I’m forever baffled by complaints about social media. Social media fosters narcissism. It engenders jealousy and inferiority complexes by forcing people to compare their own imperfect existence with a curated version of everyone else’s. It strips people of the ability to focus on any one thing by constantly bombarding them with a stream of largely trivial inputs. It replaces a few true, solid, flesh-and-bone friendships with a myriad superficial, often untested connections. It allows antagonistic, louder-than-thou people to drown out rational debates. It dumbs down the national dialogue. It’s just bad, man. Unplug or perish.
I don’t get that – literally. I don’t get it. That’s not my social media experience.
My newsfeed consists of:
- Posts from space agencies and historical societies, cos I love me some space and medieval stuff.
- My favourite bands.
- A few cartoons.
- Two artists I follow so I can see what they like, which is generally awesome.
- A doglebrity, cos cute puppies are cute.
- Utterly trashy punk and nihilist memes.
- Posts from about 20 of my friends, whom I follow because they post either very little, or very good stuff.
My posts are:
- Crap I write.
- Cool shit I think my friends might enjoy.
- Occasional rants.
- Terrible jokes.
My friends’ posts on my page are:
- Trash panda photos/videos, cos they know I love trash pandas.
- The occasional self-defence video that’s so egregiously bad it’s funny.
And that’s it. No duck faces. No bathroom selfies. No notifications about people’s new cars, new houses, expensive holidays, diamond-studded dildos, etc. No pictures of restaurant meals – though an abundance of pictures of droolworthy home-cooked meals. No horrific photos with a “warning – graphic content” cunningly posted below the image. No flame wars.
This is my online life, and it’s great. It’s so great that it doesn’t even ambush me when I’m busy with the rest of my life. I cut the Gordian Knot of constant interruptions by not having social media apps on my phone. I log in; I have a look around; I’m entertained, educated, and inspired; and then I log off. Sometimes I chat to cool people who’re too far away to visit. When the stars align and two or more of us have the inspiration and the time, I get drawn into evening-long music video posting sessions, and that’s awesome. I got more new music in the last 12 months than in the last 12 years. Sometimes a link may spark a dialogue, and that’s awesome too, because awesome people contribute their knowledge and insights, and we all learn. If nothing else, we learn about each other.
My online life is awesome. In fact, if anything it’s rather more awesome than my ‘real’ life, which seems a giant duh: curating my online life is much easier. All that is required is the ability to push a mouse around, a basic familiarity with functions such as “follow” and “unfollow”, and the determination not to let anyone suck up my time, not to let anyone shit in my brain.
I routinely say this to people, and I get told that I don’t get it. I’m making it sound easy. It’s a different story when you’re bombarded by your racist uncle’s post-election extravaganzas, or your best friend’s passion is protecting abused animals by sharing horrific photos, or everyone you know is getting married and having babies and they just have to chronicle their pregnancy from the pee-stick onward via thrice-daily posts to their 4895 friends. How can you possibly avoid getting drawn into that? How can you avoid it smacking you right in the face?
They’re right. I don’t get it. I don’t get how people can find themselves unable or unwilling to exert the bare minimum level of control over their own time, space, and life. I don’t get the difference between my page and my living room; my page and my house are my space, in which my rules apply. I don’t get the difference between putting up with shoddy behaviours online and in real life. I wouldn’t sit in a cafe and listen to anyone rant racist abuse in my face. I’d get up and fucking walk away from them, because fuck that shit – and in real life walking away from that kind of behavior can put you at risk. I’m sure as fuck not going to put up with it when all I’ve gotta do to make it go away from my personal space is push a button.
I curate my online life because the split between online and offline is bogus. There’s just life, a single pot of time whose content is indeterminate. Time you can allocate however you choose, if you choose to choose. So, if something or someone doesn’t entertain me, educate me, or enlighten me, it’s out, because my time is limited. Everyone’s time is.
Inevitable Rollins quote:
no such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time
no such thing as down time
all you got is life time.
Which brings us, as per usual with my rants, to a vaguely self-defency connection.
There are a few prominent self-defence instructors who are fond of teaching people that online life should not be curated. To demand that people moderate their behavior when in your online space, whether in content or tone, is to be against free speech. To exclude anyone from your online life, for any reason, is to live in a bubble or create an echo chamber. To refuse to give space on your platforms to anyone who wants to use them as pulpits for their own crap is to attempt to control the online experience of third parties, and that’s fascist, maaaan.
I look at this kind of thing when I happen upon it – when I happen upon it, not when it happens upon me. This is important. I see it when I decide to ride my mouse to their pages, and see what they post. I do it because I choose to, because it’s important to me to know what’s out there, because sometimes I wanna jump into the fray, because I live in a target-poor environment and I enjoy the occasional scrap. Sometimes I hate myself for getting into all that, because of the time it sucks; sometimes I feel selfish for not wading in more often, because I have a hero complex. The point is that I am aware of those experts’ existence and their opinions, because I am capable of leaving my space and entering theirs. But I sure as fuck don’t want them barging into mine.
I don’t live in a bubble: I live in a house, with doors that shut. I am aware that life outside of my online space is different, in precisely the same way that I’m aware that life outside of my house is different. I don’t see that as a reason to drop my own standards, to compromise my enjoyment of my own life, to allow people in my virtual living room I’d defenestrate in real life. And tell you what: if you can’t defend yourself online, your chances of doing it in real life are minimal. (The only exception I can think of is if your conflict management strategy revolves around use of force, or the threat of force. That works miles better face-to-face.)
I don’t get any of that, personally, but I can totally see those self-defence experts’ point. If you’re trying to groom victims, to surround yourself with people who are constantly emotionally disregulated, people who have a greater chance to see you as one of the few bastions in their otherwise chaotic lives, that’s a way to do it. Tell people that they’re wrong and feeble and evil if they want to exert control over their time and their life. Tell them that they can’t walk away from conflicts. Tell them that they have no right to enforce boundaries – no, tell them that they are evil for thinking that they have a right to have boundaries. Get them used to eating whatever shit anyone drops on their plate. It may not be good self-defence, but it sure is good self-defence marketing. Those people will need you.