My relationship with Facebook and other forms of social media began eight years ago. I was a late adopter of social media and only got into it at the urging of various writing teachers and coaches. “Find your voice!” “Build your author platform and social media presence!” For the first years of my having a Facebook account, it was solely a a way to share my blog posts on this Medical Margins website. All fine, but then Facebook began to suck me in with its insidious tentacles of an addictive reward system: “Like my posts! Like my books! Like me, like me!” And the equally powerful addiction to the activating qualities of stress, reading posts (real or fake, who knows?) like “The world is on fire! Trump did this, said that! The sky is really falling you silly Chicken Little!” Suddenly, the people I was following most closely were beginning to add posts like “How much drinking is too much?” I knew it was time to step away from the screen.
I recently took a refreshing break from Facebook, having it coincide with a study abroad experience. One of the first things I noticed was a changed (and healthier, I might add) renewed relationship with the world around me. That gorgeous, unknown-to-me purple plant growing out of an ancient stone wall along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh? Ah yes! No need to quickly pull out my iPhone and snap a photo to add to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or whatever. Stop and admire the plant and not feel the need to instantly share it with the world. (Although, yes, I will share it with you in this post.)
What I told myself as I stood there contemplating this flower. Stop. Wait. Listen. Notice the people walking by on the river walk path. Notice the trees rustling in the wind. Notice the squawking ducks begging children for bits of bread. Notice the wee public library just up that cobblestoned street. Go into that library and see what’s on offer.
The newly converted, cleansed, on the wagon folks of any sort can be quite insufferable, so I will spare you the platitudes. I do recognize the positive uses of Facebook and social media—finding old friends in far-flung reaches of the world, checking on the ‘safe’ status of a friend in the eye of a hurricane, rejoicing in a friend’s success in whatever they find successful. Virtual communities can be powerful sources of information and support for people, especially for marginalized groups. But they are just that—virtual. When they take the place of actual face-to-face, in the local library or corner cafe community-based interactions, that is when skewed realities and misunderstandings and deep divisions flood in and take over our lives.
For now at least, I am officially off most all social media platforms. I have broken up with Facebook and you can find me either in the local library (where I am writing this and channeling my repeat visits to the Mother of All Libraries in the photograph above—the British Library) or at a community cafe.