Is Social Media a Waste of Time or A Call Into the Canyon?

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Something that has kind of bugged me for a while now is, “What in the actual F am I doing?” I’m trying to write daily and sometimes it’s decent enough to post, but really, why? Practice? I’m not sure really.

I have my Instagram page humming along. I’m getting far more followers there than on my Facebook page, but I post there daily as well. I share things to my Facebook page that seem interesting, that flow into my consciousness. But then sometimes I’m sitting there scrolling through both, wasting my own time looking at mindless crap that I know is all geared to market someone else’s product to me, and think…that’s what I’m doing. I’m marketing my mindless crap to others, pulling their attention away from their real, physical life, to show them mine, in the hopes of gaining followers so that I can market a book. What am I doing? Really? Do I have anything important, anything tangible to add to the conversation? Am I doing the world any good?

I believe I am. When I think of pulling away, it makes me sad. I have words to say. I have ideas to share. Why should I stop trying to influence others? I want to be a positive, joyful voice on the internet. That’s why I’m online. That’s why I check in with Instagram and Facebook.

Where does this voice come from? This ugly one that whispers in my ear, “You’re feeding a monster.” These are the times when I look around me and think maybe I do spend too much time there. Maybe my time and creative energy would be better spent elsewhere.

There’s that old buzzword again, “balance.” Ugg…I hate it. “Everything in balance.” I hear people say. “Everything in moderation.” Should I moderate my joy, my patience? Should I balance my time between good and evil things? No, not everything. There are loads of things that should give in to with abandon. I should love without moderation. I should share my passions without a filter. And that’s what I feel like I’m doing when I’m scrolling through feeds and sharing my thoughts anywhere on the internet.

There are times when I look at my own posts and wish I had more interaction with people, though. Why don’t people share my posts? Why don’t people comment? I started doing more of that myself. I comment when I see something pretty instead of just “like” and I share when I feel like other people would probably love this as much as do, or they’d at least know me better because I shared it.

It seems like hating the internet and social media is all the rage lately, but I just can’t understand that. There are downsides to everything. Just about everyone can use anything in a negative way. But overall, it’s a good thing to me. It’s brought me quite a bit of joy. It’s helped me make new friends. It’s helped me reconnect and keep in touch. It’s shown me whole other worlds and ways of thinking.

Why am I there? Why do I have my blog, my Medium account, Facebook AND Instagram pages? Because I want to add to the conversation and share in the joy of this world. I have something to say and something to show. I’m yelling out into the canyon and waiting for the echo. I’m waiting for an answer to my call.

Hello? I’m here! Is anyone out there?

You Can’t Make Me WANT Your Social Gathering!

I had the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam on my reading list because it was on Mark Manson’s list of “5 Books That Explain Why it Seems the World is so Fucked.” SEEMS is the operative word here, by the way. It really isn’t and he was right about this book! It’s a great read for those that think that social media is what is killing our desire for community. The book was written in 2000, before the advent and spread of Facebook. And he writes about things that have been in decline for the previous 30 years or so. He writes about my generation, the one that seems to have picked up the anti-community ball and ran with it.

The first thing that I found so intriguing about this book is that I have always believed I was in the minority when it came to my feelings about social gatherings of all types. I have never been a “joiner.” I have never wanted to be part of a club of any kind that wants to meet on a regular basis, other that maybe a book club or writer’s club…which also doesn’t seem to exist anymore. And even if it did, I’d be too scared to attend without a wingman. When I have been coerced into joining something, I find the group so desperate for leadership and volunteers, that I feel like I’m on a sinking ship trying to escape with my life. It turns out I am not in the minority at all. It’s more of a generational thing.

It also turns out that a lack of community isn’t a new thing. It looks to be cyclical. It isn’t that the world has always been a wonderful hodgepodge of community involvement and now because of social media addiction, everyone stays home. It rises and falls in popularity, mostly during times of crisis or scarcity. When there is a big war or famine, people tend to group together tightly for a generation or two, then the feeling wanes and we go back to our independent loner natures for the most part.

Weird to find, once again, that we aren’t in the throws of end times, but merely experiencing a low in the natural cycle of humanity.

There is one problem that I see becoming prevalent. Humans have a natural hormone response to being near each other, it doesn’t work through the computer. Bonding with and caring for others doesn’t happen through pictures and written words the same way it does through interpersonal contact. Is social media bringing us closer? In some ways yes, but not if we limit our interaction to online.

We should be spending some time together in a physical way: dinner parties, bar-b-ques, and community projects, are all ways we can build social capital that allows us to trust each other. It makes us happier people. In the past, we (most of us anyway) felt compelled to put in the effort of going to see each other. How else are you going to know what kind of a monster your cousin married? How would you get to know your nieces and nephews? And how would your Mom know you were happy and healthy? But now we have social media. We can see what everyone is doing without actually going. But it shouldn’t replace actual, in person contact. It should be enhancing it.

