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From On the Grid: Facebook Addiction
Advertisements For Me, You, and Everyone We Know (To Say Nothing of the Dog Videos)
By Christopher Sloce
*Editor's Note: First published on On The Grid Zine April 30th, 2015
Welcome to the Internet. Both a savior and Satan, Goofus and Gallant. A screaming, sprawling city. The marketplace sells spermicide next to Marcus Aurelius. Like a boomtown, it once existed for a singular purpose and then life swallowed it. It’s Deadwood, but with opinions articulated through someone else’s opinion instead of knives, like fading someone with your cousin’s arm.
Buses pass by covered two feet thick in advertisements. McDonalds, Ragu, Brooks Brothers, baby food, liquor, all lingering together, all depending on what you like. The oddest advertisements are pictures of people: usually with someone wearing sunglasses and looking just off the camera or holding a cat, then a banner that’s usually mountains. It’s all advertising.
Since I started writing this article I’ve made countless Facebook statuses, shared numerous links, and made my profile picture a picture of me shooting a basketball on a child’s hoop. I refrained from making a Karl Malone joke and opted for the Toni Kukoc and if you guess the pun, congratulations, you’ve been alive for 20 years. Every so often I will tell someone I’m sick of it. How I want off. But I never leave. Even more garish, my Facebook promotional page for Christopher Sloce the Writer still exists, which you can go like, by the way.
I haven’t posted on the promotional page in months; applying to several graduate schools made me take up a full-time job where I wrote personal statements, the duties of which mean explaining myself nine times to a committee of strangers, which after a point became nearly automatic. I am from the South, these things inspired me to write, I have Serious Concerns about where my region will end up, and reporting on this region using fiction to explain the emotional temperament adds a validity that journalism sometimes lacks. If there is a benefit to all those constant pondering and rewinding social media produces (who here hasn’t lost a thirty minute chunk reviewing the minutiae of their profile), it does make you more analytical to your thoughts and actions. The feed is like an owl pellet; you’re a sixth grader picking apart the bits of fluff you allowed people to see.
But analysis is only useful with the desire to change. Without that desire, analysis is masturbatory at best and narcissistic at worst. And what is there for analyzing this? Fluff and bones, heavy on fluff. Even if the fluff indicates something bigger, “Best night of my life, thanks to x, x, and x,” becomes cheapened when it’s only words and the status becomes a grasp to keep the feeling a little longer, or, in the case of “fml”, an expurgation. The experiences behind those declarations are valid and vital and minutiae is important. Suppose that day your car wouldn’t start was a metaphor for that period or the thing that spurned you saying “I love my life” was a snow cone. I can only say, “Who cares?” with no malice. What it means is what it meant to you. However, are those declarations deserving of analysis? They’re the cousin of that awful question that ends anything before it starts, “What are we, anyway?”
Those declarations aren’t torrents of feeling. They’re snappy platitudes that express what we can oftentimes not. That’s fine. Advertising does the same thing when they show you a car driving fast, but watching a Mazda whip through the deserts has nothing on the feeling you have when you’re avoiding coyotes and doing donuts yourself.
This is not an extended argument against analysis, but a call for picking what you analyze. The problem, then, with hopping on the Facebook Feed Ride, is what you typically find aren’t the big mysteries. They’re scant shower thoughts, grocery lists, etcetera. Where you physically were, all of that.
Because I don’t write for Time magazine, I don’t think that I’m in a generation of sociopaths wracked with Kitty Genovese syndrome and I hold people who constantly scream that “technology is making us distant!” and “Why are you instagramming this sunset instead of experiencing it?” in a special sort of contempt. A person who suspects the worst in everyone around them will usually act the way they think people do; their suspicion that you can’t connect with anyone just a suspicion about themselves. If going through the minutiae of your life keeps you from eating egg salad because it doesn’t agree with you or from falling into a bad relationship, then by all means. It’s mostly harmless. At worst, it may just make you boring. Maybe the luddite can handle their own specific boredom. That’s their problem. I see problems, though: you boil your past into lotuses, eat them all day, and get nervous when you run out of past, so you add a false significance to everything. You churn and create content, in a cold war with yourself.
