When I first got into social media it was more as a supplement to life. It was a way to reach out to new worlds, potentially meet new people, to follow different artists, celebrities, news outlets, etc. Initially, on different sites, I probably only had a few real life friends on whichever network. I don’t want to say it was an escape from daily life in a negative sense, it was just a different outlet. Sometimes it was like going to a library and reading different newspapers, perhaps with the chance of new adventures, meeting random people wherever.
Over the course of the years it has changed as older sites have given way to newer sites. When I first started using social media it seemed like very few people I knew were using it, whether friends, family, co-workers, or whomever. In a sense it was kind of nice having this world away from daily life, away from supervision, prying eyes, gossip. It was something away, like say a hobby you have that some people know about, but you don’t feel the need to broadcast to everyone in your life. Kind of like having what is known as a “private life”. I know, what a novelty.
Even before the current sites came to prominence, eventually more and more people started joining previous sites. So if you had a few friends, co-workers already on your friends list, eventually other people would see you on there and add you. For me, this is were it started to go downhill. All of the sudden you end up having people on your list you don’t necessarily want on there. Early on this wasn’t as much of a problem. Call it compartmentalizing your life if you want, but there is value sometimes in keeping different parts of your life separate and in not allowing everyone into every aspect of your life.
The problem with adding people you worked with was that it gave certain people an avenue to meddle in your life. When you only had a few friends on there you could just be yourself, post whatever & not worry about misunderstandings, people reading into things, possible gossip, people feeling left out, passive aggressive games, people sharing anything you say with people you hadn’t intended on including in whatever, etc.
It can be hard enough to avoid all of these things sometimes without social media. You cringe the first time one of the people you wouldn’t have necessarily added to your friends list brings up personal details in front of co-workers, family, etc. I’m not even talking about anything bad, just the fact that say a co-worker is looking at your profile, seeing who you’re talking to, hanging out with and then bringing it up in front of others who weren’t privy to it in the first place. It almost feels like someone is looking in your window, spying on you and then bringing up what they see in a public setting without telling you. Cringe-worthy.
And this is the early days, late in the last big thing’s days, early in today’s big thing days. So the old site fades away and you get on the new site. At first it’s not too bad. You have only a handful of real life friends on there, you follow random newspapers, celebrities, art, music, culture sites, etc. But bit by bit you see more and more random people from your past popping up that you hadn’t seen for years. This process is relatively slow at first. You avoid having current co-workers on your list if possible. Still a lot of people aren’t even on the site.
Years go by like this, the process is fairly gradual and for the most part you don’t see much harm in the slow trickle of past co-workers, people who went to your High School, people from your old neighborhood, and family who in the past weren’t likely even interested in social media. You’ve since moved to a new place and it’s nice to be able to keep in touch with far away people, to reconnect with people you’d long since lost touch with, to have an audience for your daily adventures, musings, articles, video clips, etc that catch your eye.
Somewhere along the line the trickle of people started speeding up and next thing you knew you had people from practically every aspect of your life on there. Still not everyone, but at this point it’s still somewhat of a novelty, and you get some semblance of human contact, validation, etc from it all. It hasn’t become oppressive or a burden at this point.
Gradually politics start to enter into the mix. Many of the people you’d hung out with pre-social media didn’t necessarily discuss politics when you saw them, and if they did, it was face to face as part of a conversation. Initially on social media it was easier to tune the negative posts out if you wanted to. I don’t remember it as being quite as intense as it has since become. And we’re still at the stage when not as many people are on your list yet.
A mixture of more and more people adding you as friends with politics and media seemingly becoming increasingly provocative, divisive, sensational, is where things started to go wrong in my opinion. Not that you shouldn’t hear opposing views. That’s not my point.
Moving on to the last few years and over that time you’ve accumulated pretty much everyone from your past who wants to be your ‘friend’ on social media. Not everyone. You still see names you recognize, have extended family and such who haven’t added you. Maybe they don’t like you, maybe they think you don’t like them, maybe they are just indifferent to you or already feel like they have ‘enough’ friends. But still your list covers pretty much your entire life, or at least since High School.
