photograph (Burning Man 2007) and collage — AleXander Hirka

Am I Heading For A Divorce with Social Media?

What About My 164 “friends”?

I would like to focus on my relationship with social media during this session, Dr. Sigmund.

Dr S: Certainly. Make yourself comfortable.

Well, I guess I’d like to start off by saying that I am quite aware that we each have very individual relationships to all the various bizarre permutations of social media in which we partake. I’d like to examine my perspectives with you, as well as examine probable misconceptions.

Dr S: It is indeed true that each of us brings our own set of needs to that realm. From where I sit I see everything from what you might call a dating relationship to something akin a co-dependant marriage. People approach and utilize it with very different motivations. They also ride it regularly in very different moods and surroundings, and more and more often in the realm of the much shorter attention span provided by the cellphone.

Facebook page — AleXander Hirka

I’d particularly like to focus on Facebook. I have 164 “friends” — pretty much a mix of people I’ve known for years or at least met physically on some occasion. Two of them are dead. I had over 200 when I cleaned house. I don’t think the “un-friended” ones felt any sudden emptiness. I had to block a few due to unreconcilable differences—ranging from religion and Woowoo, to chemtrails and pizza.
Compared to quite a few of my other creative “friends” my numbers are very low. Many of them are over a thousand, a few have reached the threshold of 5000. (I addressed that conundrum in a short story.)

They have to wait to lose a “friend” to add a “friend”. I suppose some of my problems arise from taking things too seriously, especially that misnomer: “friends”.
At this point I am finding it mostly very unsatisfying to visit and try to interact in that space—everything there seems superficial, in a profound and depressing way. It still brings a smile to my face to remember that my first girlfriend told me that I was “too existential”.
I’ve been in this frame of mind before in recent years and have even taken long walks away, a month or more at a time, but I keep wandering back, hungry for more of that ennui and lack of attention.
(I even tried my hand at reviving the ancient art of emails, but multiple paragraphs of written thoughts have become as quaint as a one-horse open sleigh. And there aren’t even any songs about it.)

Dr S: Well, I think this is a good time to address your needs, your expectations.

Sigmund Freud’s couch, Hampstead, London England

Expectations

I do fully accept that the problem lies with my expectations, but, when I roll them all out on the table to examine them I can’t ignore that they’re being moved around as if by magnets from underneath—by manipulative algorithms.
Most of my “friends” don’t chafe in response to this, so why do I?

Dr S: Perhaps how you view your “friends” is illusory. And when they are on Facebook they are indeed something very whittled down from the flowering trees they may be elsewhere in their lives. Do you do unto others?

A click on “like”, or one of the other emojis, is very standard for me. Creative effort, art, always a minimum “like” for effort, and a love emoji if I really like it. Whenever possibleI try to add a word or two. If it is thought provoking, I add the provoked thought. People and places always get a click—it is so little effort to acknowledge others. Heck, even one out of every ten pet photos gets a “like” from me.
As you know I am both a visual artist (digital collage and photography) as well as a writer. When I posted a photo of a pignoli cookie last year it got more “likes” than any of my artwork ever had. And nowadays when I share links to the stories/essays I publish on Medium, even if I get an occasional “like”, my “friends” don’t actually go and read them—in the lexicon of the online world: tl;dr—but I mostly write pretty short stuff.

Dr S: As I suspect your other creative friends have suggested to you— Facebook is not the place to share your creativity. If they can’t click “like” on an art image you shouldn’t expect them to actually go and read something. The point of the Facebook “News Feed” is the scrolling—it ain’t the meaty content, it’s the motion — and they do have thousands of friends posts to roll through. It’s a place for fluff. Small talk around the cooler.

A Maze Myself

Ah, well yeah. Guess you’re right. Not exactly my forte. Nice weather we’re having. Have you seen the latest Stars Wars? Ain’t them Mets something?!
I’m bringing the wrong content to the cooler. Last thing anyone wants inserted into the Harry Potter conversation is some damn Kafka. I show up with my artwork and words and photos and politics and philosophy and throw around some critical thinking and they all move away from me on that group W bench.
I log in and I roll with the blows—as you say: scrolling along—smiling and clicking “like” at the humorous word/picture memes. Occassionaly I visit interesting places with friends who are traveling. Often I raise eyebrows at a painfully dubious shared headline or statement. I sigh at the virtue signaling fireworks inside my tribe bubble. From miscellaneous to misanthropic can happen in less than a dozen scrolls of the mouse.
And yet I go back a few hours later for more. I mean I could get this combination of news and cartoons by leafing through a New Yorker or some other magazine, so why am I drawn to the screen, to Facebook?
(I have this uncanny mental tic of associating and cross-reference everything that comes through my mind with the vast catalog of songs in my Mental Jukebox—and right now at this moment I am channeling Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?”) Are all my expectations and diappointments just symptoms of unmitigated snobbery?

