Most of you who know me know that I’ve struggled for a while now with how social media currently fits into my life and how I would prefer it to fit into my life. Ten years ago it was nothing for me to sign up for every service and post to them like there was no tomorrow. Heck, during my days at SIU doing so was actually part of my job as I managed all the social media for the Aviation departments. It was fun, I guess.
Today I’m not so sure if that was the right approach, or, for that matter, what the “right” approach even means. Over the last few months I’ve scrubbed or deleted most of my online accounts and worked to severely limit the time I’ve spent on the rest (often with even more limited success). I’ve done this not because I want to but, in many ways, because I feel like I have to for a number of reasons.
Social Media Can Be Toxic
First and foremost, social media can be a toxic cesspool of hate and ego. I’m obviously not immune to this one any more than anyone else is, particularly if I’ve had a few drinks first. I’ve lost friends over it and I’ve lost my respect for far more people than I could list in a single post.
The scariest part of this is that, like a train wreck, I can’t seem to turn away from the worst of it. I go back to my local new’s Facebook page, which is, by far, filled with the most racism, hate and general bigotry of any local news in any place I’ve lived, like a junkie looking for the next fix. Even the most benign articles and posts can turn into a hundred hate filled and deeply personal comments within minutes and I can never seem to just ignore it (although I no longer take the bait and respond to any of it anymore which is a positive step).
From people I trusted that turned out to be raging homophobes, racists, narcissists and worse to the random people I encounter anywhere I look social media has not just enabled their toxicity but, more often than not, encouraged it. I don’t want to be a part of that.
Social Media Is a Time Suck
Like most everyone else these days I spend way too much time on social media. Rather than work on this site or any other hobby I instead mindlessly click over to Twitter or Facebook or something else to read, and re-read whatever is going on at the moment.
Many evenings it’s not uncommon for me to spend as much as 4 or 5 hours going back and forth between just a few sites and… for what? The only thing it really accomplishes is to let me procrastinate on some other endeavor I should be pursuing.
I Value My Privacy
This might seem ironic from someone who has a history of putting nearly everything online for the last 20 years but the privacy implications of much of our social media usage scares the hell out of me. Who is reading my posts about being at the bar? Who is reading my posts about the work I’m doing and where I’m doing it? I don’t mean individuals here but what companies are reading these and what are they doing with them?
The truth of the internet is that if you’re not paying for the service you are the service. Algorithms not only control what we see based on what they think we want to see but they make really good money off the data that drives them as well. What happens when, for example, your insurance company starts buying that data? What will it do to your costs? Think it can’t happen? It already is and it is going to get worse. The simple fact is we all generate so much data in what we do daily that it really isn’t hard to put it back together to build a picture of who you are and, more importantly, what you’re worth to any given organization.
So, yeah, posting about “that night of drinking” or whatever else might be fun and get us a quick high with “likes” and comments but what is the price of that over the long-term? For companies that are doing their best to classify us for profit that price is already way too high and going higher by the day.
I Try To Shop Ethically
This might sound like a strange one with social media but I try to do my best to patronize companies whos ethical values line up with my own. As Facebook, Twitter and others continue to fuel many of the problems that plague our society am I then also complicite in continuing to support them through my use?
I haven’t been inside a Wal-Mart in 6 years. I have numerous other services and businesses that will never see a dime of my money as they actively support values I actively work against. How should this be any different with social media companies who provide platforms for hate and bigotry in all their forms, allowing them to organize and grow like a cancer in our society?
How, then, will I use social media?
The simple fact is my life requires me to be active on social media to some extent. For all the dilemmas it presents to me it has also paid me back in other ways, both directly and indirectly, in many facets of my life. I owe numerous jobs (and really my entire career) to social media. I’ve met people I consider my closest friends on social media. As a remote worker I’ve found outlets and discussions that help me in what otherwise could be a very lonely place to work.
In other words, I think it is safe for me to say that social media is a necessary evil and that isn’t all a bad thing. That said, I do need to limit its impact on my time as well as be careful to use it in ways that help those around me rather than hurting them, even if not intentional. I’m not really sure how I’m going to do all that yet to be honest. It will require a change in a lot of ways I do things and I’m not yet sure how to go about that. I do, now, know it is something I must do however and I’m looking forward to what it can bring to my life in the end.