Time for a quick brain dump about the moral questions of using social media!
I am constantly debating the merits and pitfalls of using social media platforms to express and explore my experience as a mad/neurodivergent person. I’m not sure I’m doing much good even for myself by being here. On the one hand I see a lot of really interesting and empowering advocacy happening online, but on the other hand I definitely attribute at least some blame to social media for the decline of my personal social life (maybe that’s self-centered but my experience of social isolation has been pretty devastating throughout life and I can’t be alone in feeling like this has become infinitely harder to navigate since the rise of social media) as well as the general decline of rational discourse and critical thinking in the modern world, and that makes me real fkn sad.
There is an opportunity through social media to create art, activism, and advocacy that has the potential to lift people up and bring people together. Conversely, many people exploit the power of the internet to sow hatred, chaos, and division among others for personal and political gain, or simply out of ignorance and prejudice. While I am following a number of neurodivergent advocates and suddenly seeing a beautiful community that maybe I am a part of and maybe I feel a desire to belong to, I am also aware that there are very ugly communities of hatred, white supremacy, and conspiracy peddling, exploiting vulnerable people and recruiting them to the dark side of the internet.
On top of that, despite the usefulness of social media platforms for both good or evil, it is impossible to ignore the fact that these are products developed by for-profit corporations who have hijacked basic psychological needs in order to manipulate us into giving away our time and attention, turning us into guinea pigs for an unprecedented social experiment. These are, in my estimation, fundamentally monopolistic and immoral companies. What they offer to the market is an algorithm that selectively curates information for you – it’s a propaganda machine essentially – but all the other technologies involved already existed. Forums, video chats, photo albums, news feeds, instant messaging, these are all things we can do (and did) without social media platforms.
I know if I leave social media I will cut myself off from the possibility of (sometimes) genuine connection with other human beings who are here fighting the good fight and offering each other support. I know that most of my family and friends rely on my being here on social media so that they can contact me (even if most of the time they don’t) and if I were to just up and leave, some of them might feel upset that I abandoned our ability to interact. And I would miss them too, despite how reclusive I can be.
But in a lot of ways I hate interacting on social media. I hate having to always second guess whether I am living up to whatever performative standard is expected in this media landscape. I hate how emotionally muted and stylistically cliché communication has become. I hate how much time and attention scrolling through my feed takes up, even if a lot of the information I absorb is somehow empowering or fulfilling, it’s still an activity that preys on my deeper sense of social isolation. I want to feel more confident in my weird fucked up self, but also more socially integrated; I want to feel like I belong in this world, but I really don’t know how. I often doubt that it’s possible to do while I still entertain any kind of presence on social media, but then I also doubt that it’s possible without the resources that have been hoarded by the algorithms that make social media so addictive to so many.
Before I joined any social media platforms, I was enjoying my first taste of modest popularity as a small-time artist. I had friends call me on a regular basis. I was invited to things. I felt a sense of belonging and community in my small tribe of people. But being on social media has slowly eroded any sense of belonging to the communities I once dwelled in, and it has dramatically increased opportunities for me to notice social exclusion at work, and the subtle ways that sanism/ableism shuts out the mad/neurodivergent/non-conforming people in our lives. It triggered my fears of abandonment, my feelings of alienation and inferiority in the face of social demands. It was just bad for me in so many ways, but by the time I had figured that out, even my closest relationships with my family had migrated to social media. I hate that this is the way we connect, through the propaganda machine of a corporation that has only its own interests at heart.
Yesterday was my birthday. I used to receive a handful of phone calls on my birthday, but for years now I have learned to expect a smattering of instant messages and posts on my social media. The phone calls I used to get were conversations. They were touching, they were meaningful, and more than a phrase or two – but now it’s unusual to expect anything more than a brief acknowledgement that I exist. This is what social life has become for me, and I hate it. I thrive on deep, vulnerable, too-much-information kind of communication. I constantly crave that raw emotive power of connecting with a person on a deeper level than small-talk and casual check-ins can afford. Social media encourages us to curate out these often uncomfortable and far-too-revealing moments that make me feel truly human.
At the same time I am a (very) socially anxious person, and my fear of abandonment stems from real experiences of being abandoned – it’s not entirely irrational for me to worry about getting close to people. So the temptation of putting a barrier between myself in the world, especially a medium that allows me to express myself slowly and deliberately through writing (or, like now, impulsively and without much self-censoring), well that temptation is impossible to deny. Despite a need for comfort and security, I so desperately want to feel connected, and I know that as a writer this is how I am supposed to do it: get people to like what I do on social media, and then maybe they’ll follow along to the website, or the yet-to-be-written book, or whatever it is I want to do. But first, the idea is to pitch your craft to the social media landscape, and see if it takes. I hate that.
I spend so much time agonizing over how to curate and present myself on social media, I don’t write the book, or build the website. I see other advocates with major followings being super vulnerable and finding success in their creative pursuits with large communities of supporters, and I just don’t think I’m capable of that. I’m too much of a recluse, I demand too much from social connections, neurotypical people cause me too much discomfort, and I so often really just want to be left alone. Being on social media feels like being in a place where that level of disengagement is taboo, forbidden, a guarantee of failure.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. Nowhere specific I suppose. I just struggle with this question regularly and I guess my birthday was a big f***ing bummer that got me thinking more about how I treat my social life and how social existence treats me. Social media, of course, is not the root of all evils, but it’s far from a force for good, and I just don’t know how I feel about using it. In a way I’m glad that I’m not very popular because this gives me the freedom to fail at social media and not let anyone but myself down, and in many ways that would be a relief.
I’m not leaving social media. But I can’t say I’m happy to be here. It’s a tool I am trying to exploit so that I will have the opportunity to survive as a genuine and authentic expression of my life experiences, but in the process I am constantly worried that this tool is in fact exploiting me and holding me back from reaching the potential of a good life.
Thank you for coming to my ted talk…
Brain Dump: I Hate Using Social Media
Time for a quick brain dump about the moral questions of using social media!