All the sudden you have all these people on your list, all at different stages, ages, etc of their lives and all of course in different moods, doing different things. I think the truth is that if most people only had a good 15-20 people that they regularly interact with and really want on there, most people would probably prefer that. Who really interacts with so many people anyway in any meaningful way? But you can’t just have a few friends usually it seems, because someone will always see you are friends with so and so and add you, and if you don’t accept they might get offended which could then translate to your real life. They tell someone you wouldn’t add them, etc.
It all becomes too much. Especially in the political arena, but also in the personal ranks. People who pre-current popular site you might never have seen again are all the sudden part of your social milieu. People whose political opinions you had never heard before are all the sudden going on rants and posting provocative articles with long strings of comments, often comments on these threads are going to be offensive to someone on their list, if not you yourself.
You find yourself getting sucked in at times. If you don’t jump into the comments you might instead post your own article, throwing it out there for anyone to see. If no one, or few people comment on or like your stuff, maybe it isn’t popular enough, maybe you aren’t popular enough, maybe people have unfollowed you, maybe they’ve just decided to not comment or like your posts for whatever reason.
At a certain point the whole thing starts to feel like a popularity contest, like a High School, Family or other kind of reunion or party that doesn’t end. The same dynamics a lot of us got tired of in High School. Cliques forming, people competing for popularity and ‘status’, tired games, passive-aggression, feeling left out, tit for tat, etc.
You can do all you want with the ‘privacy’ settings, hide this or that person, but one way or another you keep getting sucked back in. They use Pavlovian techniques like putting a number by someone’s profile picture to get you to click on whomever’s page, to keep you engaged. You always know there’s going to be more, an endless feed of people’s lives.
Over time people who you at one time were close with might have all the sudden had no contact with you online for years. It’s kind of a strange dynamic that develops. Everyone is there, everyone knows everyone is there, yet over time people form into cliques regardless necessarily of previous dynamics between whichever people. The people who seem to be the loudest, who follow the current trends the most, who try the hardest to get attention seem to end up getting the attention they seem to want.
There seems to be a method to getting attention. It’s like clickbait, but for attention rather than ad revenue. People learn how to push the right buttons to get attention. It’s always interesting to see people you know, friends, people who haven’t gotten annoying online post things and see no one like or comment. People will post the most banal memes, the most obvious hackneyed opinions, anything that pops into their heads. Then are you obliged to ‘like’ their inanities in order to secure their future ‘likes’? If you go long enough without liking anything of theirs do they then purposely not like any of your stuff, no matter what it is?
Everything is so indirect. People just put things out there and I guess hope people notice. It’s like everyone is at the same park or ‘town square’ of sorts and each has set up a booth with their wares, hoping for people to stop by and linger and actually acknowledge their existence, not just look and not leave a trace, i.e. a comment or like. If people don’t leave a comment or like or send you a message then you really don’t know if they or anyone were there. Everything just becomes a prop to get more attention, including seemingly major life announcements for some people. When will we see the first woman have a baby, or get married, or do anything really, mainly to get attention online? Or has it already happened?
Of course there can be a lot of good things, all the obvious points, keeping in touch, etc. But over time it seems like you end up having less real life, direct contact with people than you used to. It ends up being something that seems to cause people to lose more friends than make them, and then the quality of contact seems to be less. People take for granted that you’re there. In the past maybe they call you when they’re going to be in town, but now they just post it not really knowing who will see it, or if you do you aren’t necessarily sure if they want to connect, will have time, etc. People figure if they never see you, at least you’re on there and they can look at your stuff anytime.
I wonder how long people who previously used to spend time together could be ‘friends’ online & essentially mutually ignore each other. What if you haven’t heard from someone for one year, two years, five years, even though you are ‘friends’ online. If you weren’t friends online would people make more of an effort to see you? Are you essentially as if required to be on whichever site as a prerequisite to being included in people’s lives who are on there? But then being on there a lot of times, over the course of years ends up being the odd ‘like’. What an investment that is, to muster up the energy and commitment to publicly, or at least to the audience allowed by privacy settings, to like someone’s post. A major decision in life.
Over the years it has seemed to come to take over social life, as if all interaction now must go through it, with everyone now on there, and all of the negative aspects that come with it, I’ve thought, as I’m sure many have, of quitting the site. I think the tipping point is when you start getting ‘unfriended’ by people you’ve known for years. A lot of times it’s by people who on the site you hardly know that they know you’re there. So someone you have known for years, who rarely if ever interacts with you, who you haven’t seen in person for years, all the sudden unfriends you. You don’t know why, they’d never tell you and you wouldn’t ask.
