I’ve been struggling with my place in the grander scheme of life recently. I mean, it’s not really recent, it’s been a whole life thing, but every experience brings a new facet.
Specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out social media. It started especially when I was diagnosed, but it’s taken on new meaning as political events unfolded and the coronavirus hit. I’ve been spinning my wheels for years, and in the past few days, I seem to have finally come to a conclusion.
Human beings are the product nowadays
It was said once to me that if you’re getting something for free, that means you’re the product. I want to unpack this for a moment because it’s important. It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, well, I don’t have the energy to look at what this implies, so I’m just going to nod and pass it by.” For me, this is forming an important backbone of how I want to be in the world.
When we’re on social media, we’re constantly being shown ads for this or that or whatever. When Facebook first came out, there were ways to shut that shit down. When I was on Twitter a few years ago, I got around it by making Lists and never going in my main feed. But because we’re a commodity that the sites are selling to advertisers, it’s getting harder and harder to do that. They’re not even letting the smart ones get away with it anymore. We’re all expected to pay our eyeball dues.
We CAN just ignore what’s passing through, but the mindset is still there, and the entire industrial complex has been built around getting things into our unconscious minds. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that these tactics work best when people are unaware of them, so money is being put into making them better, more refined, and more hidden.
Even more than that, though, is the influence on our society, and how we relate to one another individually. We think that we hold our own destinies in our hands, but the concept of culture says otherwise. You know the saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever played is convincing the world he doesn’t exist”? We are constantly barraged with the idea that pop culture isn’t culture; that the water we swim in isn’t boiling; that how it is, is how it has always been and how it should be and how it always will be, amen.
These are all lies.
We’ve all turned into peddlers of wares
I was scrolling through Instagram the other day, looking at someone making cakes over here and playing with their puppy over there (which, both things make me happy, so that’s cool enough), but then I realized almost every single person in my feed had something to sell me.
Please do not get me wrong here. I completely understand why. In fact, I have something to sell you — my novels — although I’m not actively pursuing it at the moment. (Check out the side bar if you’re interested. –>) I know that the way to sell those books is to brand myself and post regularly on social media, just like everyone else is doing, and this is why I originally started grappling with what to do about social media, since I’m genuinely starting to think about writing again. So I’m no saint — I want something from you, and that something is for you to read my work.
Then I stumbled across an infographic saying, “Social media should more accurately be called marketing media,” and that shook me. All these accounts that I follow, mostly of people that I like and respect since I did a clean-out, are all trying to get me to buy something. Not because they’re greedy or bad, but because that this point in our society, this is 1) what we’ve been taught is the way to relate to one another and 2) because of grave social and economic injustices that will take generations and probably centuries, if not millennia, to sort out.
I’m trying to look around and see the water. I’m trying. I’m trying.
And then they get us to blame ourselves when it doesn’t work
I thought all along that I was using social media incorrectly. I thought that it was just one more thing that I, an introvert, am bad at. And don’t get me wrong, I will freely admit that ineptitude at social interactions might be part of the problem here. But what if — what if — the problem isn’t with me, but with the greater society of which I’m a part?
It is hard to look at your society, and we don’t like doing it, because it means we don’t have control. As a codependent, I’ve struggled with this my whole life. If I have to give up the idea of fixing someone else (or society), that means I have to give up the idea that I am in control of my life. I most certainly do not want to fight a machine that will mow me down and chew me up and digest me as a tasty treat. But this is exactly what we court when we look at society and where it’s brought us. It’s exactly what I’m doing when I say, “Maybe the problem is with how social media is set up from its foundation.”
It allows us to scream into the void with all our pent-up rage and confusion, but it doesn’t allow us to feel safe while doing it. No matter what you say, some guy will come along with “not all people who like crunchy peanut butter” over the most inane, stupid, why-would-you-argue-with-this bland statements. You’ve experienced it as well as I have. You know what I’m talking about.
You can post and post and post, but you never feel close to anyone doing it. You talk at everyone, and then even friends who agree with you talk back to you but really are talking at everyone, too, and nobody actually connects to form a meaningful interaction.
