The unsociable among us are the silent protesters of a world gone mad.
About a month ago I wrote a post about evacuating Facebook. I had long since deleted the app from my phone — actually, I never re-installed it after my phone restoration incident — and logged out of every connected app, browser, and device. I closed my browser, walked away, and didn’t look back. I locked the key under a loose floorboard, poured myself a coffee, and picked up a magazine.
The key rattled a little bit. I could hear it clicking and clacking around in the floor joists.
For a couple weeks, the Facebook engagement bots sent me numerous messages wondering in a rainbow of tones and inquiries if I was coming back. ‘It looks like you’re having trouble logging into Facebook. Just click the button below and we’ll log you in.’ (no thanks) … ‘Did you lose your password?’ (kinda) … ‘Do you need help logging in?’ (not really) … ‘Your friends miss your updates.’ (i doubt it) … ‘Just click this link: it’ll be soooo easy to reconnect. C’mon… you know you want to.’ (leave me alone!)
When I signed out four weeks ago, I wrote of my guilt and frustration, a quiet but righteous indignation at the whatchagonnado shrug of indifference that this multi-billion dollar media company had evoked as they casually leveraged the labour and love and trust and this ubiquitous infiltration of our lives into an angry and destructive propaganda machine that was deconstructing society. The reasons were not clear, but do reasons for such things even matter: it was either by naive-Utopian ideals (information is pure and perfect) or a distorted amplification of capitalism in sheep’s clothing (you’re not a customer, you’re a product), or something else inexplicably ineffable and altogether too abstract to anger more than a few people like me.
I signed out. Walked away. And ignored the rattle of the key in the floorboards.
The weird thing about us modern people is that we expect stasis.
Here. Pause the tape now and do a little test on yourself. Finish the phrase: Did you hear that [ POLITICIAN NAME ] changed their mind on [ ISSUE ] ? … and now consider how you feel about that statement.
Do you feel curiosity? Do you want to know what info changed their mind?
Or, do you feel angry? Do you want to use words like “turncoat” or “hypocrite”? Do you want to write an angry comment?
The weird thing about us modern people is that a lot of us express these reactive, surface-level emotions that imply that we really, honestly feel angry about this kind of statement. It makes us roll our eyes, shake our heads, seethe. We feel betrayed if someone stops agreeing with us or suspicious if someone suddenly thinks the same way we do. We hate people who change their minds.
So much of our tribalism instincts emerge under the flimsiest of excuses.
I stumbled across an idea a number of years ago, and while I don’t think it defines me as a person, it certainly informs how I exist. The idea was from a novel and didn’t have a name per se, but was established as part of the main character’s growth arc to explain the concept of how he opened his mind to bigger things and became a leader-by-example in the story: he did this by trying on new ideas just to see how they fit or felt. Over the novel, the main character would temporarily let loose himself into an ideology or religion or political worldview, submerge himself into it, so that when he swam back to the surface and broke back through into whatever passed for his own beliefs he could honestly see the universe through the eyes of someone with a different perspective of it.
It’s not a perfect term (tho I need a simple way to continue writing about this) but let’s call this ideological grokking.
I think that simply knowing that the very notion of ideological grokking exists as a possibility, even just as an abstract concept in a novel, is what frustrates me most about social media.
Like the naive-Utopian ideals that built a tool so easily exploited by nefarious forces — the same kinds of people who gleefully run telephone scams, find chinks in the armor of electronic security and exploit them, or make dark tools to sow dark deeds with dark consequences — my own naive-Utopian ideals would push for a kind of existence where ideological grokking is the end-goal of anyone who wants to engage in a broad, dynamic society. Grokking could be a type of human mindfulness where there is a place, a time, maybe even a process of welcoming something contrary into one’s heart. You’d try an idea on. You’d taste it. Feel it. Swim in it. You’d live with it for a day or a week or a year. In this you’d know what made other people tick, love, hate, live, fight, whatever. And then — simply — you’d step out of that and go back to how you were — mostly — but changed for the experience.
Instead we do exactly the opposite of ideological grokking. Rather than leaping into someone else’s shoes, rather than submerging ourselves in a new viewpoint, social media has become a place where we tighten our laces and slip across a frozen ideological lake of ideas. Social media has become a place that amplifies that feeling of tribalism and a place that shouts the loudest and angriest when someone changes their mind. We silo. We customize. We personalize. We specifically filter out ideas that we don’t like because they don’t evoke an emotion that can be summed up in one of a short-list of cartoon icons.
Most social media does something terrible: it cashes in the fluidity and beauty of the human mind for a society that must stand perfectly still at all costs. We don’t shape the technology. We let the technology shape us, hold us, lock us into something we can’t be if we want to continue existing. Social media has made it so that we can’t change because the digital world is what is swirling around us and if we move too far, step too widely, stray from the narrow path we may find ourselves lost. Or, at least, we seem to fear that.
As a result, I tend to find myself more than a little dizzy trying to be one of those who attempts to grok — I move, jump, and explore (or at least try to) in this hectic digital landscape — and so I end up blurred and exhausted, frustrated and guilty, and I stand up and write angry blog posts …and vent …and rant …and shout to the unlistening world that I’m done.
…until I catch my breath again.
Social media is broken. Simple.
The news is not fake. The media is not corrupt. Our science is not broken. These are tools. Channels. Rules. What is broken is our ability to think critically: to step into these realities, evaluate them, and then step back out of the whirlwind of tribal, my team versus your team, partisanship and question why we’re so set on staying unmoved. What is really broken is our ability to think about the world with our own brains but informed by ideas that challenge us, tear at us to reconsider, and let us know it’s okay to change our minds.
I forget this too.
And I sometimes forget that becoming this take-my-ball-and-leave unsociable, silent protester in a world gone mad isn’t the fix either. I forget to grok other ideologies. To take a deep breath. To sink back under the surface. And to let the maelstrom surrounding me make me a better person rather than someone who never changes and ignores the rattling key in exchange for peace and quiet.
Am I back on social media?
No. Not yet at least. But I think I’m suiting up for a different kind of adventure in that space. Maybe soon. Maybe I’ll see you there, no longer unsocial, no longer silent.