For me, you get unfriended one too many times and it all comes together. You wonder if it really is worth it to be on there anymore. There is a certain almost oppressive aspect to it, the fact that it dominates. At first social media was a little bit of an escape from daily life, now it has consumed daily life. Now you might want as escape from it the same way you escaped real life in the first place. It has come full circle.
If you don’t actively seek attention on social media you won’t get it. It’s like going off into a corner at a party. Everything is cheap on social media. There is no effort involved in supposedly keeping in touch. Everything is taken for granted. You have to play the game if you want to get cheap likes and comments. Sure, some of it is genuine, but at the same time if you all the sudden stopped liking anyone’s posts over time the same will happen to you. Maybe its the same in real life. If you stop calling people, they stop calling you, but online how hard is it to like a photo someone posts?
As you get older this whole environment starts to lose it’s appeal. The novelty has worn off. Not that you want to entirely get off the internet, but maybe move to a different format, get away from this all inclusive, insular environment that dictates that you follow it’s rules and value what it values, which is ultimately cheap, easy, meaningless imitations of real life relationships. It’s a trap. At first it’s nice, but over time it transforms society. Some might be just fine with its dynamics. It gives you the illusion of doing something in real life. Posting links takes no effort. People can post links all day and have little or no involvement in the community around them. It becomes a literal virtual reality, the world’s biggest roll playing game. Many get exaggerated ideas of the influence they have and the ‘difference’ they make on anything. You can go online and play the hero without ever breaking a sweat.
What do you do? Do you deactivate? If so, you’ll be back, it’s always there. Do you permanently delete? If you do you lose all the pages you follow, your pictures, etc. A third option would be to delete entire groups of friends. You can still use your profile as a news feed and depository for your pictures, maybe keep a few friends around. The problem with deleting one or two friends in a group is that you’re still part of the party, you’re still in the mix. You have to delete everyone in certain groups in order to really get away from the environment. Otherwise you can still be dragged in, you still give someone a chance to unfriend you, or to post something that gets under your skin, or see an unfriended person’s post on someone’s page who is still a friend.
Deleting vast groups of people is also a halfway measure to entirely leaving the site, or to at least using it how you want. The main thing to worry about is if people take it personally, if they take it the wrong way, jump to conclusions. If you were to post your intentions ahead of time people would think you were grandstanding, looking for attention or sympathy. You just have to do it and hope for the best. Besides the people who deleted you didn’t care one bit if it hurt your feelings. People who post things they know others are going to be offended by don’t care if they hurt anyone’s feelings, and neither apparently do any of the people who like and comment and the others who see it and don’t then unfriend that person. Not that no one should ever say or do anything offensive. Why does someone unfriend one person for essentially being no more ‘offensive’ as others who they don’t unfriend?
In the social media ‘debate’ arena you would prefer more reasoned, intelligent, sober, fair minded analysis with people being able to bring up counter points without angry outbursts on either or any side, but alas, that isn’t the case. It’s like you’re at that park with everyone, each with a booth and the vocal few setting up soap boxes attracting followers, becoming mini internet demagogues, stroking their egos, getting an exaggerated sense of actually doing something in real life as people pat them on the back. The loudest voice gets the most attention, and a lot of times the ones who accuse others of being too loud don’t disapprove of someone else of being too loud as long as they agree with them. So it goes.
It might sound cliche, but there is a simplicity in trying to get back to a pre current main site type of social life. It is kind of freeing to not be in that mix anymore. You don’t know what people think, or if some of them even noticed. If anyone did they haven’t contacted you to ask what happened. Unfortunately perhaps if you unfriend people they are bound to take it as a sign that you are basically saying you don’t want them in your life anymore. Getting out of such a dominating social media site isn’t easy.
Once you do though you don’t miss the narcissism of people thinking their every thought is so meaningful, beyond what it often looks like from outside, just a needy person looking for attention. Imagine going out in the real world and actually creating something positive instead of going online and posting glib, passive aggressive jibes into the void as a means of gaining self esteem, or of covering up the fact that you aren’t really doing anything meaningful with your free time, which is fine, but too many people use it to give themselves the illusion that they’re ‘doing something’ and then leverage that false sense of doing something, usually by posting links, being snide, etc, which, how is that an accomplishment? They’ll then leverage that as a means to feel better than other people.
