Life without Facebook 2

September 5, 2019 at 12:09 pm (By Amba) (, )

I am so used to being involved in the far-flung water cooler chatter that most of spend an inordinate portion of our days in that when I read the news I have a strong (I won’t say irresistible) impulse to comment on it (wittily if I can, to get hits of admiration dopamine) and share it. Nowadays, this almost feels like a responsibility of citizenship, a way to turn being informed into a participatory activity. To leave social media is to abandon one’s small part in the work of weaving the collective consciousness of our time, day by day—a task that has become democratized by social media, so now it’s not just pundits opining and the reactions of breakfasters over their newspapers mostly lost to oblivion. Social media is the letter to the editor metastasizing like The Thing, the inmates swarming all over the asylum and a good thing too.

So to give up one’s part in this feels seductively perverse—why would you?

Well, because time sunk in social media hinders you from gathering any more-substantial contribution (if you even aspired to that, which is pretty futile for most of us, and things are moving too fast anyway; the contribution to social media, however ephemeral, is more of a turn on the mind-stage than most of us would ever have taken without it. Maybe only those of us who used to write, or blog, feel reduced rather than enhanced by it).

And because, as has been amply documented, social media makes you unhappier, and lonelier. It reduces “making your mark” to a new kind of daily rat race, feeling your existence and impact and your very “like”-ability validated or not; a new kind of micro-success and failure, of nano–manic depression. It reduces the trajectory of a week, a month, or a lifetime to a rubble of moments, a Brownian motion of little ups and downs that never gathers to a wave. It shatters long rhythms, yanking you down from anything that is building by the gut-clutch of addiction. Addiction has the patience of a hungry newborn; it constantly hijacks your attention from things that might be more full-filling, longer-term (like more than five minutes), to give your attention to.

I deleted a thread from Twitter this morning. I don’t want to swap one social medium for another. My experiment is to get off social media near-totally. At least I’ll force my impulse to comment, snark, lament into a longer form here, where it will be read by two or three people instead of, say, fifteen, and so will be closer to being a way I’m keeping my attention for what makes me risk and does me good instead of pimping it out for the cost-free illusion of companionship.

It’s finally, for all these fancy words, a matter of mental health.

(When I say “near-totally,” I might set a high bar for what demands to be shared, and set a quota: no more than one tweet a week.)

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The Mis[t]ery of Writing [UPDATED AGAIN]

May 28, 2009 at 10:58 am (By Amba) (, )

It’s been long enough since I tried to do any “real” writing (where you conceive something in your head and then try to execute it, and of course it won’t hold still for its portrait) that I’d forgotten the wisdom of my “Note to self:  don’t go there.”

It’s only a blog-essay on the Hubble for my dust-gathering Natural History blog (which died for lack of time and lack of feedback), so it doesn’t quite have to meet the high formal standards of a “real real” essay, to be chiseled into print.  But it sucked me in nonetheless — because I’m enthralled by the Hubble and think its imagery is probably a turning point in human evolution, etc. blah, blah, blah — and I vanished from the “real” world.  The feeling was in every way like nodding off while driving and feeling my hands evaporate off the wheel, the driver’s seat suddenly go empty.  Not least, it’s up to me to keep our life on the road and I can’t let myself be ravished away from the controls.

But there I was yesterday, obsessively reading and linking to more and more, not even caring to tweet or look at my e-mail, struggling to keep formal control of the unwieldy, metastasizing thing, and at the same time feeling driven to be done with it so I could/before I could return to my maintenance and other responsibilities.  Both J and the household deteriorate alarmingly fast when neglected.  Someone I’ve been urging to blog literally for years has finally begun, and announcing it can’t wait either.

Now I remember why I made a pact with myself not to try to “really write” while taking care of J.  Fact checking is bad enough — it has a fainter version of the same obsessive quality, the contradictory drives to overdo it and to get it over with — but while fact checking takes time and attention, it doesn’t take a fraction of the energy writing does.  Writing is like being a spider and spinning a web out of your own guts; it’s like welding with an acetylene distilled by your liver.  It takes it out of you.  To create order that did not exist before defies entropy, which requires a disproportionate input of energy, and that energy is sucked out of your own lower belly. The few times I’ve broken my rule and “really written” something under this regime, I’ve felt drastically drawn and drained.  Dracula is blamed.

Meanwhile, you’re driven by the certainty that any minute, the thing you’re trying to get down will get away, or dissolve and change shape.  (Writing is probably a lot like hunting in the jungle.  If the prey were made of mercury.)  You need to focus on its pursuit with laserlike exclusivity.  You cannot divide your attention or spare a scintilla of your energy.  Interruptions are much worse than annoying, they’re tragic and enraging.  And all this is wildly out of proportion; it’s all for something that doesn’t even need to be written.  (The more I find has already been written about the Hubble in the same vein, the more I have a sense of redundancy.  So then I want to link it all, on the equally false assumption that others are as obsessed as I am.)   At best, a few people will read it and be fleetingly entertained or stimulated.  My need to write it meets no complementary need in the world; if I didn’t do it, no one would know or care.

Meanwhile, J is weak.  A phase?  Or a trend?  Who knows?  All I know is that it’s a vicious cycle.  The harder it is to get him up, the less he wants to get up, and the less I want to struggle to get him up, and the more I yield to escapism.  But the less he gets up, the weaker he gets.

I need a nap.

UPDATE: On the other hand . . .

. . . (and this point almost always comes, always preceded and paid for by misery; why can’t we remember that??) it’s so neat when it starts to come right . . .

UPDATE II: Now it’s done, and of course I’m soaring (probably also disproportionate) and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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