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I hate the comments section and I realize that I’m not professing anything radical or new by saying so. Everybody kind of hates the comments section on social media, don’t they? It is a cesspool filled with trolls and keyboard warriors talking past one another, nitpicking and parsing the most asinine of details to side step the actual point of a topic, peppered with well-intending, but sometimes melodramatic internet unloaders who are quickly made for easy bait and seized upon. And I among them.
The comments section is my new drug of choice. Truly. I’ve taken to social media has a form of anti-meditation where I maintain a singular focus on what can only be described as the worst parts of our nature (I’m looking at you, Twitter). I can stay there, stuck on scroll for hours on end, quite literally. What a wonder it must be to watch: me fixated on the screen, scrolling, stopping, clicking, reading, reacting (or trying not to), and refreshing – always refreshing. Each refresh is a new “hit.” What is happening? What do people have to say about it? What narrative will I opt into? How can I speed read this article so I can get to the thread and weigh in, either in reality or my mind? Where will my outrage take root today?
It is maddening.
I will pause here to state the obvious which is: well, log off. Delete the apps from your phone. Carry on. It’s not so simple, though, is it? I want to be a writer and I want to build something, though what I’m not sure yet, and social media is a requisite vehicle to participate in the dialogue. If I disappear from here, I disappear from everywhere I need to be. (Is that REALLY true?). So then then next best thing is to be more disciplined and measured in my social media use. Stay away from my personal accounts and only participate in my neatly curated website accounts. But they’re all linked, so I can’t really log into one without temptation of the other, and so I suppose from there then the NEXT, next best thing is to wait for some app or feature to be made that will save me from myself and the outrage porn of the comment sections and Twitter threads.
I can stay there, stuck on scroll for hours on end, quite literally. What a wonder it must be to watch: me fixated on the screen, scrolling, stopping, clicking, reading, reacting (or trying not to), and refreshing – always refreshing. Each refresh is a new “hit.”
It all feels like the same silly cycle I would engage in with drinking and smoking. The solution is technically quite simple: don’t buy anymore. But what is so simple in theory often isn’t in application, even for seemingly absurd things like feeling glued to a smart phone and the dark treasures that lie within.
How many of us pick up our phone strictly out of mindless habit, not unlike the way we reached for a cig because our hands were free and it seemed like the thing to do? Very rarely do I believe I am making a conscious decision to check Facebook or Twitter. Instragram and Snapchat require more concerted effort because I’ve hit a wall with overly filtered travel photos and selfies and still don’t “get” Snapchat despite my best thirty-something efforts. But the other two… that is the stuff of guilty pleasure. These apps are the tiny vampires sucking at my life currently. Half the time I don’t even realize I’m “on them” until I’ve been scrolling for five minutes.
If I disappear from here, I disappear from everywhere I need to be.
It’s easy to get trapped here these days. I’m six and a half months pregnant and limited in what I can do. Outside, I am surrounded by miles of sand and dust with temperatures reaching a balmy 110 during the day and they’re only going up. I can’t do anything in the gym, doctor’s orders. I’m allowed to swim, but when I try, I just get cramps and call it a day after thirty minutes. I SHOULD be doing the gentlest of gentle yoga I can find to stretch out these aching limbs and pieces. I SHOULD be meditating (obviously) once, twice, or even three times a day. Hell, I’ve got the time. I SHOULD be writing or, at the very least, reading. Both is preferable. I could be cooking or cleaning out the clutter from my house to prepare for my daughter. September is going to be here soon.
But I don’t do any of these things with the consistency they deserve. I come home and fight the urge to nap by plopping onto my nursing chair or couch, surrounded by strategically placed pillows, and I scroll. In between articles and threads, I pause to chat with my husband or share some quirky insight I’ve gleaned from the less nefarious corners of Twitter, and then I am back at it. He’s there, doing it too. The pair of us plugged into some awful smartphone matrix, rarely looking up to engage in the real world surrounding us. It is like our balcony all over again, except now we’ve dumped the cigs and booze (at least I have). As if the mindless binging wasn’t being indulged thoroughly enough by our smartphones, we will use Netflix as background noise. Every auditory and visual distraction from actually DOING anything is there for our pleasure and we are the ever-willing participants.
