(CW: suicidal ideation)
As I was closing on my house in October — amidst tribble-like avalanches of paperwork, hands squeezed with white knuckles as everything almost fell apart up until it miraculously came together — I was already preparing for an extended break from social media.
I was already emotionally exhausted from the interminable presidential election, months of lockdown and squabbling over whether the very real COVID-19 was a hoax (it isn’t), and things were nearly coming apart at the last minute as closing day approached. I had stepped away from Twitter, but Facebook was always there — where I could gloat about some small victory, or quietly envy my friends.
It was a no-brainer: I would need a break after closing, to give myself time for packing, pre-move renovations, and moving day itself. To make the house livable would take a bit of effort — new light fixtures, flooring, etc. I needed every second I could spare.
And I knew that election day would be misery, no matter the outcome.
I’ve mentioned election day 2016 as my lowest point. Spending the wee hours doom scrolling Twitter, going to work half-asleep, enduring a lot of “it won’t be that bad!” from well-meaning (and not-at-all well meaning) folks. I was blamed for not voting for Bernie in the primary. Not being sufficiently proactive. You have no right to complain, because you backed the wrong horse, and look where it got us.
I stepped out of the office, took the elevator to the ground floor, walked across the parking lot, and came seconds from stepping into heavy traffic.
Trump had won, and it was my fault.
No, it obviously wasn’t my fault, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. But I did take a moment. I thought about the people that had made me felt that way. I decided that no one who would make me feel that way would ever be a part of my life. I took a deep breath, another, and another, and I slumped back into the office.
And I started blocking people on Facebook.
I can say with some certainty that social media, and Facebook in particular, had made me a worse person. Quicker to anger. More distracted, less able to focus. More prone to sarcasm and cynicism.
This is my personal experience, but there’s some science behind it. Jaron Lanier covers some in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. The most salient to my point is this: social media makes money from your attention, and negative emotions — envy, loneliness, anger — draw your attention longer. There’s a perverse incentive for these sites to make people feel bad and act out.
After my departure from my former church in 2019, I came to realize just how angry I’d gotten. I was (understandably!) bitter about how things had gone, and wanted to crusade to convince people of my righteousness. I was right, yes, but no one was going to listen to a spittle-mad man quote-tweeting just the hottest takes on Twitter.
After I closed on my house, moved in, and the election was finally decided a few days after voting ended, I could have jumped back on Facebook. I didn’t.
I wasn’t looking forward to my leftist friends starting on making Biden a greater villain than Trump. I really didn’t want to find out which of my high school friends dove off the deep end into the QAnon/MAGA pool, like several family members of mine had. I didn’t want a replay of November 2016.
So I’ve avoided Facebook.
It was a lonely December. I didn’t send my usual holiday cards since I would have to ask on Facebook who wanted any. I don’t know who has had kids, who is dating whom, who has a new job, who lost someone they loved. I’ve been on two or three times, checked messages (one of which I responded to say that I’d text them) and notifications (none of which were meaningful), and logged back out.
I haven’t signed into Twitter, although I follow a couple news accounts via an RSS service. I use the same service for a couple Facebook pages for local businesses, so I can get updates without logging in. Same for a few subforums on Reddit.
I’ve also been more ruthless on who I let into my personal life, on social media or outside it. I don’t want more shallow connections or parasocial relationships.
Of course, I’ll post a link to this on social media, because how else would anyone read it? I’ll automate that at some point — there are some decent WordPress plugins for social media pushes that don’t involve me having to log in.
I’m really mostly disappointed in myself that it got this far, that I became so spiteful, so depressed and angry, so willing to spend hours doom scrolling tweets about how so-and-so celebrity is just the worst. God, who cares.
I need to get that plank out of my own eye first.