As an introvert, I didn’t have a lot of friends or too much social interaction. I mean, I had my few close friends (for me, being a “friend” actually meant “close friend”, not just an acquaintance), and I enjoyed going out for coffee, lunch, the occasional dinner — and even the rare party.
Without really being conscious of it, my world was pretty small.
Friends (usually younger) tried to get me on social media, but I resisted. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter were toys for kids, I insisted. (Yeah, this was a lot of years ago.)
Until one of those close friends, my own age, said something innocuous during one of our lengthy conversations that stuck with me — and sunk in deep. She said simply, “you gotta keep up or you’ll get left behind.” Those few words changed my world.
Within a week, I’d signed up for Facebook. This was back in 2007. Instagram hadn’t even been thought of yet. The first iPhone would be introduced that year, and Android smartphones wouldn’t become popular for another year or so. So getting on Facebook was still an achievement for an older guy past his 30s.
That seemingly insignificant step changed my world. (Thanks, Jill!)
I’d been on discussion boards and list-serves (anyone remember those?) before then. But on Facebook, I became connected with so many people with diverse backgrounds and interests. Many shared my values and outlook on life, many did not. I was exposed to a much broader circle of ideas and topics of discussion, and my life suddenly got a lot more interesting.
It went beyond just debating ideas, of course. There were the silly and mundane things, like cat videos and photos of plates of food. But I became connected with people who publicly shared their lives with the world. (Hey, I grew up on Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm,” so I was still reluctant to open my life up to Big Brother’s inspection.) It took time, but eventually I began (selectively) sharing aspects of my own life and interests. But that was less important, less impactful, than getting to expand my world through the lives of others. Social media was quite literally revolutionary, world-changing, and I was finally a part of it.
I started planting vegetables in my back yard because friends were talking about it. “Hey, what a great idea. I can do that, too.” I read more poetry, because friends were writing it and posting about it. My diet improved (in variety if not always in quality) because it turns out so many people love posting recipes of their favorite foods online. (Who knew?) I still vividly remember the first time I made a green-food smoothie, because some health-oriented friends shared that that’s how they started their days. I started working out at home (it would be a few more years before I actually joined a gym), because friends posted videos of their workout routines and had the visible results to boast about. Others shared photos of their travels and reignited my interest in visiting places outside the borders of my own country. And my theology sharpened, and then radically evolved, because I had friends online who loved to delve into spiritual matters and openly discuss their ideas and experiences. “Discourse is the essence of intellectual existence,” I heard once, and it proved to be true.
My world exploded from the somewhat narrow confines of a few close friends and my own handful of interests quite literally to the entire cosmos, as online acquaintances across different continents shared their thoughts and activities with me.
Life suddenly became full of wonderful, interesting, and beautiful people. And I felt connected to the world.
And then it began to die.
Partisan politics killed my world
Facebook became more and more polarized by politics. Maybe it was all a plot of Russian schemers planting bots and stirring the pots of fake news. Maybe we got tired of cat videos and wanted to vent the darker sides of our souls, debating and eviscerating people who disagreed with us. Maybe it was always there, the sleazy underbelly of human aggression on social media, but it feels like it exploded during presidential elections. Yeah, things grew apppreciably more ugly during the Obama era when people would post any rumor or unfounded gossip, anything to smear their political opponent.
Then Trump decided to run. And things grew nasty to degrees we’ve seldom seen in public discussion.
And then he won.
And things didn’t quiet back down.
You cannot turn on the TV or open up any social media platform without getting smeared with the slime of political vitriol.
A few of online buddies began to drop out of sight. Some key contributors to my “wide world of friends” began to disappear. They couldn’t stand it. Life was becoming too stressful, being exposed to the hate and negativity nearly every minute online. And they just stopped logging on. “Taking a break from social media” became a necessary technique for preserving their sanity.
I’m not ready to go cold-turkey from my social media fix, so instead I’ve been slowing culling Facebook friends — as most of us probably do — unfollowing, blocking, unfriending people who constantly barrage us with ugliness. I had to do something to decrease the constant nerve-wracking noise.
But today it struck me. I miss all the beautiful people.
I miss being stimulated and encouraged by the good things going on in other people’s lives. I miss seeing the workout routines, reading about the diets, the poetry, the travels, the spiritual explorations. I miss conversations and snapshots of life. And I want that world back.
I need at least one day a week when I’m not slimed — and when I’m not contributing to that slime. When my voice isn’t adding to the cacophony.
Today I decided to embrace the idea of “Trump-less Tuesdays.” Like “Meatless Mondays” where people conscientiously do not eat meat one day a week in order to save the planet and reclaim our humanity, I’m declaring — at least for myself — a politics-free day. Tuesday. I will not read, nor will I post or comment on, anything related to politics, particularly Trump or The White House or Congress, on Tuesdays from here on out.
I’m not giving up on politics altogether. I wish I could, but I think it’s inherently part of the human condition. Besides, as concerned citizens, sometimes it is our responsibility to be active participants (or resisters) in the processes that govern our society.
This is just my small attempt to bring some sanity back into my life, to reclaim some of the beauty. And I encourage you — challenge you — to do the same. Make a commitment to not engage the garbage — at least one day a week. Maybe Tuesdays.
Rather than disappearing abruptly from social media. Your friends will miss you. They — I — already miss all the wonderful things that make you laugh, that express your creativity, that are a beautiful contribution to the world. That add spark and flavor to our shared experience on this planet.
And it’s not just about “turning it off.” It’s about deliberately, conscientiously, intentionally sowing positive back into the muck, sending a spark into the darkness. Contributing something good from your life into ours.
Maybe it won’t change the world. Maybe it won’t even be noticed by many on your friend list. But maybe it will help you — help us — reconnect with the beauty of our humanity.