I’ve tried, in moments of clarity and resolve, to unplug us with varying degrees of success. I’ll place my husband’s phone face down on the couch, away from his line of sight, and force a cuddle on him, which has a time limit given my current physical state and propensity to get uncomfortable and squirmy. I try to think of things we can do that won’t cost significant amounts of money, options which are greatly reduced during the scorching summer months of the Middle East. I’ll turn to my iPad to read because for whatever reason I have zero compulsion to check social media on there. It is essentially an overpriced Kindle. I might try to do some stretching or go in the bedroom to meditate or attack a closet. But these things last no more than an hour or so and then it is back to the phone, always the phone.
Every auditory and visual distraction from actually DOING anything is there for our pleasure and we are the ever-willing participants.
When I wake up in the mornings, my phone is the first thing I check. It is a ritual. My treat for not hitting the snooze button ten times and the only thing worthy enough of forgoing the extra twenty minutes of half sleep my snooze button offers. I delete e-mails, I check my pregnancy app to see where we’re at compared to the day before knowing good and well that nothing much could have possibly changed, and these are just warm-ups for Twitter and Facebook. What happened while I was asleep? I’m eight hours ahead of the eastern seaboard in the United States, so much goes on while I’m in bed. Who replied to what on Facebook and how will I respond? If I catch somebody still awake, I may get sucked into a back and forth that simply cannot wait and now I’m running late and asking my husband to please make me some toast while I rush to dry my hair and get dressed.
I get in my car and turn on podcasts, typically of a political nature. Once I reach my work, I find moments to check in with social media again. We all do. Every teacher here is on her phone in the off moments and if my kids could do the same, they surely would.
A student came to my desk during final exams to get a puzzle from a binder because she was finished with her work. I can’t remember why exactly but she began to tell me how when her mother tells her to get off her phone, she hides and it just pretends to comply. When her mother has gone, she whips it back out because, “Who can go a whole day without social media? Nobody.”
Is this how my anxiety manifests now? Or am I being dramatic and am no different really from the rest of the masses mindlessly plugged in for hours on end? I certainly am not one of these screen walkers, checking messages or Facebook when I should be watching where I’m going. I haven’t reached peak zombie levels just yet, but I notice that this is a problem.
Something fundamental about the way we engage online creates this junkie tendency in us. I’ve read that likes and shares and comments, basically all engagement, acts as a hit to our brains in the pleasure centers. I suppose to an extent I do care about those things, but I’m also inexplicably driven to the drama of social media, to the devilish comment sections and threads. I want to hear the hot takes as they happen and I will refresh until the sun goes down and sleep calls to stay abreast of the latest conversation and controversy (politically speaking – I don’t involve myself with celebrity affairs too much).
But this isn’t real life, not really. Sure the events and the news are real, but the interpretations, the spin, the comment threads – they aren’t. We aren’t actually who we are online. These are just avatars of ourselves. Sometimes they are straight up bots designed to disrupt and agitate. Sometimes it’s the inner demons of otherwise normal, not awful people manifesting in completely awful and detestable ways. Sometimes it’s the ego-driven, filtered versions of people determined to let everyone and their mama know that life is so sweet and perfect spewing hashtags and platitudes at us from afar.
Even if we don’t fall victim to the troll or the desire to defend and comment, we still insist on watching it. We don’t have to reply to DeplorableJane685 to feel immense anxiety from whatever awful or wildly inaccurate thing she’s said online. We can know, intellectually, that people are probably trying to get a rise or just straight up nutty and ill-informed and still somehow be affected. Our adrenaline spikes. We quietly seethe. We’re not completely sure that the entire world hasn’t gone to shit.
“Who can go a whole day without social media? Nobody.”
I’m at the “I know I need to do this, but haven’t yet” stage of a great unplugging from my personal social media accounts. The truth of the matter is that I’m going to have to suck it up and stick to my website accounts for the purpose of engaging with communities that matter to my work and leave it at that. This is not an easy thing for me and it’s probably not an easy thing for a lot of people.
There are folks who will read my piece and eye roll. Just put down the phone, man. Stop being a slave to technology. Those folks can take several seats. If I could divert my focus to productive things so easily, I wouldn’t be writing this and we wouldn’t be a society filled with people bumping into things because their heads are down looking at a screen.
The mostly wildly honest thing I can end with is that I know as soon as I stop typing and do a quick read through, I’m probably going to pick my phone back up. Knowing this helps me start to unpack why I’m doing this and wasting so much of life on trivial things like social media applications instead of fully participating in real life, right here now moments. I don’t have clear answers or solutions for anyone else saying, “yah me too.” But I can offer a starting point and a dialogue.