Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Social Media, What is it good for?

There is a storm outside and there is a storm inside me. Everyday I log into social media sites much the way an addict practices addiction. Compulsively, with enthusiasm trailed by regret. More than a dozen times a day, I pick up my phone and make my way through my different accounts.

It's dark out all the time now, we've been through a tough fall, my husband getting used to a new job, all of us mourning the suicide of our daughters boyfriend, Paris on lock-down. White people are outraged. I watch it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

News through the filter of Facebook is contrived, let alone the media itself is so very skewed by revenue. The honest truth is that I feel better when I avoid social media all together. When I can search out information on my own, read an article or two, not just skim the headlines in my feed. I'm doing it, you're doing it. We're selling ourselves short. Facebook makes us shallow and vain.

I think it's preferable to develop ones own opinions based on facts from multiple sources rather than from the biggest group think exercise ever. Somehow the Facebook algorithm only shares news about certain topics and this troubles me. I feel like difficult subjects are less likely to be seen. I posted a Guardian article this morning and didn't get a single like. Had I posted a photo of my daughter as a baby I would have received a lot. Facebook seems to train us to share certain content by rewarding us with likes.

It is better for me to do and keep doing, rather than do, broadcast, and then check-in relentlessly to see who has approved of my doings. It's a sad empty feeling and more and more I find myself staring longingly at my device, wishing for something to happen, instead of making something happen. Constantly comparing yourself to others can be destructive and time consuming.

Overall I am trying to check in less and when I have the urge to look at my phone that is a cue for me to refocus on my work or pick up my knitting or reading. Sometimes I succeed and other days I fail, some days I bargain.

Is it all bad? Personal development done privately in quiet spaces is ideal but one cannot ignore the aspirational qualities of social media, and like it or not it exists in our society. Does this make us falsely more cautious about how we represent ourselves, or do those representations stand up as a higher view of our selves, an ideal to work toward.

I hope for the latter.

I believe strongly in the importance of daily exercise. I walk 3 miles each day, up and down my rural road. I often record observations of those daily walks to use as markers to myself and also to help inspire others in their daily practice of movement. This is one of the positive aspects of a site like Instagram, building connection and community through the use of common hashtags. In this way we connect to others and this is beneficial for creatives I believe.

I live in a place of tremendous natural beauty, I enjoy documenting my surroundings. These photos are a record and also a clue to what I am reacting to in my environment and why. Occasionally I make a good picture and I genuinely want to share it with others whose opinion matters to me.

These days, I use Facebook less and less. I rarely type in a status update any longer for fear of the resulting sidebar ads. It's bad enough that my search histories reflect what appears in my news feed.  

Instagram is charming and easy and a picture is worth a thousand words. I find the feed inspiring and my own feed has become a great archive of my daily activities which I find useful for seeing my progress. Plus, I care about posting interesting well composed photos as a part of my #dailypractice. More and more I see social media as a great archive and record of my state of mind and that is actually a useful tool for me. I look back and see difficult moments represented in photos and written clues. When I first used Facebook I suppose I might have been more direct (although restrained, as I was trained to be in public) in my expression of my feelings about things that were happening in my life. Life changes of course and I can see how my relationship to social media as it develops as a norm within our culture is changing as well.  The creepy algorithm that directs what Facebook presents to me is troubling but I accept that it exists, so I use it cautiously.

There was a time I thought I could go without social media altogether but I must be honest, there is a tiny voice in me that wants to shout out to the other humans in the universe now and then, you never know what you will get back. The feeling of being connected to others is affirming. We are all going through similar life challenges.

Moderation and self reflection go a long way when faced with how to interact with social media. This experiment whose effects—developing for a decade now—will be felt and discussed for a long time. In my opinion it is an interesting tool but it's not the whole universe. Ok, better get this on Twitter...
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