We can’t blame social media for what’s happening. It’s only building on how our generation has been feeling. It’s escalating our isolation from each other, but it didn’t create our need to isolate ourselves. That is a whole other ball of wax and this book gets into the patterns that have been manifesting themselves for several generations. And it does so without making us feel negative and hopeless at the end!

The answer isn’t more or different government, more voting, social media/internet bans or regulation. The answer is more socializing. And we have to want that ourselves. We cannot be coerced into it or made to enjoy it. We have to become aware that we need it and then seek it out. Personally, I think it’s a cycle we will work our way through all by ourselves sooner or later. Eventually, a few of us will get lonely enough, unhappy enough to want to change things. We’ll start seeing people more often, doing things together in small groups that build up into larger groups again. These things will build trust between us and will open us up to relationships and happiness we can’t get alone. We’re social animals after all and, contrary to popular belief, I think we’re smart enough as a species to know when we need to do something for our own immediate good. Those that aren’t and don’t have friends and family to pull them along, won’t make it. Evolution is alive and well.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about when it was written, 2000. What would the author think about the state of community today? Has it gone the way he imagined it would? Does our current situation surprise him at all?

One really funny thing before I end this! I keep notes about the books I’m reading in a paper journal. I keep the journal and my favorite mechanical pencil with the book, underlining passages and making stars where I have a note in my paper journal as I go. While reading through my notes to refresh my memory about this book, I found myself trying to use my finger to scroll up on the paper page! I think I’ve been spending a lot of time reading articles on my phone lately.

The Mall of Social Media

Why do we treat social media as if it came from another planet entirely? Why do we act as if it did not evolve from human wants and needs and isn’t only using a new technology to connect an already existing human society?

My social media profile is like me walking through the mall. I chose to visit that mall. It is private property that I have been allowed to visit and transact business on. How I present myself is completely up to me.

You remember hanging out at the mall, don’t you? It was pretty much a universal teenage activity for those of us that grew up in the 80’s. We’d wear our coolest outfits, gather with our friends, and enjoy the air-conditioned indoor space. We’d buy the latest clothes and gadgets, we’d eat in the food court with our friends, and make out in the darkness of the movie theater. Some of us, never me because I was always such a good kid, became a bit destructive and disruptive while we spent time there. Some of us even got thrown out by security when we decided to test the limits of conformity in a public space.

Social media only provides us with a similar experience with more people, more stores, and more “hangouts” and “make-out” spots. People aren’t any more fake on social media than they were at the mall. We have all put on a façade that attempts to portray who we really are. All social media does is make it easier for the more shy and quiet people to have a bigger voice. When you’re the lone Sci-Fi fan in your town, you tend to not wear your cape around the mall for fear of standing out a little too much. On the web, you find your tribe of weird and wear your cape, boots, and carry a scepter for the world to see. You are not alone. You are part of a group. And being part of a larger group equals safety to humans across time. There are positives and negatives to that of course, but it isn’t new or alien.

Ironically, it seems that it is more cool to hate social media and to proclaim that hate loudly on social media, like hating the commercialism of the mall but still going there because that’s where “1 Potato 2” is. I’ll admit openly, I love it. I have my favorite platform that I use most, even though it’s not perfect, just like the mall that doesn’t have a Rubio’s anymore. Overall, it has enhanced my life. I’ve kept in touch with people I would have lost in time. I’ve met new people that share my interests. I’ve learned about things I never would have heard about, let alone gotten to understand a better. And I’ve gotten to share my life with some of those people on a regular basis. It makes me happy.

There is one thing I would like to actually complain about though. We need to stop thinking that social media needs to be fair and unbiased. It is not a news source. It is not the place to get a liberal college education. It’s SOCIAL place. It’s a party and a marketplace combined. A place to hang out with friends, notice new things to spend our money on, and play. You don’t go to the mall to find out what’s really happening in the Middle East or who to vote for in the next election. You go there to socialize and meet friends. Yes, while your scrolling through your media feed, you’ll only see what you want to see. You’ll be among friends, hopefully, and those you have something in common with. It’s called “social” media, not news media. We should be treating it as such, in my opinion.

Just as when I’m at the mall, I have every right to shop and eat with who I want to shop and eat with. If you approach me and ask to sit at my table, I will be polite and either say yes or no. And to be socially acceptable, you are required to accept my yes and my no. We may start to talk and find out we have a lot in common and become friends, or we may find that we don’t like each other and go our separate ways. I don’t have to let everyone sit at my table, but you can if you want to. That’s the glory of socializing. It’s completely voluntary!

