Dec 23, 2015

Anti-social Media

So from November 13 through some point earlier this month, I deactivated my Facebook account.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Let me tell you why, first, because I think that deserves some explanation.

I am no longer a true liberal in the U.S. politics sense of the word - though I am by no means aligned with most American conservatives, either. Many of my Facebook friends are liberals. That’s fine. We still share many values and ideas and under the right conditions have cordial, productive discussions and debates.

Facebook is not a great venue for those kinds of discussions and debates, especially when whiskey enters the picture.

While at a major financial conference, I engaged in an argument with someone who I consider a friend and whom I respect. I was arguing that most wealth is self-made, that many of our country’s millionaires do not live privileged lives and actually fit in with the Horatio Alger mythology.

She very passionately maintained that these people were the recipients of a great deal of privilege.
Clearly buzzed, I took umbrage at that remark for no reason and argued that attributing their success to privilege minimized their accomplishments, and said a few derogatory things towards my friend before putting my phone away and enjoying the rest of my party.

When I woke up the next morning, surprisingly free of a hangover, I was embarrassed by my own behavior. I decided that it was time for a Facebook break and temporarily deactivated my account.
In the 28 days I kept myself away from Facebook, I became a more productive and happy person. I found myself reading more things online instead of scrolling through them. As an experienced researcher, I discovered an internet full of useful information, not snark and pseudoscience.

I wasn’t memed at constantly.

I maintained a social media presence — my Twitter account needed the attention anyway — and I still interacted with others digitally, but didn’t do so on Facebook.

I recommend that everybody try it. You don’t have to plunge into the deep end and trash your account, Facebook will let you deactivate for a predetermined period of time, after which your account will become active again as if you had never left.

I’ve often complained that Twitter’s 144 character limit reduces conversations and discussions to “duckspeak” with little room for nuance or explanation, but in some ways Facebook is worse.

With Facebook, we’re shouting at each other with tags and wallposts and there’s little call and response. We inundate our friends with media of our own happy lives, or with religious/political/spiritual messaging that has little basis in reality. We're not having conversations, we're hurling our opinions and thoughts at each other with little filter, like firing grapeshot into a crowd.

On Facebook, #FeelTheBern and #DumpTrump pass for coherent political arguments.

Even more dangerous is that major social media sites like Facebook have grown beyond being a way to keep up with family members and old friends — they have become potent marketing tools for businesses. I’m working on an article about how financial advisors can harness social media to prospect for clients, and these are mostly small, independent businesses. If they’re getting in the game now, how long do you think the Coca-Colas and WalMarts of the world have been using data from social media to target you with their marketing?

And I know, Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter are great tools, sine qua non for a journalist like myself. But maybe we should step back and start treating them like tools instead of a source of knowledge and entertainment.

Maybe we should seek out the communication tools that enhance our ability to be considerate and civil, not the ones that diminish the "better angels of our nature."

Maybe, when we have a political thought to express, we should choose a medium where we can give it breadth and context, where we can explore the nuances and details instead of making sweeping assumptions.

Maybe we should move our debates back to the barroom or the kitchen table where we can more easily address the human being on the other side of the issue.

Or maybe I’m the problem, and I need to learn more self-control and tolerance before engaging in these kinds of conversations in front of the world on social media — but, if that’s the case, I’ve encountered quite a few people with the same issues.

Either way, I’m sorry, Marie. Still friends?

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Keep it civil and pg-13, please.