Alone with everyone else

I’ve returned to my recluse lifestyle after a year and four month experiment with participating in the whole social networking thing after a 10-year sabbatical from the mad consensual delusion people collectively engage in that’s supposed to be reflective of some kind of personalized community, but is largely an expansion of small talk over the backyard fence — just with scores or hundreds of backyard neighbors. It’s not been a week yet, but I can feel a larger calm and patience with everyday frustrations that I didn’t have while I was mainlining the social networking drug.

It’s insidious. Everything starts off with a post that is replied to, or shared, or read, and it seems as if each was meant to create laughter, rage or sadness. Laughter, I take no issue with — I like laughter and it is a bond-builder in most cases. You know, social. But the other two highly prevalent emotions that social networking elicits, rage and sadness, are divisive and anti-social. Yes, sadness can bring together people, but it also brings with it a sense that someone is to blame for the sadness one feels, which then seems to more often than not dissolve into tribal rage. Rage is an easy emotion to elicit, and in today’s environment, more than a little commonplace as we seek to find someone to blame for the lack of physical social networking we are forced to endure.

I don’t know. I’m avoiding getting too intellectual about any of this, because intellectualism is just another form of tribalism — another pitting of one form of elitism against what is perceived as the human dregs of the benighted. It’s not helpful to create more divisions as we explore the new reality of a post-corona world.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss the sense of camaraderie that belonging to the largest social networking site provided, but I think it was largely a false sense of belonging, especially considering the dearth of social engagement that followed the blatant breadcrumbs I left behind. I can count on two hands the people whose engagement added joy to my life over there, but I suspect that not being in the perpetual blogroll of their lives will lead to a falling apart, as already evidenced in the lack of referrals from said site. Real engagement involves a certain level of work, and I don’t think social networks are really designed to bring people together for any other reason than to increase advertising revenue. In that, they’ve succeed beyond their wildest expectations, I expect.

The crack cocaine of modern times…

Which is why I think it is so hard to walk away from these sites. Again, I personally believe that while the social elements on those sites offer a lot of breadth, the depth of the social interactions is woefully shallow — so thin as to make the “friend” tag be a laughably hollow concept. But people like to judge thing based more on quantity than quality and, though I am an admitted socially-deficient misanthrope (and largely always have been), I think that in giving a way for people to collect friends like one collects Pokemon (“Gotta Catch Them All!”) satisfies that gamification of the social interaction to the point that it makes leaving such sites alone near impossible for most folks. Even now, I feel familiar cravings, like those I had in the months of going from being a hardcore alcoholic to that of sobriety, calling me back to just look at one more funny meme, or check in on the links bashing flat-earthers that someone posted for a few laughs…

These sites are designed to leverage a need to have a sense of belonging; not because there is an actual benevolent desire to make you feel as if you belong, but to get more eyeballs on more revenue-generating ads. You are the product, as they often say about social networks.

And it’s only getting worse in these troubling times, as those of us who subscribe to science and statistics see the sense in physically separating ourselves to limit the intensity of the virus that has proven to be such a large disrupter to our lives. People will actively seek and cling to camaraderie as a source of solace, but infection protocols will prevent anything more than this backyard fence small-talk masquerading as social engagement.

I’ve stepped off the social networking grid this week, unsure if I’ll go back ever again, but leaving the door open. One difference for me is that, while I’m alone with everyone else, I have ten years of practice at being alone, so the loss of a social net has very little impact on my daily life and I am actually repelled by what I saw in these past few months. Others, I fear, will be drawn to it like moths to a flame as they seek comfort in being with like-minded “friends”.

I’ve stepped off the social networking grid this week, unsure if I’ll go back ever again, but leaving the door open. One difference for me is that, while I’m alone with everyone else, I have ten years of practice at being alone, so the loss of a social net has very little impact on my daily life and I am actually repelled by what I saw in these past few months. Others, I fear, will be drawn to it like moths to a flame as they seek comfort in being with like-minded “friends”.

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