But I do it too. More than you. I’m the one admitting it’s a guilty pleasure. May I go a step further? Addiction.
The culture that allowed my Facebook addiction to grow is self-loathing. It’s something that was always there that with the right sunlight and conditions morphed into something fungal, something viral. That self-loathing was there for the forced comedy of my sixth grade years, when I decided to cut my hair in an English class, for all my broad-shouldered posturing in high school. There for acts of desperation like a dog eating a roll of toilet paper when its owner leaves for too long and will never come back. It is the long running companion of a life containing little certainty as to who will return my calls next year. There’s a sick irony that someone so concerned with emotional abandonment has a constant companion, but after a point, you regard it more like a physical affect than an emotional one, an invisible third head that flickers into vision when you talk.
Along with the irony, exhaustion comes with it. The suspicion is you are so bad that everyone should leave you alone, so when people do not, you end up screaming inside, “Who do you think you are? I don’t even like me, how can you?” This manifests several ways. One of them is you turn yourself into living proof of the hedgehog paradox and extend out your spines, making it impossible to get within speaking distance, let alone touching. Another is you let it eat you on the inside and pretend everything is fine and start hating yourself more because you know how good you are at lying, which, since childhood, we have agreed is a Bad Thing. The healthiest path is to put the self-loathing into something that has a tangible effect on the world. Something made physical. Some put it into exercise, others put it into poetry, journal entries, cooking. It never exorcises that self-loathing, but it can numb it and on days when you transcend it, shut it down until you wake up tomorrow.
The issue is when I started writing in high school, things I wanted to be seen in the public eye, I decided the facts and issues of my self-hatred had to be married to something to be interesting, not necessarily stated as the entire fact. Of course: I have long, gross, stupid annals of stories about girl issues, all one of them I had experienced at the time. But I felt that I had stumbled onto something connecting to all this mystery in life. Marring it with the boring, obvious narcissism of my own pain was something with which I would not put. Whining had never lent itself to a structure I found communicative.
During a summer, I finally caved and got a Facebook, convinced I really wanted to hear from the people I went to high school with. “To keep up with friends”, was what I said. These were in the days of character limits, as I found out when trying to complete a winding, marginally amusing status about potholes in Bristol, Virginia.
Little did I realize the character limit would free me. I had to truncate things. Sooner or later, Facebook removed the character limits, but I suppose they stayed stuck in my mind. Beyond that, there were social limits that forced me to be oblique about my self-loathing. If I were standing on a cliff, thinking, why stand when you can fly, because what’s the point, really, then I say: “mood: thoughtful”, fictionalize my thinking about the cliff, then comment on how collegiate, how entry-level, how 101 my college boy thoughts were. I could give it out like apples on Halloween and run away before everyone bit into the razor wire. Once you saw in the green room, you could see what I was really about.
Not every status was some veiled confessional. There were plenty of excerpts from bull sessions, sardonic gnomes, lists of whatever songs I felt the strongest at the time, opinions on TV shows, movies, breakfasts, coffeehouses, beers, clothing, the bench play of the Detroit Pistons, the ultimate tedium of college basketball.
Then my positive moods would take a jaunt off into a chasm full up with ink black water and leave me with that third head whispering in my ear, talking out of turn. In the face of 3,000 plays each of Miles Davis’s “Mademoiselle Mabry” and Leonard Cohen’s “Last Year’s Man”, the third head would overpower them all, and things would get weird.
I had a few Facebook meltdowns. One after my stepbrother who I hadn’t spoken with in a few years ran away from home. Another after a friend of mine got the hint I didn’t like him too much, when I didn’t even do the “vaguebook”, but a complete callout. Mostly they came when nothing would stop coming: bills, sickness, arguments with my family, friends letting me down. But these were only after my feelings hit a fever pitch.
