Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Reflections on a Lent Without Facebook

When MrsDarwin decided to get off Facebook for Lent, I did not originally intend to do likewise. I wasn't not entirely pleased with the place that online socializing served in my life. I felt that my tendency to scroll down the feed in moments of spare time ate up more of my day than I wanted and also took up a good deal more mental space that I would prefer. Even if I wasn't actually online, the memory of some frustrating argument or simplistic meme that a friend has posted, or some long thread of comments which had turned into a nasty pile-on, would stick with me and continue turning over in the back of my mind as I considered possible rebuttals or simply felt down about how frustrating people could be.

And yet, online discussion and friendship has served an important purpose in my life for a long time.

Part of this is simply because of lack of time. I'm at a point of life (and likely will continue so for another ten or fifteen years as I have the last ten) where work and family life take up virtually all of my time except for the few hours late at night when I write. I enjoy discussing books and ideas and the issues of the day with MrsDarwin at home, and it's even beginning to be possible to do so with the children as well. But I enjoy the the chance to discuss things that are important to me with people other than members of my own direct family, and the tendency over the last decade is that this mostly only occurs online.

Why don't I have those conversations in real life more often? As I mentioned above, there's the lack of time in my current state in life, but there's also the constriction of trying to maintain amicable relations with people I interact with in various real life circumstances. I've long had an absolute policy of not discussing contentious subjects such as politics, religion, etc. at work. Indeed, since my interests in history and literature are fairly obscure, I mostly end up restricting myself exclusively to talking about work itself, and about harmless topics such as "How was your weekend?" Perhaps I'm giving up the chance to have deeper conversations, but I'm also giving up the chance to turn work relationships toxic by expressing opinions which are potentially offensive to other people. The same calculus often comes into play on the occasions I interact with people at the parish, other scout dads, etc. The online world seems a decent place to have these kind of potentially contentious discussions, because people can always walk away if they don't like the conversation.

And yet, my problem was, I clearly wasn't walking away enough. Much more so than during the years when my primary online interaction was through the blog, the world of Facebook seemed to bring out the worst in others and in myself. The pressures of the online herd mentality wrongly encourage people to display their group membership by sharing the latest pat slogan or smug meme, and my own argumentativeness then leaves me either wanting to argue the point or else feeling frustrated with the whole experience. Much as a value the may friends that I've made online (many of whom I've since had the opportunity to meet in person) it seemed that the venue of social media was not bringing out the best in me or in people that I otherwise liked.

So I decided to stay off Facebook for Lent, with a brief dip in every Sunday to post links and catch up on news from friends. To the extent that my goal was to disconnect from the outrage cycle, the fact that this meant I logged off right before the Parkland school shooting only served to reinforce my reasons for getting offline. If it had seemed before like online discourse was degenerating to high school levels, now the political discourse of high schoolers with all its simplification and hyperbole was being held up as a better and purer standard that adults needed to listen to and emulate. Between that and the continued antics of the White House occupant (whose own behavior often reflects all the worst aspects of a middle schooler), national discourse have reached new heights of immaturity.

What have I done while unplugged? I've read more. I've worked more on revising the novel I shortly want to send out for submission. It's also aligned with a period when I've been busier than ever at work and engaged in several interesting projects there, so lacking distractions has been beneficial.

And now as Lent draws to a close, I need to decide what I should do after Lent. I'd disengaged from Facebook over Lent not so much as a sacrifice but because I thought it was becoming an obstacle to good will and piece of mind for me. I've indeed found that being unplugged has been a great improvement. And yet, I don't want to lose track of all the friends that I hear from primarily via the venue, many of whom I met either through the blog or through Facebook itself. And yet I don't know that I myself have changed enough to return to daily engagement with Facebook without returning to my old bad habits and frustrations. It's not a simple matter of disconnecting from toxic groups and people, because it seems to me that the big issue is that the medium itself encourages myself and others that I like to behave more toxically than we otherwise would do.

I do not have an answer yet, but I'm going to need to come to one.


Darren said...

I got off Facebook last Lent, expecting that I would happily get back on after Easter. But it has been so freeing for me, that I never went back, and after a year, I've yet to regret that decision. My wife is still on, so I hear second-hand about what friends are doing.

Julie D. said...

I left Facebook and GoodReads for Lent ... and have also dipped back in on Sundays. I discovered I didn't really miss it, probably because I wasn't dipping into many conversations there on a regular basis. I thought I'd miss GoodReads much more than I did. And yet, last Sunday I didn't even feel interested in updating the books I was reading. I think I will be fine with just having an email delivered in case anyone makes a comment ... and the same for Facebook. It has made me focus more on Happy Catholic and that in itself is good too. I'm less scattered and more focused.