I am deeply grateful that I took two months and a half away from social media completely, so I can be having this conversation with myself with the understanding of what social media robs me of: my time, my focus, my attention, my presence, my deepest sense of knowing. I also understand what it gives me: access to friends and the ability to connect with people I otherwise wouldn’t meet. Now the task is to feel into a way of being with social media that serves me, which may mean only popping in once a week, otherwise keeping everything blocked, or something like that. The terrible thing is, the algorithms reward frequent use and engagement, and punish infrequent use, which only further convinces me of their inherent evil.
-narrowly conveyed self, thoughts, ideas, concepts. warped and compacted into easily-digestible form. over-simplification, loss of nuance. dimensionality inherently flattened.
-informs our sense of identity as something to be consumable.
-even when ppl refute the surface-level/mainstream use of instagram with radical “authenticity” “honesty” “transparency”/ an instagram ~anti- aesthetic~, it will always be a façade. distillation and curation.
-a simplified channel in which to pour our energy, attention, time, creativity, and sense of self. what would it look like to let that channel dry up and reroute into other mediums? what previously unimaginable things could emerge, evolve?
-giving others immediate access to (a version of) ourselves. what is the cost of being so easily digitally perceived, accessible, explored, influenced?
-actions become social-media oriented; curated to be ~shown~, palatable. rather than existing and growing organically, in reality.
-AKA deriving more pleasure from SHOWING OURSELVES DOING than ACTUALLY DOING. digital exhibitionism.
-our dislikes are amplified (/unfairly created). easier to project upon others when we experience a distant, distorted, contrived version of them. we see what we want to see.
-remain tethered to people from our past. it’s alluring to keep open the possibility of deeper connection. but sometimes connection remains merely because of etiquette to mutually “follow”; insulting and invalidating if rejected in that assumption.
-affirmation to ourselves that we exist, via being seen and interacted with by others. who am i if i am not constantly proclaiming that i exist? (ego-driven). methodically thrusting ourselves into the minds of others whenever we want. indulging in the validations, comforts, thrills, implications of that proclamation. while simultaneously feeling indefinitely anxious/anticipatory of certain peoples' acceptance or validation (quality), or "enough" of it (quantity). paradoxically fills and drains us.
-may foster connectivity but simultaneously breeds comparison, jealousy
-the most beautiful things that have happened in my life have not remotely occurred on or via social media. why play into creating and winning these crumbs of dopamine and validation? it’s such a weak, artificial thread of “happiness”/satisfaction. it isn’t real.
-allows access into people's lives (???)
It doesn’t want us to live in balance, because living in extremes is where the profit comes in. So what’s better is if you can engineer a self-punishing system. I think about Instagram in this context, because it’s so image-focused, it definitely operates in this shame/fantasy/attention economy.
Thanks to algorithmic recommendation engines or networks that easily grow far beyond a person’s Dunbar number, you can scroll for days without running out of fresh content, making “the end” nothing more than an illusion.
Precisely because a technology is a reusable, low-resistance path, when a piece of technology catches on widely, it tends to exponentially scale the type of behavior that it makes easier. When TVs exploded in popularity in America, it exponentially scaled the behavior of zoning out in front of a screen, hypnotized by constant visual stimulation.
Roosh might be an extreme example, but to anyone who has tried to engage an opposing view on Twitter or in a comments section, this rhetoric should sound very familiar. Connect all you want, but you won’t often get what you were after, which is a sense of mutual understanding, or even coexistence on the same plane of reality.
At the end of the day, people use the internet to find what they want. A queer teenager feeling isolated in the Midwest can use it to find solace and community. But a bigot can also use it to find all the “research” and “facts” he needs to bolster an opinion that was never going to be changed anyway.
In the midst of all this, I get really sad watching “how to use the internet” videos, precisely because I can still feel the glimmers of my childhood excitement about seeing other parts of the world, talking to other people, and being surprised. I still want to see the purse from Korea and the glowing skeleton from Russia. I still enjoy being thrown into the middle of a stranger’s high school gym class in IMG_2956. At Internet! A Retrospective, with pieces like Cameron’s Askin’s Cameron’s World (an ode to the welcome pages of old Geocities websites) and Morehshin Allahyari’s In Mere Spaces All Things are Side by Side (a poetic recounting of a teenage romance via online chat between Iran and the US), I could remember that human impulse for connection and expression, for getting outside of yourself, and for simply finding weird stuff.
I still believe that there are new forms of connectivity we could forge that aren’t Facebook and aren’t Twitter and that could maybe — maybe — let us see outside of our own filter bubbles. Perhaps we could find or create new kinds of avenues for organizing, or platforms for debate (for those who are level-headed enough to do so). The role of the internet, and of reimagining how we use the internet to talk, is as crucial as ever.
But it’s a thorny path. It wasn’t until now that I fully grasped the dangerous varieties of connectivity (like rapid sharing of fake news) and understood there are people who cannot be connected with in the way we would like (the Rooshes of the world). Maybe that just means I’ve grown up. I know less about “how to internet” than I did before. All I can say now is that doing it right will require a great deal of imagination, caution, and fortitude.