Shrove Tuesday (AKA Mardi Gras) and Ash Wednesday quickly descended upon me and passed me by without notice. They almost did. I was out of touch with this year’s liturgical cycle, so on Monday, I googled to see when Shrove Tuesday was and the result mentioned the next day. I don’t go crazy and party that day. However, I am often more interested in what follows with Lent. I don’t simply give up pleasures in the short term like chocolate or coffee because there’s always going back to them right around Easter. I do try to think of how my Lenten practice is life changing and I hope that what I take on is not just mere abstinence even if I go back to whatever it is I decided to step away from.
This year, my desire to avoid Facebook coincided with Lent. In a previous post, I made it clear that this medium no longer is a pleasure to me. To use Marie Kondo’s language, it doesn’t spark joy for me. Whether I like it or not, it is something that is entrenched in my life and that of everyone else I know.
Facebook with its ubiquity has the advantage of connecting people and facilitating communication. Posting is easy and accessible by everyone on one’s network. It is a democratizing platform where everyone has a voice.
It’s also a medium where posts are ephemeral yet permanent. A thought or any other kind of share lasts a day and the world moves on to other posts. Because of this, it’s easy to share that brief thought on the fly or say what fun thing you’re doing. The way things move doesn’t lend itself well to more longer, more reflective posts that take more thought, though many people I know (myself included) have done this. Still, the general preference seems to be for much shorter thoughts and something quick to look at, like pictures.
What I described above isn’t bad in itself. We live in a world where many of us have so many demands on our time, including keeping up with our social networks. It is nice to have those fleeting moments to make us feel like we’re staying in touch with everyone.
A problem for me is that Facebook lends itself very well to reactive posting. This definitely was highlighted during the time fake news, satire sites, and partisan blogs enjoyed heavy circulation. This was very recent, in the years leading up to the last presidential election. Even if many of sites are no longer around, the thought process behind sharing them remains. With a president who’s not very well-liked (at least on my own group of “friends” on Facebook), the outrage sharing impulse is on display every day and it often accompanies sharing of legitimate news articles that may come with some text of the sharer’s own about what makes them angry. Additionally, straw men/ad hominem posts that went for unflattering images (most likely Photoshopped) and going after perceived character defects like not liking to read reflect more about the poster’s biases, especially confirmation bias. Pointing these things out does not make the president and those working for him any less problematic. However, much of the posting pertaining to him amounts to outrage porn.
Often, posting about one’s outrage does little to change the problem, especially on Facebook where it often is preaching to one’s choir. In other words, this discussion mostly reaches like-minded people. In my personal experience, seeing these posts go on nonstop and have contributed to my feelings of hopelessness regarding the situation. Seeing articles on the news can have this effect as well, but when there is constant sharing of these news items coupled with the outrage, the feeling of hopelessness increases greatly. In some eras, it helped to resist the news by tuning it out. Now, resisting Facebook with its serving of the news seems more necessary for sanity.
One thing to keep in mind about outrage is that it is not critical thinking, no matter how it may guide someone in their criticism of something. It’s an emotional reaction, often in terms of anger about something that unjust or not right. Granted, outrage can lead to action, such as fighting for civil rights, justice, change, or all of the above. The pitfall of outrage is that it often blinds one to the reliability of information that upset them. Along with that is a feeling of rightness or righteous indignation that makes it difficult to evaluate the sources shared or their own thoughts they are putting out into the Facebook feed.
Now everyone is woke, everyone is a political observer. Along with the outrage, it gets very exhausting to see these posts.
I have recently tried not to engage with posts about the president or even political topics. Somehow, Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t catch this or pushes these posts into my feed because of it. And because I can’t block out keywords and unfollowing someone feels rude, I felt like I am left with little opinion. It’s like Facebook wants me to engage in these posts I am trying to avoid and boost up this buffoon in charge. I don’t want to do either and I need a break. I have reached my limit with hyper-awareness.
Apart from that, Facebook takes a lot of time, which I don’t think anyone ever intends. I don’t ever block out time for that or any other social media. A few seconds here, a few minutes there, adding up to even hours. It doesn’t feel like much when it happens, but the time and mental space to do the other things seem to give. Funny enough, the time and energy to follow short posts (and occasional long ones) and engage by commenting amounts to reading, no matter how reading fetishists try to say it’s not “reading.” To post is writing as well, though it doesn’t fit wit the formal media defined as writing. Facebook does pose challenges to writers and those wishing to take up writing as a practice, some more than others.
For me, I have long felt like Facebook took away from my writing. Unlike the politics issues that define much of the discussion on the medium, this is more of a time and attention issue. Even without the existence of social media, time and attention are challenges for me. There are always other things competing for my attention, much of it legitimate. When I was teaching college classes, reading (and even re-reading) texts and books I assigned along with taking time to read and grade their work took priority. It was often difficult to be in the space to read and write apart from that. Also, to teach the classes and handle the discussions with classes have at times drained me where I did not feel I had the emotional, creative, and intellectual energy to pursue my own reading (whether for pleasure or to read like a writer for style and genre). This was an issue no matter what my level of competence with teaching was. Funny enough, spending so much time on Facebook been draining on a similar level. Except this was what I mentioned that following and engaging posts amounts to the same mental processes as active reading. With wasting time on Facebook, I had little left over time-wise or energy to read and write.
I still have things that demand my attention, like my library and photography courses this semester. With the first one, I am looking to gain professional skills and knowledge. With the second one, I am learning a medium I have long wanted to learn. I also hope that it fuels my creativity where it spills over into other areas.
During this time that I am backing away from Facebook, I am taking the opportunity to look at my priorities and attention. If I claim something is important to me, how do I go about setting the time and space to do it? By getting a stressor and a time waster out of the way, I free things up a bit. However, as I have acknowledged, other things do demand my attention. Also, self care is important. Getting a source of stress out of the way is only one way to care for myself. Giving myself a time to recharge is another. It is difficult to do this when there is the constant checking of the Facebook feed along with the likes and updates to one’s posts. There are times when that is taking time for myself to rest, while there are times when that means going out and seeing friends in real time. Then there are times when recharging is going out and doing something fun and not worrying that it will suck up my time. Or couple or all of the above. If creativity is important to me, then it is important to make sure that I have something to give. In taking care of myself and cultivating habits where I put what I’d like to do in practice, I am engaging in something life-changing regardless. While this doesn’t need Lent for me to do this, the timing is right.