The Mess That is Social Media
A few days ago, I made a choice limit my use of Twitter and delete Linked In. I also significantly pared down the number of followers I have on Instagram and vowed to do another 30-day cleanse from Facebook. A lot of people do not understand what I am doing, so I am taking the time to post a blog about exactly why I chose to begin to substantially limit my presence on social media.
This has been an issue I have been concerned with for a long time. My parents have never had a presence on Facebook. They use Instagram sparingly. Other members of my family have completely walked away from all social media, or are merely disinterested. I have taken several breaks from Facebook or other social media in the past, but my thinking about the entire system is shifting. In order to explain this fully, I would like to take you back to my first grand exposure to social media, and my winding relationship with Facebook.
I graduated from high school in 2006, the era when everyone flat ironed their hair and wore chunky shoes. The Bohemian look of the late 90s was still subtly in style, as were plastic bracelets and faux punk earrings. We all had a MySpace. For those of you who were pre-MySpace era, it was a similar platform to Facebook in many ways, but overall more simplistic. I have vague memories of a grouping of “top friends” and some semblance of a profile. Previous to the MySpace era we all had blogs on Xanga or Livejournal. 2006 was the very early era of social media. Those of us who were tech-savvy participated, but the word “addiction” crossed the minds of few. Text messages were costly. At sixteen I got my first phone, a slider (old school!). I was not allowed to text, only call. Since calling after 9pm was free, we all waited until after 9pm to call people and gossip about what happened at school that day.
I was very peripherally involved online. I definitely used AIM and MySpace, but my favorite leisure activities included singing along to 80s albums in an attempt to imitate rock stars. (This activity that proved helpful in my future career as a voice teacher and professional singer) and writing in my journals. I also made collages and enjoyed organizing things like books or jewelry. So, needless to say, social media was a major afterthought.
I remember one day at school my friend told me about that her older brother, a student at Penn State, had a Facebook. She said it was a “college thing”. I remember thinking, “Oh, cool it’s like MySpace only for college kids.” I remember finding a lot of my future classmates on MySpace, but Facebook was the prize my senior year of high school. At the time Facebook was an exclusive club. In those days you had to have a .edu address to get on Facebook, which also meant you had to be in college. We all wanted a .edu address simply so we could get a Facebook and be part of the new cool kids crowd. We wanted to be in the exclusive club. (In the movie, The Social Network, they talk about this phenomenon very briefly.)
Honestly, Facebook was a lifesaver for me in college. My first semester I worked in the library and Facebook acted as cheap entertainment in the boring off hours when I had finished my homework and shelved all of the loose books. It was a fun, social thing to click around on. This was prior to the era of the smartphone, and Facebook was only available to us on desktops or laptops. I would often head to my room after class to check up on people or message my friends, but I never remember spending hours on the site. Ever.
I don’t remember the exact date, but somewhere around my junior or senior year of college, Facebook began to shift. The period of college exclusivity ended, and people who did not have a .edu address where allowed to enter the world of Facebook. What was once this closed world of college students and old friends from high school, cracked open and allowed all sorts of people in.
I graduated in 2010 and was mired in the economy of the recession. I was stuck in my parents’ house for two years applying for jobs. Facebook slowly started to eat away at my self-worth, but I had no idea at the time. All I knew was that I was miserable and watched so many people have much better lives than me, while I was stuck in my parents’ house filling out job applications and obsessively updating my resume. I finally decided to go to graduate school in 2012 and I believe this was the beginning of the end for my social media relationship. In graduate school, I really felt a shift in everyone’s relationship to Facebook. It went from a relationship of fascination to a relationship of addiction. This was also the beginning of a lot of self promotion on the platform. It had been two years since I had been in college, and the entire culture around Facebook had changed. Teachers were on it. Some people’s parents were on it. Aunts, uncles, cousins, co-workers, and the random guy across the street were all on it.
After grad school, in 2015, I took a class on classical singer marketing. It was extremely helpful and educational class, but also the furthering of my very unhealthy relationship with social media. It was the beginning of my use of social media for my business and my self promotion as an artist. We were instructed to create social media business “pages” and also taught how to target our advertising. I remember thinking during this class, “Great! Now I know how to build a fan-base! This is fantastic!”, but as I became better educated, this began to wane.
Facebook proved to be very helpful in my move to New York a year later. I found my roommate on Facebook. I figured out which friends I had living in New York. When I chose to leave my steady job, Facebook was a very helpful tool to find work, clientele and resources, but this all came at a major cost.
Living in New York was a dream that I never really thought I would live, so I got much further than I expected, but I was noticing really adverse changes in my behavior. I would get cranky, upset, over-wrought. My anxiety, which had always been present but not debilitating, became a constant way of life. I felt like I was becoming less and less of myself. Something was wrong, and I really felt that one of the major issues was definitely social media.
The Research and Realization
One day, as I was clicking through channels I stumbled upon an interview with Jaron Lanier. I’m a huge fan of any kind of philosophy, and Jaron’s views on things regarding technology fascinated me. Later in the interview he began talking about his new book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now. I love to read, but I am completely and totally cheap when it comes to books. Unless it’s a definite reference for me (or a musical score), I tend to put it on my holds list for the library. This book sat on my hold list for awhile, and when I finally got a chance to read it, I found the information both gratifying but also terrifying. It confirmed what I had known and been bothered by for years. Social media is destructive to our society.
Soon after I became more interested in this subject. I began to look into the work of Cal Newport . He is also not a fan of social media, but for more personal reasons than Jaron Lanier. His basic argument is that social media is destroying our capacity for concentration. His new book, Digital Minimalism, is on my holds list.
Finally, in the rabbit hole I went down listening to podcasts on the subject, I found Tristan Harris’s terrifying senate hearing. I encourage everyone to go to the link and listen to his talk. Some of the things he said both shocked and appalled me, and I feel like this did not get the press it deserved.
However, I remain conflicted. As a woman of the modern age, and an artist, I cannot downplay the impact certain spheres of social media have had on my life and career. I feel as if they have done some good, but I am beginning to greatly fear the implications of the bad things that will be coming from use of social media both personally and in society as a whole. In addition, the networking of social media is, in some ways, indispensable. This is why I chose to take a sabbatical from the site. The only app I am using is messenger.
For the time being, I still have a Facebook, however after the next thirty days, I may feel differently.