It is not enough that I have been checking on things on my phone throughout the day – this is just a more thorough checking on things.
What am I – and apparently millions of my fellow human beings – so fixated on checking out? Of course, the answer is all those sites that connect me somehow to other people – Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of those places that draw me to them. I want to see if someone has liked my posts, and I want to see if other users like the posts that I have liked. It is a relentless drive to reach out, but nothing is tangible in reality. It’s a virtual sea with lots of virtual ships that I will observe from a distance but never get to actually ride on them.
The problem with social media is it antisocial by nature. Besides the current divisiveness that has its origins in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there has been a sharp edge to social media that leaves wounds that don’t always heal. There is always that one person looking to start a fight, and social media provides millions of opponents on a silver platter. The problem is that it is not an even playing field for many users who are there for benign reasons; therefore, the possibilities for negative outcomes are endless.
I Like It Anyway
Despite the obvious problems with social media, I like it anyway. I am drawn to go on these sites each day, and I know I should be doing other things, but I cannot kick the habit, which is the reason why these sites are successful. The are like Lays Potato Chips – you cannot consume information from just one post – because you want to ingest them all.
I enjoy seeing posts by friends and family members who share photos from vacations, blizzards, and barbecues. I have watched some of my relatives and friends’ children grow up on these sites, and that is part of the pleasure and the lure to go on them; however, the majority of posts I see are not of this nature. There are numerous political posts from both sides of the aisle, rants about other issues, and a good deal of frivolous matter (like Bollywood videos and obscure movie clips).
The time spent on social media is a guilty pleasure to be sure but, despite all the diverse posts that I see on these sites, I don’t come away with anything substantial. This goes back to the life well-lived question. Most times I don’t feel good about being on social media and sometimes feel guilty. It is not like the feeling I get when reading Langston Hughes’s poems, seeing Macbeth on stage, or listening to Mozart’s Requiem; these things elevate my soul despite their heft. Being on social media is more the frivolous experience – I know I’m wasting time and I like the fact that I am even if it is embarrassing.
The Thought of Quitting
As someone who has never smoked, I have seen the difficulty people have in quitting that habit. The thought of quitting social media comes now and then, but it quickly dissipates because my desire to go online again is stronger than the notion that I should refrain from doing so. There have been times when I am away on a trip and unable to access these sites, and I am fine with that and don’t feel like I am missing anything. Soon as I get home though I want to get on the sites again, give an update on my trip, and post pictures.
If I am brutally honest with myself, quitting social media means ending my public online celebration of self. Because of social media the self has come to mean more than it ever has before and, if you are supposed to love yourself before being able to love others, judging from what is seen on social media, there’s a lot of love going around. Think of the selfie as the best perversion of that concept that has ever existed. The selfie explosion says, “I want to post all things about me” and has enabled sharing ourselves with the world, but at what long term cost is yet to be determined.
Still, I got up today and thought again about quitting social media, but my posting this essay is proof of how well that went.
The problem with social media is the lightness of it. There is no substance, no heft; it is mostly fluff that may be pretty but is vacuous. If someone tries to make a statement that is meaningful, it goes either unnoticed or ignored.
Only the flamers get attention – whether they lean left or right – and then the haters get sucked in like moths to that flame. Then there are people who want you to “share” their fluff. They’ll write something icky like, “I’m going to see who reads this whole post.” Man, does that get me scrolling faster than Jesse Owens away from that one.
In the venues of social media, gone is the notion of scholarship, integrity, and discourse. Either you see something their way, or you are excoriated as being the enemy, so it’s a case of either agree with the fluff or get out of here. There is no middle and that is why things are falling apart.
In Milan Kundera’s exquisite novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, he writes, “The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.” I think of social media as that feather floating in the wind. It sure seems carefree, but it’s never going anywhere. Real world things do weigh us down, make us understand a truth that we used to know before our heads were lost in the iCloud.
Kundera continues, “Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
No one seeks a burden or conflict, but as Kundera notes those things do define our lives and make the good times seem even better. Unfortunately, on social media conflict is happening all the time – sometimes alienating family members or friends. Perhaps many users are like rubberneckers who stop traffic in order to look at an accident, for they can get their entertainment watching others go at it. It all seems so superficial and meaningless at times – a lightness that seems never-ending.
Accepting Social Media for What It Is Not
I suppose that I am staying on social media because I am accepting it for what it is not – a place to go for information, facts, and serious dialogue. I can fulfill those needs in other ways.
Accepting social media and all its imperfections, I know I will continue to enjoy seeing my friends and relatives’ posts, laugh at the occasional funny post, and get to waste some time for the joy of it. Sure, the real world is out there with all its burdens and rewards, but sometimes it feels good to get away from it all and embrace the lightness for all that it’s worth.