It started as an innocuous post on Twitter. The reaction to it was phenomenal and almost entirely negative. In seconds my post was attacked, I was dragged for the comment, and personal attacks were sharp and vicious. As I watched the comments spread and the negative nature of the comments increase, I made a snap decision: to delete all of my tweets and close my Twitter account. It was the best decision of my recent life.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with social media and the information presented on those sites, I found that, for the most part, the creation of online communities promotes and enhances the constant delusions that we live with and promulgate in our lives. I used my social media as an outlet for my ideas, outrage, and often jumped on a personal hobby horse about one idea or another. The reactions to my posts from friends helped sustain my engagement and I enjoyed the feeling of getting “likes” and “retweets”. It was somehow satisfying to receive positive feedback from people I did not know personally. My ego thrived in this environment and I felt good.
That is, of course, until someone took offense and that reaction spread like wildfire. I was vilified and the positive strokes I had received were now turned into negative attacks. In that moment, I realized the fundamental truth of social media: it is simply another tool of ego and my ego mind. I was, in some ways, addicted to the frenzy and the thrill, and as soon as I recognized the trap, I escaped it….at least for a while.
What I learned about social media and the instant gratification that it can bring is that media posts are an extension of ego and, strangely enough, a kind of balm for our thoughts and ideas. We seek out people who support and promote that ego-centric world and we gain a sense of meaning and purpose that is, to put it bluntly, a dangerous delusion. As the current saying goes, social media is a kind of “honey trap”, a way to spend vast amounts of time and energy on something that has no substance or real purpose. In a very real sense, it represents and extends samsara in ways that we can’t really understand until, for some, it’s too late and we are hooked or addicted.
This modern form of samsara creates a kind of alternate world in which we can create an avatar, a representation of ourselves. We can alter photos, present a more perfect version of ourselves for the world to see. Or not. We can create the worst possible representations of ourselves as kind of alter-egos spewing bile and filth for the world to consume. We can use the format to attack and rage at those who are in the virtual space. It becomes as kind fo hellscape, a place of horror and misplaced identity. We can become the worst versions of ourselves.
I know, sure, online media can provide an outlet for those who have no close connections to those around us; it can be a refuge from the horror that our lives can become. It can be a kind fo balm for the world we actually live in…an escape. That is, of course, the real problem: many of us are in places and relationships that are truly terrible and escape is the one thing we need. Social media gives us that outlet. I guess the question I have is simply this: what is the cost of creating and maintaining an online presence? What damage is it doing to our lived experience?
My lightly maintained social experience, an Instagram photo post, a “like” on someone else’s post, is about all I’m doing right now. Staying connected to friends and acquaintances through these minimal interactions is one way I still engage in social media. That being said, my social media presence is not entirely under my control. With family members and friends posting something about me occasionally, I’m left with a series of questions about what level of engagement I actually have on these platforms. In some ways, all of use are connected to those who post information and ideas about us without our approval. My daughter, for example, will post something that includes me. Do I ask her not to post that photo, idea, or thought? How much control do we really have over the things posted online about us?
Finally, I wonder, too, about the search histories that are collected and processed without our knowledge. What information can be gleaned about our private lives in online forums? Certainly, my life is not influential or consequential so any knowledge gained is limited and not very useful to AI engines processing that data. Actually, I find it kind fo funny to think that some bot out there has scooped up the false references to me online….for a while, I posted absolutely inaccurate representations of myself online. Birthplaces, schools attended, jobs held. I created a whole series of false identities with the intent to confuse and befuddle those nefarious bots online. Who knows if it had any effect on my online profile and I laugh at the idea that someone thinks I’m living in Toronto working at a Subway.
When it comes down to it, I learned a lesson from the Twitter screed I experienced. First and foremost, don’t post your ideas online in 140 characters. Write at length and avoid posting something that you are not willing to support with details and evidence. Avoid reaction; support dialogue and conversation. Those are some of the lessons I’ve learned. At least I think that approach will keep me sane.
May you be happy, May you be well.