So, everybody has “their thing,” right? Their perfectly ordinary superpower that they relish and are widely known for. There are those people that can always get hamburgers to stay perfectly intact on the grill, people that can swing a big iron rod and actually hit a little white ball such that it travels consistently with height and distance, and there are people who can actually talk to strangers in social settings without sounding like complete idiots. Then there’s me, whose superpowers consist of remembering the syntax to a computer language that hasn’t been used in 30 years, making every light turn red right as I approach it, and being able to keep every New Year’s resolution I make … well, just as long as it doesn’t involve weight loss. Even I must endure metaphorical kryptonite.
Now, I know most of you are rolling your eyes and calling foul right now. “New Year/New Me” is so cliché. Who needs to wait for an arbitrary date to decide to live a better life? People who make New Year’s resolutions are vapid, shallow, and completely fooling themselves into thinking they have the force of will necessary to effect real change in their lives. I know you’re thinking this because most of you posted something to this effect on your various social media accounts this week. I’ve read them. This was also right after most of you also spent the last year making perfectly clear your disdain for memes, kid pictures, food pictures, political opinions, and lame inspirational quotes. You decry, “Nobody cares about your opinions or any of the stupid stuff you post.” This seems ironic to me because it means you people are spending an inordinate amount of time and effort explaining why you hate something that, by your own assertion, nobody cares about in the first place. Then I realized, nobody really cares about your complaining and ranting about this stuff nobody cares about either.
You see, last year about this time, I read “Your Happiness Was Hacked” by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever which, I will admit, initially interested me only from the point-of-view of a software engineer and new media creator who wanted to glean some insight into the psychological tricks that make some social media work, while others fall short and quickly fade away. Instead, rather than coming away laughing at how I could ensnare the masses into becoming fans of the local music scene via subliminal messages inserted into my podcast, I came away with the realization that I was one of the masses. In fact, I was probably worse than most people. At least some of my friends made large productions out of doing vast purges of their social media followers (as if removing a bunch of people you don’t even know from a list of people you imagine are hanging on your every word is akin to quitting smoking) or saying their fond and bitter farewells to social media altogether. I always assumed this was some passive-aggressive cry for attention, as it was almost always accompanied by a vague list of general grievances and wrongs done to them. Regardless, they would inevitably creep back a few weeks later when they realized nobody had read their manifesto or noticed they were gone. Okay, I scoffed, but at least those people had tried to disrupt the pattern. I never even considered myself part of the pattern, and never tried to break it.
Deciding I was more curious about the human/sociological angle than the technology angle (which I think I have a firm grip on at least), over the holidays this year I read Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips’ “The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World.” Again, the book wasn’t quite what I expected, less of a critique of how we got where we are, but instead a peek at what the future could be. As someone who works with virtual reality as part of their day job, I found some of the psychological implications of VR completely fascinating. I hadn’t considered a lot of that before, so I’m thrilled to learn I may be part of a solution for once. Regardless, the gist of what I was looking for was all in the book’s introduction. It confirmed that there is very clearly a “collapse of compassion” going on within my circle that I had been passsively observing for the past year. The very few times I had recently chosen to post something other than a humorous anecdote or picture of what my kid and I were doing, it quickly devolved into someone, usually a friend of a friend I don’t even know, a) misinterpreting my humor as a personal attack against them; b) feeling the need to educate me on how insensitive I am being towards some obscure subset of people (“How dare make a joke like that, knowing there are descendants of left-handed Malaysian survivors of the Tamil Tiger massacres!?”); or c) somehow twisted my praising review of the new Miami Horror album such that it required them to out me as a “racist Trumpublican” who wants to see all Cuban immigrants waterboarded with buckets of their own vomit. I know what you’re thinking, but if I had pointed out that Miami Horror is an Australian dream-pop band (which I think I did in the review) and have nothing to do with American politics whatsoever, someone else no doubt would have called me a bleeding-heart anti-American libtard who should just move to Australia if I love aboriginal life so much. So, clearly, the future of empathy in social media doesn’t look too good, I guess I just wanted confirmation of this.
As the result of all this, for the past year, I have pretty much quit commenting on friend’s timelines out of fear of those people. On my own timeline, I limit posts to one per day, consisting of the most basic one sentence self-deprecating joke I can think up, usually meticulously crafted so that it can not possibly be interpreted as being a subtextual attack on any of my followers, extinct religions, or elected officials. Posting to fan discussion groups are right out. Go look at even a fan group for the band Yes (my favorite band and a former frequent haunt). I mean, come on, Yes makes the happiest, least political, most positive and affirming music on the planet! Yet somehow the fan groups have devolved into angry camps arguing which lineup is the definitive version of the band. (You see, there are two bands called Yes now. I know, it takes a lot of reading to keep up). This takes the fan groups from places where we once assembled the ultimate 23-volume boxed set of bootlegs and rarities to a battlefield where fans must choose their religion and fight with witty quips to prove that their lineup is the true one, and the other lineup fornicates with unclean animals. All of this is watched and critiqued by a third faction, the “Yuppets,” who maintain everything the band did after 1979 is crap. They also claim they can tell, and will argue endlessly about, which gauge and metallic composition of strings Steve Howe played on each take of their favorite song. At least Yes-Prime and Yes-ARW fans can agree to hate those people.