The rest of the time? I kidded about everything, seeing how much I could make the world my own balloon animal. People laughed. People enjoyed my Facebook, told me so at parties. And I was always gracious: I have never thought my self-hatred defined me but was just a large facet of a complex whole. The anger only came when I realized if I came out and said, “At best I usually just respect myself, at neutral, I regard myself as an annoying partner and let’s not even talk about the worst,” everyone would be surprised. Because how could you not? Didn’t the whole thing communicate desperation? Those questions could be rhetorical, said one way or another. But every joke, I was just hoping someone would bite into the apple and ask what the hell cut the roof of their mouth. So I watched and used Facebook with the glee of a boy putting firecrackers in a mailbox and running away, half ready to be happy about the explosion, half ready to jump when it boomed.
This is not entirely helpful. When I wanted more than a brief validation of an internet high five, it became like detoxing from heroin with methadone. It’s not what I really want, but it feels good. And then you find yourself addicted to that. But when yourself is a mess, say, when you’re avoiding messy roommate situations by sleeping in the library thinking you’re about to hit a creative breakthrough, your Facebook has become this sort of tulpa. You have willed this otherform into existence and are both amazed with your imaginative power and despising this thing for walking around and stretching out your clothes. What you find is all you willed into existence was what you really want to be yourself.
Mine usually took the form of a sort of flippant upper-class twit, an asexual Roger Sterling with more taste than sense, class arguable. It was a side-effect of what amounted to my ultimate dishonesty. If I had just did what I really wanted to do, which was shut up, sleep, listen to music, and go into low-power mode to get through a day of class, I wouldn’t have to deal with this golem walking in at 3 a.m. in a party hat saying, “I dunno what I did, boss, but nobody wants to talk to us.”
In order to kill a golem, you have to scream the real name of God at it. To kill this one, I had to delete Facebook. But people seem to enjoy him. Wouldn’t that be selfish to take that away? Besides, I started liking him too. The big galoot captured the heart of a nation. Do you want to the asshole who firebombed the Cabazon dinosaurs.
At the same time? Buying a new wardrobe every week was getting expensive. And not every time was my Facebook use analogous to a well-meaning yet ultimately destructive fabled pre-robot robot. Sometimes it was just self-immolation in the hope of producing a smoke signal.
Have you ever known a self to be a renewable energy source? If you have, let us all know.
I wrote the last paragraph in mainly past tense, for rhetorical ease, not as a reflection of how I’ve quit Facebook and all of a sudden my hair is growing back and I’m not coughing all the time and how you can do it too, how I was able to even give up exercising, how “here’s to feeling good all the time”. See “was” in that paragraph? You can make it present and you’d still be right.
I’ve tried other social media for the same effect. The way they work never allows me to meet my ultimate ends, what I really wanted. Twitter has the same need for truncation, but it’s also useless for privacy and works best as a self-promotion tool or as a one-liner delivery machine. I’ve had four Tumblr stints, all aborted. Tumblr gives too much room to be too confessional. This isn’t a complaint on anyone else, no one is doing anything wrong by having one, but I’ve never been comfortable with that myself. Barbwire poking out of the apple kills the difficulty, the finesse to which I have shaped my Facebook use.
But, in the Internet, that city on the hill I outlined above, there’s not an ideal space for meltdowns that simply melt and exist further without commentary, and even less for the confessional-through-intimation approach. What I’m doing exists as a big abandoned warehouse, copper stripped, chain link fence cut away. There was a conscious choice to use Facebook. I wanted to be next to the Staple Center, so everyone can walk by and go, “When are they gonna get rid of that?” On Tumblr and Twitter, you’re squarely on the outskirts. Facebook doesn’t pretend: it’s supposed to be for dog videos and graduations.
Whether my approach makes me a wedding crasher or an eccentric, I am not sure. All I know is, in the grasp of writing this article, I had the idea: what if I just turned off notifications for my statuses? So far, so good.
Of course, I still know who liked what, still wonder why they did. All it takes is a refresh. On my phone, that glass stem with a brillo pad in the neck, it takes just a click of the address bar and then pressing “go”.
The habits you fail to kill adapt out of spite.
#Real #OnTheGridZine #Facebook #Social Media #FacebookAddiction
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