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the mall of social media. I’ve been having fun and putting many of my responsibilities to the side. I’ve been more interested in making new friends and playing with my old ones, than being productive. It’s been fun but I do need to get back to work. I’m not leaving it forever, I’m reprioritizing. I have work to do in this world. Life is not all fun and games you know!

It’s Friday, my Friends!

There was no Friday post last week! Guess why?

It wasn’t because it was a holiday the night before…or wait…maybe it was. July 3rd and 4th were pretty darn fun in all the best kinds of ways: food, friends, good times. On Friday morning, I wasn’t sure if all the fun caught up to me or I had caught a virus. It could very well be that I caught a virus because the fun caught up to me. I woke up with a terrible sore throat and a fever and spent the next three days in bed reading a book. Oh! Poor me! If it weren’t for the worst sore throat and ear infection ever, I would have called it a “retreat.” Thanks to our fabulous urgent care and the miracle of antibiotics, I was still exhausted but up and at ‘em again on Monday! I’ll still have a sexy gravely voice for a week, but I’ll take it! The upside is that I finished three-quarters of “Under the Dome” over the weekend!

While I was laying in bed…dying…I considered getting up and writing my Friday post, but then thought better of it. I’ll just catch up later, I thought. I’ll be better tomorrow. And then suddenly it was Tuesday.

So here I am. You can’t catch up with life anyway, you can only pick up where you are!

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your weekend is filled with adventure…even if you’re watching it on Netflix!

Thing I learned: There are amazingly interesting people on the internet! I joined a new Facebook group this week and have been devouring all its content for days. The people! Wow! So many interesting points of view, so many ideas, so much love and interest in being kind and supportive. It’s kinda hard not to invite them all over for coffee! I hear so much negativity about people on the internet, and I do understand it, but I have a feeling we’ve all been adjusting to the new medium and we’ll come out the other side a bit scarred from battle but wiser for the wear.

Thing I’m reading: “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters” by Tom Nichols. Ok. First of all, just the title of this book irritates me. And then when I started to read it, I started to better understand the idea of term “triggered.” Which made me want to read it more! He has some seriously great points to make and I’m understanding something about myself that I don’t like. I’m one of those “don’t tell me what to do” people and sometimes it’s not good for me or the people around me. One thing I started to think while reading it is that specialization is a good thing for society. I agree that division of labor makes everyone’s lives easier. We can’t all be experts at everything! But what do we do when lose trust in just about everyone around us? I’m hoping he has some answers to that by the end of this book!

Thing I heard: A new friend introduced me to a new bluegrass band, and while I’ve never been a big fan of the genre, this was interesting enough for me to listen to a whole album, “Yoder Mountain String Band.” Lucky for me, I have Amazon Music, so I downloaded a couple albums and have been snacking on their tunes as I drive the desert roads.

Thing I want to do: Focus! Oh, lord, please help me focus! Ever since I got back from our vacation, I feel like I’m in a million places at once; like a kid in a candy store, rushing from one bin to the next, shoving every piece into my mouth, my pockets, my bag, and running out before someone tells me no! What am I going to do about it? No idea. A friend shared a picture on Facebook yesterday that I was totally going to post myself and now I can’t because it will look like I’m just copying him! But I digress, again. The picture was simple, “Temporarily Closed for Spiritual Maintenance.” That’s what I need to do, close. I need to shut down social media, turn off my phone, and do some serious re-focusing. But then again, do I really need to? Maybe next week! At the moment, I’m having to much fun to change anything.

Picture of the week:

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This was unexpected! I’ve been trying to post one picture on Instagram every day. Why? No idea. It just seemed like fun. So, the sun was starting to go down and I hadn’t taken a good one that day and I went out into the yard looking for a subject. My yard is a wealth of photo subjects!

Right outside was a birdhouse my Mom and brought over years ago. I had stuck it up in the crook of a Joshua Tree. I seriously doubt any respectable bird would ever make his home there, but it looks pretty sitting there. It’s above my head, but I didn’t bother to get a step and try to take a good picture. I just lifted my phone over my head, pointed it in the approximate angle of the front door, and snapped. I came inside (out of this blasted heat) and posted it on IG. Done!

Here’s the funny part. A few minutes later, a friend commented “Inhabited! Excellent!” What was she talking about? I opened the picture and zoomed to find…a lizard staring out the front door! What?! Another friend said I should call it a “Beardie House.” It was hilarious and adorable!

There has to be some philosophical thing to learn here. Right? We really don’t know what we’re doing when we do it most times. We just point and shoot and share…who knows what magic we’ll find! But what if I hadn’t decided to post a picture a day? Or what if I was just decided, eh…who cares…I’ll skip it today?