07 December 2015

Field Report from a Brief Social Media Fast

Image source unknown
This past weekend, after spending a tumultuous week following Facebook and Twitter posts about the San Bernardino shooting and feeling that I needed to settle my nerves, I decided to take a break from social media. For two days, whenever I felt the urge to log on to Facebook or Twitter, I wrote about it in a little notebook I carried around. I’m not sure yet how long my break will be but here are some of the notes I made on Saturday and Sunday.

Dog Whistles
For a long time I’ve been aware of the political "dog whistles" (coded words that appear to mean one thing but have an additional meaning for a targeted subgroup) that are used by conservatives. For example, I was horrified during the first GW Bush campaign when I noticed that the candidate often used language from Christian hymns and prayers and that the media completely missed it. But I’ve never fully examined the dog whistles that are aimed at me and my kind. Facebook and Twitter memes and links are full of dog whistles, and I jump when I hear them, just as most of us do. It's hard on the nerves.

Unusable Diary
I use both Facebook and Twitter as a kind of diary, noting my thoughts and feelings about the events in my world. Facebook knows this, as demonstrated by their rollout of a “Memories” feed to help us re-read our diaries. But that’s one of the problems: you can’t easily go back and read your own diary entries; they get buried under the ever-scrolling Now. Writing down my thoughts and feelings in diary form would be better done in… well, in a diary. Or even a blog!

Missing My People
There are some people who are very special to me who I only know because of social media. Actually, a lot of people fall into that category, particularly other artists. I’ve met quite a few of my online-only friends in person as years have gone by, and I’m always delighted to discover that they’re to a person even better in real life than online. My life would be poorer without those connections (as well as connections with friends I knew before social media). But logging on in search of connection also means scrolling through posts about violence, politics and outrage with no control over what I view. (I just read an article that talked about “visual terrorism” – an overstatement with a grain of truth.) How to have the connection without the emotional manipulation and disturbance of all that stuff?

All the Feelings
Mine is not a total media fast, just Facebook and Twitter. I’m still reading the news, and what I notice is that I can’t quickly scroll past things that upset me and scan for some new distraction. I’m feeling sadness more acutely. I’m also thinking about the role of outrage in our society and on social media. It’s so much easier, when confronted with the brutality of this world, to respond with outrage and anger than to experience the deeper sensations of fear, sadness, disappointment and helplessness. Outrage feels strong and energetic. It makes you feel like you’re doing something, even though you aren’t.

Extra Time
If you don’t check your Facebook while waiting in the checkout line, you have time to look at the people around you. New possibilities open up. I experimented this weekend with smiling, with saying hello, and with offering silent blessings to people who looked like they could use a silent blessing.

Oh Twitter
Even though I spend much more time on FB than Twitter, I really miss Twitter. Twitter is my secret escape. It’s kind of like going to a bar (which I gave up many years ago) because you never know who will be there at the same time you are, it’s fast (only 140 characters at a time), it’s punchy and a little raucous, it’s intense, and when something is happening, whether a planned event or a tragedy, Twitter is right there in real time. I love Twitter, and it’s terribly addictive.

Musings On my Social Media Future
Not sure yet how I’ll proceed, but I know I won’t swear off Facebook and Twitter. They’re too important for me as an artist, for one thing, not just in “getting my work out there,” but in forging relationships with artists and art lovers. I’m thinking about ways to limit the amount of time I spend on social media, but I don't want to stop reading other people's posts and that's what takes so much time. I don't like when people do hit-and-run posting, where they throw up posts without ever looking at or commenting on anyone else’s posts, and I don't want to do that. Reading every single thing in my timeline has always been impossible, but how to keep myself out of the time-suck? Use a timer? Create a small group of people whose posts I don’t want to miss? Not sure. But I’ll keep you posted.

Your thoughts are welcome.


Sherrie York said...

Oh, Annie... I'm asking myself the same questions right now. Social media is my window to the world and a way to discover and build valuable relationships with artists around the world... but I find that I come away from it discouraged, depressed, and overwhelmed most of the time. Walking away completely is not a professional option... but how to protect myself from the dark side?

Annie B said...

That's just it, Sherrie. I feel that too. It can get really dark, and at the same time it offers so much.

Melody Knight Leary said...

I feel the same Annie. There's no escaping the distressing events that are unfortunately becoming all to common. In addition to social media, one can't turn on the TV or radio without hearing blow by blow accounts, speculations and opinionated discourse on the latest tragedy. An endless overload that threatens to desensitize you to the magnitude of the events. It's so hard to escape and all one can do is try and limit the time you spend getting pulled into the media mayhem. If I gave up social media, I too would miss the connections I've made with other artists. Lately, I'm trying hard to focus on art related posts only.

Patricia Phare-Camp said...

I so appreciate your wisdom Annie. I never considered how assaulting political posts could be and you made me think on that. I do try to remember that my grandkids are on Facebook and censor myself accordingly. I practice regular media breaks, usually on weekends and several times a year for a week. As well as studio time; it frees me from the world and all its hate for all too short a time...