The world is quiet here.
For the last four of five months, I’ve taken a break from Facebook. It was a self-imposed hiatus, and I returned at intervals to commemorate special occasions and to laugh a little before deactivating again. It has been four months without some of the smartest, wittiest people I know capturing my attention. It has been four months of not using social media as a news source, not trading bad puns, not seeing anyone’s breakfasts or hearing what irritated them at the grocery store today or sharing in a grandchild’s first steps or his scuffle at school. For a third of a year, I didn’t fight with anyone about politics, I didn’t moderate a social media room where I enjoy the sheer pleasure of kicking a jerk out of a group, and I haven’t had any insults hurled at me at the speed of cyberspace.
(I briefly considered writing a daily journal of the sort “Day 1: There is no evidence of humanity present, my phone screen remains black and notifications are scarce.” But then I realized the only place to post it would be . . . ah. You’re way ahead of me here, aren’t you, dear reader?)
What I have learned in the intervening time is useful. I would like to tell you how beautifully quiet my mind has been for the last four months. I didn’t even realize the noise it was creating in my head (even when not on the platform) until I got about two weeks out from my addiction. And then peace descended like the first, soft snowfall of the year, and I found I could think again in old ways that had slipped away from me.
I learned that I hadn’t forgotten how to read a book, I could still hold a meaningful conversation with someone face-to-face, and I rediscovered something for me that was one of my principal foundations as a parent: boredom induces creativity. I’ve filled the void (which was embarrassingly large) with some good things.
Apparently I was not alone in my inclination to reach for the app in moments of acedia. According to Zephoria Digital Marketing, a company that assists other companies in placing social media advertising:
1.49 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily and are considered daily active users (Facebook DAU) for September 2018, which represents a 9 percent increase year over year (Source: Facebook as 10/30/18). Sixty-six percent of Facebook’s audience would be considered DAU versus Monthly Active Users (MAU). The Implication: A huge and vastly growing number of Facebook users are active and consistent in their visits to the site, making them a promising audience for your marketing efforts.
For me, this means that whether I’m searching for Grandma’s apple kuchen recipe or debating the government shutdown, I am willingly allowing marketing groups to speak to my subconscious, telling me where I lack and creating needs where none actually exists.
But then there is this: I have a terrible (wonderful) sense of humor and I find myself constantly delighted by like-minded folks I can laugh with the world across. I am political, religious, and involved in a unique business. I have a hometown, an alumni class, hobbies, and interests. My family is adorable and quirky and we live far away from each other. I am in social media groups that support and encourage all of those things. What can possibly be harmful about that?
The answer is, of course, nothing. Nothing is wrong with educating ourselves, challenging our minds, and sharing lovely stories. It is the addictive qualities to doing those things in this format, however, that has me concerned. Commenting on this very point, American Greatness managing editor Ben Boychuk wrote in the Sacramento Bee: “I started calling Facebook ‘Zuckerberg’s dopamine hit machine’ because that’s really what it is. Read some of the growing literature on the perniciousness of social media and you’ll get my meaning. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are a behaviorist’s dream. You make a post. You wait for ‘likes.’ You scroll. You ‘like.’ Over and over. More likes, more smiles. No likes, more frowns. Now multiply that by 2 billion users around the globe. Dr. Pavlov, call your office. Dr. Skinner, you, too.”
Besides the subconscious selling and junkie nature of Facebook, there were also new privacy concerns released last week. Slate commented, “The Times reported that Facebook struck deals with several companies that allowed for the sharing of users’ contact lists and address books, partly to enhance Facebook’s shady ‘People You May Know’ recommendation engine. One of those partners was the Chinese firm Huawei, which the U.S. government views as a national cybersecurity risk. Facebook also had a partnership with the Russian tech firm Yandex, which is suspected of Kremlin ties, that gave it access to Facebook user IDs. And not only did it sling user data around, the company failed to reel it back in once its partners no longer needed it.”
We signed up for this, folks—we failed to read the fine print and gave permission to the media mogul to sell our data. Is that OK with you? In retrospect, it is not OK with me.
While we continue to amuse ourselves at our screens like hamsters running in their endless loops, we become hounds chasing our dopamine, and meanwhile the advertising juggernaut continues to log our personal information in the background while we are too stoned to recognize the reality. Marx missed the mark when he characterized religion as the opiate of the masses—he ought to have called our sad need for affirmation that prefigured all future social media platforms.
If you’re thinking of ditching Facebook, I encourage you to try it. Delete it from your phone, deactivate it (you have to deactivate every seven days or it automatically reactivates), get rid of Messenger. Get over the itching hump of checking it incessantly at stop lights or the grocery store. Call your mother to find out how she is and what she had for breakfast, write a letter longhand, admire the snow falling outside. Learn to be quiet with your thoughts, rediscover old ways of thinking, of being, of breathing. It can be beautiful.
Photo Credit: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images