Dr S: Well, who isn’t what someone else would call a snob about something, about many things we love. I have a little plaque in the other room with a quote by the writer Joseph Epstein. “ High standards generally — about workmanship and creation of objects, about what is owed in friendship, about the quality of art and much else — far from being snobbish, are required to maintain decency in life.”
Perhaps a different set of “friends”?

Friends

I don’t think that it is just a case of selection of friends—I think it’s the message of the medium itself. I mean my “friends” with thousands of “friends” still get limited “like”-love—even when they share their very best photograph of themselves with their sweet ol’ granny, that cute new puppy, or a big slab of red velvet cake. As you suggested — I think I’m understanding that it is a water-cooler, a gossip community, and not a classroom, gallery, or drinks with friends.

Dr S: I believe the platform itself is what you’re banging your head against.

Cats Score Big “Likes” On Facebook — JJ poses — photo AleXander Hirka

The Platform

As far as Facebook itself, a big part of what I feel I encounter is a whittling away at attention span. It teases you to look and click and move on. If you refresh a page you’ll go somewhere else. Ads for things I am never interested in. Really — I’m going to go see Kansas in concert? And bothering to tell them to hide the ads is crazy because you have to go through multiple steps, all intended to get better data on you so they can try to tailor the ads for you.

Dr F: I am very aware how Pavlov Zuckerberg designed this machine and how he keeps it running. That serotonin response when the notfications icon turns red. `
Rewards equal motivation to repeat what works. Every ping, every response, a surprise; hoping for a sugar cube treat in that hand with it’s thumb up. After a while most users are quite satisfied with a dollop of spray-can cheese at the end of the maze. You seem to want imported gruyere and a glass of wine. I assure you the closest you’ll get is seeing a picture posted of your “friends” anniversary dinner.

The problem with the ads is that they could never tailor them to me anyway because I am not much of a consumer. This holiday time of year just chafes at me, seems like a mad rush to gather cheap goods to put in the landfill in January. The reason for the season gets readjusted annually to make sure as many as possible are engaged and participating. Like social media.

Dr. S: I assure you that Facebook doesn’t care so much that you shop, you’re only very slightly the consumer there, your participation is their content—you are the product. Your attention, moving, clicking—those numbers are what they sell to their advertisers. The simpler and quicker and bouncing all around and returning for more—the better.

You Are The Product

Remember the great promise that internet was going to be so much different from television, which was the great homogenizer. Social media would unite and organize us towards social change. Now it’s all Google and Amazon. How can change happen when after an average of 5 responses to anything on Facebook the conversation goes downhill towards the level of “OK Boomer”, and even that usually through the linking of an animated gif.

Dr S: Well, AleXander, I’m sorry to say that our time is almost up for today.
Your assignment before our next visit—by the end of this month—is to remove the Facebook bookmark on your computer browser and the app from your phone.
Walk away for a month again. And then maybe longer.

But what about my 164 friends?

Dr. S: Let them know where you can be found—your art and your writings, your email. And don’t give it too much thought. There is only so much time.
Spend more time reading—I recommend somewhat difficult fiction, the focus required is like meditation, you may get distracted but then you keep coming back to your conversation with the writer.
And likewise make time for sitting, for meditation.
And for the sake of your sanity, try to talk with people who are also hungry to jump beyond the polar vortex and the cyclone bombs.
Since you live in this city with so many cultures and dazzling architecture, go walking. But don’t just flâneur! Don’t take your Awe for a solitary walk like so many do with their
mammals on a string — take it to the park where it can run and interact with others’ Awe.
Let’s check in in January and see how things are going.

When I’m off Facebook etc I’ll be writing more here and on my blog.

___________________________

© AleXander Hirka 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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For your consideration, my blog: Tempest Tossed in New York City — writing and art and life in New York City.

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Writer, visual artist, philosopher, autodidact, curmudgeon. More than half of what i do is make believe. https://alexanderhirka.nyc

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