“Your opinion is crap! You’re crap! Your mother is crap! Do us all a favor, get a job, and stop posting your worthless ideas on the Internet hoping someone will comment back after mistaking you for being smart and clever!!!”
– Me (reviewing a crab dip recipe online this morning…)
Despite my decreased participation in social media, I have still been reading it religiously, and leaving the obligatory “likes” on friends posts sans explanation, of course. Meanwhile, I have been accumulating large lists of notes about blog posts I want to make, new easter-egg web sites I want to build, little apps I want to develop. I have at last count, about three dozen podcast episodes recorded that I haven’t found the time to edit and release. I’ve talked to various friends about starting new podcasts and even a videocast in the past couple of months which are still stuck in the “talking about it” stage. Oh, and there’s that concept album I’ve been wanting to write and record for over ten years now that I still haven’t found the time to explore.
Things turned around in November, however, when I signed up for and won my first NaNoWriMo. This not only reintroduced me to the joys of creating content instead of consuming it, but also, due to the all-consuming nature of writing a novel in 30 days, provided me with a much-needed month almost completely detached from social media. Well, almost completely detatched. I was actually participating pretty heavily on the NaNo message boards, Facebook groups, and Discord chat rooms, but those were definitely conversations among compassionate, empathetic, like-minded people who were all going through exactly the same thing and wanted to help each other at all costs. By December, when long stretches of boredom at the holidays led me back to social media, I was pretty much convinced what the New Year’s resolution would be this year: Seriously curtail social media participation and concentrate on this massive backlog of creative projects.
Now, obviously, you can’t completely quit social media altogether in this day and age, especially when one has a book to promote and a podcast that requires audience participation and interaction. However, taking a scan through the myriad sites I am a member of — there were about two dozen — it’s pretty easy to see where the fat to be trimmed comes from. First off, that MySpace page of mine is finally gone. Sorry guys, if it was ever coming back, even in a retro/kitsch way, it would have happened by now. Plurk? Holy crap, I still have a Plurk page! Well, I did anyway, it used to just mirror my Jaiku and Pownce feeds. I got rid of Snapchat ages ago because, famously, I just didn’t get the point. Same with Pinterest. Tumblr I think had a purpose at one point, but I forgot, so I killed that one. LastFM and Tastebuds.FM were just for scam artists anyway. I only had Whatsapp because some disk jockeys in the Cayman Islands I liked to kibitz with used it, so that’s gone. Runtastic? Who are we kidding? Foursquare/Swarm … oooh, I do use those two a lot … not sure why, though, so they’re outta here. Yoono? Bzzzzt! Obsolete anyway.
Twitter I will keep. I have the lists and filters exactly the way I like them, and I find the majority of my reading material there. It’s a good, solid service. You should use it, particularly since I have about $500 invested in Twitter stock, and it’s only worth about $400 right now. I will, however, limit myself to following only 300 people, so if you want me to follow you, you need to be more interesting than at least one of them. My posts will all be done via Buffer.com and limited to three per day to prevent me from wasting time coming up with something to post for the sake of posting (another great time waster I’ve found). Similarly, LinkedIn, which I wish I could abandon (or at least send electric shocks to the genitalia of recruiters who harass me on there), is a professional requirement. Now, Facebook … *sigh* … I wish I could ditch it, unfortunately there are a few relatives who enjoy the anecdotes about what my daughter is up to, plus the podcast page does get reasonably active on broadcast days. Since there’s a page manager app, however, I will uninstall the app from my phone and limit myself to one post per week from my desktop. Other sites I spend a lot of time on like Goodreads, Flickr, and TuneIn, are exempt from a social media purge since they’re useful sites on their own that just happen to have a social media element to them, and I don’t even really use that part. I’ve never lost sleep because my latest selfie on Flickr or the fact that I just read yet another 35-year-old Star Trek novel in four hours has never garnered even a single “like.” In fact, I think the whole “like” thing is so arbitrary that as a currency of self-worth, it’s horribly inflated. I couldn’t even tell you how many downloads my last podcast garnered. That has never been the point.
So that’s it. Sorry if you followed me on something other than WordPress or Twitter, because you probably won’t see much content wherever that was. Sorry if you follow me on WordPress, because I’m going to be experimenting with 2000-word free-form brain dumps, like this, which are cathartic for me but probably of no interest to anyone else. Rest assured, I’m fine, so you can spare the inevitable, “I haven’t seen you on Facebook lately, are you okay?” messages. I’m really hoping for a entire year like last November, where this time next year people will bump into me and say, “Wow, I haven’t heard from you in forever! What have you been doing?” and I can actually point to a half-dozen finished projects for their consumption … even though nobody really cares about that stuff anyway.