I need a break

Making sense of the world sometimes requires taking a step back

August 30, 2020

The ethos for Analog Senses is quite straightforward: beyond being your typical tech blog, it’s also a place where I get to reflect about the impact technology has in our lives, our relationships, and society as a whole.

One of the areas with the most potential to influence human interaction is of course social media. Increasingly over time, our relationships with other people are being filtered by the lens of our social media platform of choice, to the point where each passing year more and more relationships could be accurately described as “digital first”, if not “digital only”. In all of history, no other form of technology has had a greater impact on human relationships in such a short period of time.

Social media can be wonderful. It eliminates distances and makes it possible to cultivate genuine relationships and friendships with people that would otherwise be completely unknown to us. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that first hand, and I am amazed at the power of such a huge paradigm shift. It feels like living in the future in the best possible way, and it enables a kind of utopic dream of a truly global society.

But the potential to redefine human interaction on a global scale cuts both ways. As wonderful as it can be, social media can also bring out the worst in ourselves, and amplify it immensely. Unless wielded responsibly, this power can wreak havoc with people’s lives in a very real way. From losing your job over an unfortunate tweet, to being subjected to public humiliation over a simple misunderstanding, social media can unleash a dangerous mob of angry people on pretty much anyone without previous warning.

Social media has also been the primary factor driving the complete erosion of journalistic integrity and the massive spread of misinformation and lies that plagues our current society in ways we can’t even comprehend. The complete lack of accountability and disdain for facts that is ever present online is destroying the very institutions we rely on to form our understanding of the world. It’s hard to overstate just how deep-reaching its consequences are.

Social media has given us great stories of success, and amazing moments of true human connection. But it has also given us cancel culture, and fake news.1 It has given us a world in which flat-out lies are accepted at face value without a second thought, just because they confirm our existing worldview. Confirmation bias is nothing new, but social media has taken it to a whole new level, to the point where reaffirming our own ignorance in the face of contradictory facts is celebrated as an act of bravery and integrity.

We have collectively lost our minds, and we need an intervention.

I consider myself an optimist, which is why I’ve always tried to focus more on the positive aspects of social media, with varying degrees of success over the years.2 Trying to filter the signal from the noise has always been tricky, but I felt there was enough of an upside to doing the work, and that the experience was worth the effort. This is no longer a view I can sustain.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that social media, in its current form, is actively detrimental to my mental health and well-being. It’s taken a lot of introspection, but I’ve realized that social media has been slowly poisoning my character in ways I don’t even fully understand. Being constantly exposed to an endless stream of negativity has made me more angry, and it has shortened my fuse significantly. My tolerance for disagreement is at an all-time low, and I find myself being defensive even when there’s no apparent reason for it. Perhaps more importantly, it’s been draining my capacity for joy and my ability to appreciate the little things in life. All of this has had an impact in my everyday life, my work and my relationships, and I’ve had enough.

I need a fucking break.

With everything that’s going on, I don’t need any extra negativity and frustration in my life right now. I especially don’t need all the bullshit and intellectual dishonesty, the lies and the finger pointing. It strikes me as a tremendous waste of human energy and potential, and I want no part in any of it.

At this point I’m not even interested in having a passionate argument over what the “right thing to do” would be in order to solve this problem. I know plenty of people are fighting the good fight every day, trying to educate all the ignorant bullies and effect meaningful change while conducting themselves with dignity and humility. I truly, honestly admire them, but I’m afraid I can’t join them. I don’t think this is a battle that can ever be won, because the platforms themselves are designed to breed confrontation. The game has always been rigged; we just never realized it.

The most tragic aspect of this is the illusion that we have no choice over any of it and that this is just the way things are online. For some inexplicable reason, we keep believing that lie and inflicting this pain on ourselves day after day and tweet after tweet, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We may not be able to control what some asshole does on Twitter, but we are in control over the things we let into our lives. It’s a choice you get to make every single day. And so I’ve made mine.

Over the next several days and weeks, I will be progressively reducing my social media presence until I find a threshold that allows me to remain sane, if such a thing even exists. I don’t know exactly what form that will take, but I think some drastic actions will be necessary. So if I unfollow you somewhere, please don’t take it personally. I’m just doing what I have to do.

Of course, not all social media platforms are equally toxic, but I’d rather err on the side of caution here.

The first thing I’m going to do is uninstall Twitter from my phone. I don’t think I’ll be deleting my accounts for now, but Twitter is by far the most problematic platform, and I need a clean break from it. Time will tell if I ever decide to come back and give it another shot, but that doesn’t seem very likely. There’s just too many things about it that are wrong by design, not by accident.

I haven’t really used Facebook for anything other than being reminded of birthdays for years, so I don’t think much will be changing there. I honestly don’t even remember the last time I even launched the Facebook app. I have considered deleting my account, but that’s problematic because it’s tied to many other services I’m not yet ready to give up, like Instagram.

And speaking of Instagram, I’m having a much harder time deciding what to do with it than any of the others. There’s plenty of things about Instagram that are wrong,3 but as a photographer, I’m still interested in exploring it as a creative tool, a source of inspiration, and a way to share my photography online. However, I don’t know that that’s compatible with using it as a social network for friends and family. Maybe I’ll create separate accounts for personal and professional use and then aggressively cull the number of people I follow on each. I’m honestly not very enthusiastic about that idea either, but I don’t have a better one at the moment. We’ll see.

As for all the positive things I’ll be giving up, I suppose I’ll just have to find those things out in the real world instead. Right now I need to accept that if I want to be honest and intentional in my relationships with other people and the way I interact with the world, I need to take a step back and regain some perspective.

However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light. Words to live by.

Please take care of yourself and, as ever, thank you for reading.

  1. Social media has also contributed to pushing news outlets to unashamedly embrace clickbait as a policy, simply because a catchy headline is much more likely to go viral. This is a more complex issue driven by the ad-supported business model, but it has far reaching implications: in order to be economically viable, today’s news outlets feel a tremendous pressure to publish any potential scoop as soon as possible, thereby tipping the traditional journalistic balance between “getting it first” and “getting it right” decisively in favor of the former.

  2. That being said, if follower count is any indication of success, I definitely suck at it.

  3. The worst part about Instagram is what I call “influencer syndrome”, by which keeping up appearances matters more than any semblance of reality. Even if I’m friends with you in real life, I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with the version of you that I see on Instagram.