I am coming to the end of my official social media sabbatical, and as an experiment, I wanted to write up what I have personally learned in this past month (or so).
As I mentioned at the outset, I didn’t go looking for a “cleansing” during this period, though I mention now that despite this not being the purpose, I found one anyway.
What I’ve missed the most is being able to turn to certain people at a moment’s notice. For example, I didn’t really have anyone to talk with about this month’s XBOX Showcase event, which is something I would have followed both in live video form and in live Tweet form with my peers. I of course have my family — now more than ever considering how house-bound we all are — and we have our own conversations over the course of a day, but the biggest benefit of social media — the meeting of people who like the same things, who have similar experiences as I do, and being able to reach out to them when the moment strikes — was the hardest thing to do without this past month. Whenever I thought about Twitter, it was because I was wondering how my friends were doing in their daily lives. I was never concerned, however, about what I was missing out on.
What I’ve missed the least is social media’s anxiety engine. There’s a lot of shit going on in the world in 2020, and it seems that the veritable soul of humanity is at stake. Social media has always been in the public cross-hairs as “being responsible” for so many things, but the technology — the actual platforms we use — are fundamentally neutral. It’s who uses it and who manages it, and how it is used and how it is managed that is really the cause for our divisions. It really feels that using social media in 2020 means you are expected to take a side in one or every cultural battle that is waged in 280 characters or less. If you avoid making a commitment, you are considered to be an other, plain and simple. If you do make a commitment, then you are expected to toe a very specific line; you are effectively a bot employed to Tweet and re-Tweet approved sentiments in order to further an agenda, and even if you believe in the agenda with every fiber of your being, you as an individual are only as valuable or as loyal as your public persona is in service to the cause. Want to talk about video games? You could be and should be talking about more serious matters. Not being seen furthering the agenda is an exercise in privilege, as we’re swiftly reminded. Wanting to be on the right side, doing the right thing, and not being seen as anything but an ally is a full time job on social media because social media demands it, we are reminded of it, and over time, we grow to believe that they act of being seen is the cause. After a while, one might start to believe that any use of social media outside of the cause is betraying the cause, which can result in a loss of friends, or worse, depending on who feels slighted by your bursts of self-interest.
I think what this “vacation” has provided me is an understanding that all of my projects that I had been taking on with fevered regularity were attempts to assert my individuality while under the influence of a hive-mind that demanded I subvert that individuality. What I might create was my way of seeking respect on neutral ground, as the projects I assumed were in areas that were widely accepted by the people I interacted with (video games or TTRPG stuff), or could be seen as accomplished enough (video creation and VFX, for example) so as to be used as a distracting respite from the battles being waged every day. I had begun to feel that my own, personal morality was something I had to prove to others, on their terms, in order to be accepted by them, and that the only way I could be myself was through some inoffensive yet grandiose accomplishment that reaffirmed my worth as an individual with individual experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I had been growing tired of being made to feel that I was a bad person because of my circumstance, and while I made the required public overtures to prove my worth, I believed that my projects would be the vehicle through which I would assert my own sonder, and in doing so would make sure I wouldn’t become yet another rage-monster who lost his soul to the psychological effects of the social media fire hose. As a result, I would always feel that my projects were being undertaken as a means to an end that didn’t involve the result of the project itself; my inability to progress or complete a project would result in anger and depression which were probably amplified when I turned to my daily dose of social media which was, of course, filled with anger and depression of it’s own. I was caught between being a functionary of greater agendas, and unable to surface myself in support of my own well-being.
My life this past month hasn’t been a salve in and of itself. I’m still stuck at home, as many of you are, and at one point in my life I thought that working from home would be comfortable and “easy”, but I’ve come to regard it as just as stressful as commuting to the office…just in different ways. I have noticed that I argue less with friends and family, and I have decided that this is because I’m not kept at DEFCON 2 by what’s scrolling by in my Twitter stream. I’d like to say that my focus has gotten better, though. I have played an absolute shit-ton of No Man’s Sky and have made a conscious effort to get through all episodes of Life is Strange, finally (credit the XBOX Showcase’s deluge of DONTNOD games for this). I’m still interested in TTRPG work, especially as I’ve just acquired the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook and am intrigued by playing or writing for that universe.
This past week I have contemplated returning to Twitter earlier than I had planned, but have decided to hold off until July is officially over. I really miss my friends — and they are friends, make no mistake — but I do not relish the idea of finding out what has been on fire in my absence. I feel that I will have to make hard decisions when I do return; social media should be for us, not against us. We have the power to use it in ways that benefit us, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to believe that we are bad people if we want our streams to be places of comfort rather than places of perpetual calls-to-action. I don’t want to fall back into situations where I feel that my only reason for being present is to be seen in ways that reassure the public that I am a Good Person. I know that I am, and I know there are ways that I can prove it, but they have to be on my terms, not on terms that the Internet demands. If nothing else, being away from social media has reminded me of that.