Imagine a future with everyone online posting links, making snide comments, constantly seeking attention, trying to get fake status in cyber space, while out in the real world no one is actually doing anything. All the people online will be posting vague pleas for someone else to do things in the real world while they sit at their computers feeling smug about having supposedly done something.
Ultimately it seems unnatural to accumulate so many cyber friends, so many people who in the past you would have never seen again, or even people who maybe you’d see at High School reunions (if you go) or family reunions, or randomly run into. Now no one ever leaves. You have this artificial network of people all posting into the void, and many of them not willing to admit its a pale comparison of their life before if they spend too much time on it, many unwilling to leave, for fear of real world repercussions. It’s kind of a scary thought to think that you almost have to be on some site for fear your real world life could suffer if you’re not on there. Is that ‘Orwellian’?
Will there come a day when nearly everyone on earth is on some type of site, even when perhaps it is literally required rather than almost being an unwritten rule? Whatever the case may be I took the third option I listed above and deleted two thirds of my friends. You don’t know if it’s going to cause problems. It’s weird that trying to leave such a site can cause such trepidation. I don’t regret it.
Another thing I won’t miss is the feeling as if so many people can keep tabs on you, can see anything you post and make it a talking point in gossip circles, to the point that sometimes it can get back to you. Who needs that? Who needs old friends suddenly deleting you with no obvious cause, no explanation. Who needs to see people’s ultimately inconsequential rantings, unfounded feelings of self importance, smugness, passing judgement on those who don’t agree with them on this or that?
Imagine all that you could be doing while you’re on the internet giving yourself the illusion that you’re having some type of impact. Not saying that no one online has an impact. People on sites with big followings do have and impact of course. But who is out in the real world actually creating real life community? Who is out creating works of art, writing books, creating architecture, doing the hard work of building and maintaining communities? At what point do we have too many people meaninglessly pontificating to their curated choir online and not enough people out in their communities creating something concrete?
People will say moderation in all things perhaps. Maybe the counter to that is the addictiveness of social media, particularly the sites with the most members. You create this little cyber world that ends up consuming so much of your time and energy and what do you have to show for it? Years of posts with comments and likes? Will you show your kids (if you have any) years worth of your timeline? Will people be impressed with your posts five years from now? Will you wish you had spent your time doing something else?
Part of me feels bad deleting so many people. A small fraction of them actually occasionally liked and/or commented on my posts. Many more on there I don’t know if they did or didn’t see what I posted. I think in the end what it became just isn’t for me. I didn’t want to play the game necessary to get the likes. And then I didn’t want to get sucked into the negative aspects either anymore. I didn’t want anyone to have the opportunity to make anything I posted a subject for gossip, or to misunderstand anything I posted and then seemingly post something back. Sometimes you never know what people really mean online. In person you have facial expressions. Online I think misunderstandings are much more common.
There’s something a little too voyeuristic for my taste about the current most popular social media site. You can essentially stalk someone without them having any idea you’ve looked at their page. It seems to almost encourage this type of behavior. So on the one hand you have attention seeking narcissism, smugness, over-estimation of influence, and on the other you have potential lurking, stalking, indirect communication, passive-aggression, etc. Not a very good mix. Of course not all people who use the site fall into these categories, or maybe they only occasionally do, or maybe they’re too oblivious to notice or get involved in the negative aspects. For me it’s a party I’m tired of being at, I want to leave, but am afraid if I say I’m leaving I’ll get sucked back in, so that leaves one option perhaps, “The French Exit”.
I didn’t post and explanation before I unfriended so many people. It wasn’t personal. I felt like I just needed to get away from that environment and anything I posted would just come off bad in some way. I think a lot of people probably didn’t notice at first, maybe they did, maybe a few wondered if I had something against them. There’s really no easy way to do it. That’s the point. You’re almost stuck on there. I still want to use the site as a newsfeed of news, art, culture, music sites etc and for my photos. And then if the quality of the interaction was so taken for granted with relatively so little interaction, what really is the quality of ‘unfriending’, what is anyone really losing at that point? Someone they ignore, take for granted, take the huge step of liking a post once a year? So after wanting to delete my page, or do something to get away from the site for at least the last two years, I finally did something….
Exit stage left.