A couple of years ago, I went through depressive funk that led me to withdraw from most social settings. I hermited away not only physically, but also cyberly. I’ve always suffered from some level of social anxiety; now, I was experiencing a kind of social-network anxiety that caused me to ultimately break up with my Facebook page.
For way too many reasons, I was a click away from ending it all. Well, many clicks. I think I clicked 600 of the 10,000 “Are you sure you want to delete your account?” buttons, then got tired and fell asleep.
The social network is so intertwined in so many people’s lives, I was weird or elitist for not playing along, apparently. Friends joked that I was “too cool” for Facebook. If anything, the feeling of “Why the hell would anyone care about what I’m doing/thinking/eating/hating/loving/hearing/watching?” was a prime motivator.
My split was an honest “It’s not you, it’s me” decision. I really love many things about the “global conversation.” I’m just not in love with everything about it.
I live to absorb current events and interesting commentary that can offer new perspectives. I love sharing information. And now I can do it all in real-time? Initially, I was like the free-spirited but damaged small-town girl from a Guns N Roses video, with emotional issues so heavy, heroin’s the only escape. And FB was the heroin, streaming endless info in front of my eyes.
Unfortunately, I am: easily distracted; fearful of sharing too much personal information; weary of being in essentially a huge, easily accessible public database; creeped out by the voyeurism and stalker tendencies FB encourages; and totally horrible at multitasking.
Being strung out on Facebook would occasionally reduce my productivity and I’d get angry at it. It was the same thing with fantasy baseball. I retired from our newspaper’s league years ago because it was another daily ball to juggle. (And I really sucked at it. The Downtown Dilettantes were the Washington Generals of fantasyland.)
But Facebook is useful (if not already crucial) in my job at a media company on many levels (info sharing, interaction, promotion). Social media is an effective crash-course in writing concisely (my fatal flaw). And, of course, it’s an amazing way to take the public’s proverbial temperature.
I finally found a way to make FB part of my daily flow. The tactics I learned in years of therapy to deal with real-life anxiety transferred well to social media anxiety — easy inner-monologue-type tricks to help let go of, say, worrying over whether to defriend or inform the authorities about someone posting “Obama = Hitler” videos on my wall.
I know most people (especially in my industry) have been able to balance the two “lives” easily. And there’s a generation sprouting now who will be born with the proper coping mechanisms (our thumbs are going to look weird in 1,000 years). I’m just an over-analytical, awkward introvert/nervous nelly with the ’net aptitude of Kirk Douglas.
I hope I’ve figured out a way to be somewhat engaged, but not entirely consumed, sharing intriguing and/or dumb things I’d read (and write) online anyway. I’m sharing what I’m learning and learning as I’m sharing. It’s kind of like jogging in place at a stop-light — I can keep my mind jogging in place with Facebook, active but not drainingly so.
But I still have anxieties — they’re just big-picture and long-term. I fear for the total skim-inization of our planet’s information consumers. I see in others and myself how we are quick to become too good at multitasking at the sacrifice of retention and ideas that endure longer than a “trending” cycle.
Comedian Louis C.K. in a Reddit chat recently engaged in a brief exchange about his disinterest in social networking that eloquently crystalized what I’ve never been able to put into words about information consumption. He expressed a similar worry that the lack of depth in thinking that sites like Facebook can encourage will cause a hiccup in brain development along our evolutionary chain.
“I killed my Facebook page years ago because time clicking around is just dead time,” C.K. wrote. “Your brain isn’t resting and it isn’t doing. I think people have to get their heads around this thing. All this unmitigated input is hurting folks.”
I did CPR on my Facebook page a couple of months ago. Friend me, but I can’t be held responsible for any long-term damage to your psyche.
And if you don’t hear from me for a spell, I’m probably just out taking a walk. Or trying to figure out this Twitter stuff #draggedkickingscreaminginto21stcentury.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: @CityBeatMusic on Twitter