It’s been a year since I deactivated my social media accounts. While I’ve managed to resist reactivating Instagram and Twitter, neither of which I miss that much, I reactivated LinkedIn (I need a job and that means I need LinkedIn) and Facebook (in a moment of weakness).
About six months ago I deactivated Facebook again. The response from friends and family has been one of silence. It is unsurprising if a bit upsetting. We have depended on Facebook for keeping up with each other and the other, more intensive ways we used to do so, whether it was phone calls, letters, emails, or visits have disappeared from our collective. Facebook is becoming anachronistic too. What replaces it will be no better.
It reminds me of how my mother kept up with her far-flung uncles and cousins. Thanks to the Holocaust my Mother’s family, including herself, fled Europe for every continent save Antarctica: Argentina, Guatemala, Australia, Canada, Israel. She kept in contact her whole life through letters, phone calls at odd hours, visits when possible, and, eventually, email. She died before Facebook and Zoom and WhatsApp. None of this was easy compared to today. I wonder if the effort made every communication more meaningful and memorable. I wonder if the effort of writing a letter or arranging a phone call through the international operator (there was a time when you couldn’t call a country directly), brought people closer because it took time and treasure (those international phone calls weren’t cheap). I wonder if the effortless ways we can connect to anyone anywhere, have made us less connected.
Deactivating my Facebook account has not been without consequences. It was the one, sometimes the only, connection I have had with friends and family and some favored colleagues, none of whom live anywhere near me. I do miss the updates on life events, photos of friends’ kids, pets, and vacation spots. I don’t miss the diatribes, the memes, the anger that, as it turns out, is being fueled by Facebook itself.
I hoped that by deactivating my social media accounts I’d force myself to actually call my friends and be more present in the place I find myself living, (or interred in as I like to think of my current abode). It hasn’t happened. Is the cost to my mental health lessor or greater in social media isolation? I don’t know. But one thing is certain. There is a cost to social media and we are all paying it.
I am writing to tell all my “friends” that I am suspending my social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn). Suspension is not deletion. I will revisit this decision in the future.
There is some good. Social media has enabled me to keep up with relatives, friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances. I have reconnected with people from my past. I get to “see” milestones in the lives of people I care about. Social media has been a source of information, education, and occasionally enlightenment. There are posts that have made me laugh, along with the posts that have made me angry. I’m not immune to the whimsical photos of cats being cats and dogs being dogs. I’ve posted more than a few of them myself. But for all that is good, there is far more that is bad. Social media has broken society. It has broken me.
The utopia promised by the extreme libertarian culture of Silicon Valley, especially through social media, has proven to be far less than advertised. It makes sick people sicker, lonely people lonelier, and addicts more addicted. It preys on the uneducated, the gullible, the willfully ignorant, the mentally ill, and the vulnerable in every category. It promises “friends” without friendship, debate without facts, and love without physical contact. It encourages anger over reason, sensationalism over reasoned discourse, extremism over moderation, and self-righteousness over reflection. It is also incredibly time-consuming and intrusive. How many of you watch a program without constantly refreshing your apps while you do so?
The modus operandi of social media is addiction. Those little numbers on the notification icons. The pop-up notifications on your devices, always encourage you to refresh the app, keeping you incarcerated in whatever company’s ecosystem you are in (Apple, or Google, or Microsoft, or Amazon). For the lonely and mentally ill, such as me, it is a recreational drug that’s turned into a bad trip.
I recognize the havoc wrought by Covid-19. But pre-pandemic, when was the last time you called a relative, or visited a friend? Why bother, you’re keeping up with them on Facebook and Facebook rewards you with little numbers on a little icon, selling your personal data, targeting you with ads you don’t want, trying to increase the amount of “friends” you have by constantly pestering you with “people you may know”.
So, I’m suspending my accounts. I’d love to close them altogether, but the temptations of social media may be too much to resist. The only exception will be my web page. I’ll keep posting on this, at least for the time being.