But the content keeps coming, and the quick little posts keep your attention just long enough for a reply, and then you’re scrolling on to the next one.
These are the things THEY know to keep us hooked and buying stuff.
The purpose is not what we think it is
I just keep thinking, “If I really understood how to use social media, I would use it to get close to friends.” People I’ve lost contact with. People I have only just met. Old friends, new friends, relatives I didn’t know shared my point of view.
But this is wrong, for the simple fact that social media was never designed to create that interaction. It was designed instead to give the illusion that that’s what it’s doing.
I really hate sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but it’s not paranoia if they’re all really out to get you. And the honest truth is that happy people who have fulfilling relationships do not impulse buy crap off Wish or Amazon or the latest “liquidation sale” that pops up on their feed. It is not in the interest of anyone who has anything to sell you to help you get your needs met elsewhere. And that includes us. The corporations have turned us into advertising drones.
We have created a layer where we’re now having social interactions with one another that are disingenuous — even those of us who, upon conscious reflection, do not want to do that to our fellow human beings — because we’ve all got a side hustle and want to sell each other stuff because our consumer-driven lives are making us miserable, and we have to get out of our soul-sucking jobs. Bottom line? Gotta share these cute cat pics because someone might follow me and click my link and buy my stuff.
All we want is some gods’ damned freedom.
So what do we do about it?
Well, shit, if you’ve come here expecting an answer, you’re going to be mad that you read all this to find out that I don’t have one.
Gods’ honest truth, I don’t think the answer is leaving social media. I may be wrong, and I could reverse this stance tomorrow, and I’m not judging anyone who has made that choice because I have basically done that for three years.
But the internets are here to stay, and we have to figure out how to act in the world we have, not the one we want. Not to mention, we have a responsibility to thrash around until we figure it out so that we can teach the next generation not to make all the mistakes we’re making now. I’m not a Luddite, and I’m not going to ban my kids from TikTok until they move out of the house. That would be naive, at best.
I mean, the first step in untangling this knot would be to interrogate your usage of social media. Observe how you use it, write a manifesto about how you want to use it, and then do that. I’ve done the observation, so I can mostly catch myself when I’ve started doomscrolling. And I’ve done half of the second, which means basically I just stopped using social media. This blog post is part of the second half — trying to figure out how to actually make use of it to make me a saner, happier person.
I spent an hour on Twitter the other day, something I haven’t done in a good long while. (Twitter was the first to go when I was diagnosed and didn’t have the emotional well-being to withstand the onslaught of gloom and doom.) By the end of the day, I was morose. Politicians are power-hungry monsters, half the country has their head up their asses, the other half has their head in the sand, and I’m not sure which is which. I have no idea how you people can steep yourselves in this day after day after day. No wonder we’re all sick with digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, and mental health problems. No wonder — no fucking wonder — I have cancer.
We’re all going to have cancer if we continue this way. All of us.
Is it naive to think I can figure out a way to make social media work for me? Maybe. I’ve tried to figure it out for years now. I’m a relatively intelligent person, and I still have no idea. The only way I figured to make it work for me was before when I was planning on trying to work (exploit?) the system to sell my books.
What do I want?
That used to have a totally different answer. I wanted to be able to support myself as a writer because I was absolutely miserable at my day job. I hated being a project manager, and I hated working for a corporation. I hated it so much I got cancer! Hahahaha, not funny, partially true.
(I do not blame my boss or the people I work with — although a little bit I blame the executives because they’re the ones who create the culture — because it was my choice to stay in fear in a job that was a poor fit. My job did not give me cancer. The choices I made created conditions that were conducive to cancer.)
But today, I am on disability. I don’t have to worry about supporting my family, at least for the time being. So now I can ask myself that question — what do I want? — and listen to the answer without fear.
So I guess… I want to be heard. To be listened to. To be valued. To contribute to the evolution of the human race. To have people read and appreciate my work. To pour out my heart and soul for as long as I have left on this planet.
I started this post talking about how I’m struggling with how I fit into “the grander scheme of life,” and that’s really what this is all about. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What do I need to do on a daily basis to have meaning and to contribute to the universe?
I suppose that’s the place I need to start with.