I guess what with everything going on in 2020 I’m feeling a bit vulnerable. You know – worried, scared, depressed, tired of being cooped up. So I’m on social media a lot. There, I can escape the confines of my home and chat with people. I can “like” photos and laugh aloud, I can click the “smiley/heart/hug” emoticon when someone is feeling bad too. Facebook has been a part of my life for over a decade. More, in fact. I’ve lost track.
So given my current mood, watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix really touched a nerve.
Oh god, what now?! No more bad, depressing news! I’m as overwhelmed as hell and I can’t take it anymore!
The news that social media platforms are harvesting our information (the word “harvesting” makes me think of waking up bruised in a tub full of ice somewhere, so apocalyptic is my mood) and influencing the way we feel about ourselves and the world, is not new – but I figured I was beyond that. I’m no teenager worried about having ears that are too big. I have been there and done that with trolls and jerks online – my Facebook friends are carefully chosen. Real people, friends, friends of friends, colleagues.
I like to share, to interact, to talk about what movie I saw or book I’m reading. I like to hear what other people are doing, too. I have reconnected to friends from high school. I have stayed in touch with friends and colleagues from Los Angeles, London and New York. I truly love seeing the photos of babies and growing families. It’s not just that I merely like these things – I need them. I live in another country – in one which I do not speak the language fluently enough to have really made a lot of new friends. Some, yes, but I don’t have nearly the social network that I had in the past. Plus, I work at home. As a writer and editor I spend most of every day sat on my behind, typing away. Facebook has been an emotional lifeline for me, a break, a watercooler, a lunchroom where I can hang out. But the by-design addictive nature of Facebook really flips me out.
I am not actually choosing how to spend my time and my attention – rather, my needs as a social being are being manipulated.
It doesn’t look like I can do a lot about this anytime soon. Israel is in its second full lockdown and winter is coming. What a dilemma. Mostly, I want to bury my head and just carry on using social media – so what if I’m a data point, so what if Facebook gives me a false sense of connecting to people when in reality, it’s all digital candy hearts.
I ask myself, what else could I be doing when I’m not online?
Hanging out with my life partner
Knitting or crocheting
Talking on the phone to a friend
Watching a movie
And I do these things – but my attention is splintered, fractured, all over the map. I have lost the ability to really get lost in any of those activities for any length of time. To just play a card or board game and not feel any urge to check my social media. To just chop up food for dinner and not feel any gnawing anxiety that I really should check my email in case. To watch a movie without wondering what other movie I can watch next. To read a book and not click on the titles of other books I will read later.
I don’t think I’m alone in this and I don’t think any of it augurs well for our wellbeing as individuals or as a society. Womp womp. Already been said, already been argued, nothing new to see here, folks.
Maybe this pandemic and the extraordinary times we live in has a silver lining though. An opportunity for us to reflect on what’s important to us for real – IRL – and to take a measure of just how much of our own agency we are really exercising in this world.
There is nothing as precious as time. Not one thing. It’s our only resource, really. I want to read books and to chat with people. I enjoy my work, I also enjoy cooking and being quiet and watching a movie. I feel my best when there is balance in my life. A little bit of everything, enjoyed one at a time for what it is. It’s not easy to try to reimpose balance and focus in such sped up times, but it seems to me something worth trying, anyway.
Oddly, and I note this for no other reason than that it interests me, I reached this tipping point of being worried about my focus, attention and easily-manipulated propensity to be human not just by watching The Social Dilemma, but rather because in the past few days, I’ve been self-soothing through doing a lot of crocheting – which I’m new to. I’ve been making the same simple hat for days and days. Knitting and crocheting (like all handwork, I suppose) requires focus and concentration – even though the movements are repetitive. You have to count rows and stitches. Even one extra stitch will mess up the whole pattern. I kept messing up. Over and over. I would be counting and then a thought would interrupt me – about politics, life, the pandemic, work I should be doing, marketing my book, whatever – and I’d lose count. Rip out a few stitches and try again. It became a litmus test of how often my thoughts charge into my present experience and interrupt my focus. Way too much. I don’t want that part of myself to remain so eroded. It’s unacceptable to me, when my time and what I choose to do with it is the only real currency that I have.
Yesterday, my Loving Life Buddy* and I watched another movie on Netflix. My Octopus Teacher. We were both completely engrossed, and while we watched this extraordinary, unlikely animal-human friendship play out, I can tell you for sure, we thought of nothing else. I left my crochet project on my lap and my hands were motionless.
**SIDENOTE: My Facebook friends know exactly who my Loving Life Buddy, Gidon Lev is and why I call him that. He is my 85-year-old life partner, my boyfriend, the peanut butter to my jelly. We live together. I wrote a book about his life. We love each other. We do most everything together. I am thirty years younger than him but you’d never know it. We camp, we swim, we both check our Facebook feed. And we’re both feeling pretty down and depressed right now, to be honest. But still, I’m grateful to have a Loving Life Buddy (pictured, below). **
The movie over, Gidon and I realized the hour had grown late and that we hadn’t prepared anything for dinner. I went to the kitchen to sort things out and I heard a knock on the door and muffled voices. Moments later, Gidon came into kitchen, grinning from ear-to-ear. One of our neighbors had brought us a plateful of barbecued food from her family picnic. Gidon chortled “Look at this! Supper!” He was so delighted, so tickled that we got a plateful of supper, unbidden, unexpected. I was too.
Very badly, I wanted to post all of this on Facebook – about The Social Dilemma, or the octopus film, or how we got a nice supper delivered to us by a caring neighbor. I wanted, so badly, to post about what it’s like in Israel, during this second lockdown, and how existentially depressed and cooped up I am feeling. I decided not to do that, but rather, to share this WordPress blog post.
No dramatic “I’m leaving Facebook!” post for me – mostly because people who do that almost always come back. I’m not sure that I can really stay away from my virtual water-cooler for any period of time anyway. Especially these days. But I think I’m going to experiment with avoiding it for a few weeks. Maybe I’ll write some nice, long pen-pal emails to friends so I can keep up with how they are. Likely I’ll do more blogging here, so I can “share” what I’m up to – if only for my own sense of release and self-expression.
I’ve signed up for Me We and there is a lot of news posted but so far I don’t see many of my friends and there has been little interaction so far. But then, I’ve not really given it a chance. If you want to join me there, please do. Or, go to my website and you can click “contact” and send me an email from there. Or – not. There has got to be a better way to stay in touch in a balanced way. If I thought the post office would deliver letters in a timely way, I’d write letters – remember those? But alas.