A few months ago I decided that I’d had enough of the constant flood of updates and pings and poorly-sourced claims of various political colours that is the modern world of social media, so I took a break from it, cold turkey. It worked pretty well. I forced myself to write blog posts in an attempt to use the time I otherwise spent gazing slackly at other peoples’ stuff to write some of my own. Then after a few weeks, I went back again.
I’ve now realised that once again, I’m at the limit of my patience for social media. The Internet is now a place for the non-stop regurgitation of the same things – the outrage over a news story, the outrage over the lack of coverage in the news of what you think should be a bigger story, slogans bashed crudely into GIFs (thanks, Pinterest, that’s your fault). People aren’t interested in discussion or analysis any more, by and large – that’s not what Facebook et al are for. I engaged someone in a discussion about politics on Facebook a few days ago and got called a “professional Facebooker” for doing so. I have no idea what that even means.
What are people looking for? The same as always. They’re looking for reassurance that the world is as they think it is, that the ideologies they’ve developed over the years are the right ones. There’s nothing so cosy as being agreed with. It tells you that other people think like you do, that you’re right even if the world seems wrong. It’s a nice feeling to have, but I find it’s also a pretty intellectually dishonest point of view. I’d rather participate in a broad conversation including a bunch of people with different views to myself, even quite strong ones – if everyone plays nicely you get a lot more from that than “Isn’t it terrible?” “Yes, it’s terrible, isn’t it?”. I’ve been on the Internet for more than two decades and never has the place seemed bleaker as far as civilised discussion among people with differing views is concerned. Just go and look at comments on even the most innocuous Youtube videos and you’ll see what I mean.
Ultimately, the Internet hive mind reflects the news media it so likes to deride. It’s all about finding what today’s Shocking News Story is and reposting and retweeting and hammering the hell out of it for the day, because outrage feels good and gets replies and makes everyone feel as if they’ve done something even if all they’ve done is the digital equivalent of waving a newspaper item in someone’s face and saying “Have you seen this? Have you SEEN THIS?”. This is exactly how 24-hour news works – pick the lead story of the day and hammer the hell out of it with vapid “expert” analysis and constant repetition of the key points. In the news business this 24-hour horizon is called the News Cycle. On the ‘net, it’s more of an Outrage Cycle, but they work in the same way.
And I’m getting tired of it all. Life is simply too short. I’d rather sit and think myself and pick up the headlines from the BBC every so often than be constantly bombarded with amateur deconstructions or outrage-filled basts by the hundred. I don’t want to feel frustrated, I don’t want to post irritable rebuttals to stuff just to feel stupid afterwards. It’s time to do something else. This is self-absorbed and many of you will probably think I’m wrong-headed for not having the mental bandwidth to hear for the 250th time today why people don’t like the NSA. That’s fine.
So I guess what I ‘m saying is that it’s time for another break. I’ll probably still appear, but in a fairly write-only capacity – you’re unlikely to see me commenting on random posts on Facebook. (I can hear the sighs of relief from here.)