I’m a heavy internet user, but I’m trying to lessen my time on social media. Why? It’s having a negative effect on my mental health. I realized that if I hopped on Twitter first thing in the morning, it would negatively affect my mood for the rest of the day. I now take Wednesday and Saturday off, and it makes me feel better. I’m thinking of adding Monday, but I haven’t done it yet.
I’ve noticed something about the online world vs. the real world. It’s much easier to be stuck in an echo chamber because you can tailor everything to your preferences. It’s not a bad thing because why would I want to see tweets from right-wingers all day long? Apparently, Jack (from Twitter) doesn’t agree and is considering messing with the algorithm so that you see tweets outside of your bubble, which, no, Jack. Just no. Look, I get the reason for thinking this is a good idea. Like I said, it’s easy to just hang out with people you agree with and for your opinions to harden into rigidity. However, the solution to that is not to force heinous tweeters on hapless users. While the idea is a good one, it’s too much of a benevolent dictatorship for me. Ideally, the user would have a healthy mix of tweeters she followed, but let’s face it–most people aren’t that self-aware.
It’s also easy to craft theories in your head that work perfectly but don’t stand the sniff test when taken out into the real world. It’s the academic fallacy in which you can talk about a subject with your friends/colleagues for hours, come to an agreement with them, then think everyone in the world thinks that way. I see way too many philosophical arguments that don’t have anything to do with real life, and it’s especially difficult to burst that bubble because we all have a bias for believing what we think is reality. I tested this during the 2012 election by randomly asking people in the real world (people I knew, not just strangers) who weren’t on Twitter what they thought of some hot Twitter topic, and they never knew what I was talking about. All my friends follow politics more than the norm, and they still didn’t know about the Twitter outrage of the day.
I see this all the time, especially on certain progressive sites, including one of the advice sites I frequent. There are buzzwords that get thrown out willy-nilly, and it only works if everyone agrees on the meaning of said words (or phrases), which, sadly, is often the case. I had a discussion with Ian the other night about how heuristics are important, and I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s true that they are important, but it’s also true that when heuristics become FACTS, it can be a problem. For example, the term ’emotional labor’ gets thrown around a lot these days. It started as a way to describe situations in the workplace in which the worker has to suppress her own emotions in order to do what needs to be done at work. A good example is retail. Colloquially, it’s come to mean managing the emotions in a relationship (any relationship, but most often romantic), and it’s often relegated to the woman in a heteronormative relationship. By the way, that’s another word that is more useful in academic settings–heteronormative.
Anyway, now, people are throwing emotional labor out there to mean anything from having to deal with someone else’s feelings to having to set boundaries and a half dozen of other things that may be tangentially related, but not actually emotional labor. Another one is the word toxic to describe a situation. I’ve seen it used in situations which have negative aspects, say, the hubby doesn’t do the dishes every night, but isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself (he does the laundry, takes care of the children half the time, makes a decent living, remembers anniversaries, listens to his wife, etc.), and I think it dilutes the term when it’s used so loosely.
I also see people going into the weeds with discussions, such as, say bisexuality that doesn’t really matter in the real world. Someone on the aforementioned advice site was going into a screed about how bisexuality is an outmoded term if it’s defined as being attracted to men and women, and they (think it’s a woman, but not sure). It was in a long rant about asexuality and how the OP was not doing it right, and the whole thing read like a philosophy 101 student after several drinks expounding at the bar to anyone who’d listen. The commenter was saying how asexuality was a sexual orientation, and someone who is asexual can have a high sex drive or a low on, and that’s where they lost me. I understand that asexuality is not a fixed aspect, and I understand there are gray-aces and other such aces, but if someone has a constant high sex drive, then I don’t understand how that is part of asexuality.
The person was declarative about their statements and didn’t provide any links. When the site owner requested some, they dismissively said they didn’t want to do asexuality 101 all the time. I understand that when someone else is coming to you (your blog, your tweets, your FB), but when you’re the one going elsewhere and saying shit that isn’t well-known, then the obligation is on you to provide information and links. Their aside about bisexuality really grated on my nerves because they were saying it’s fine if someone wanted to say bisexuality means they’re attracted to men and women, but it’s outmoded. I assumed because there are now more than just men and women, but I didn’t like how dismissive they were. It’s a weird outcome of online liberalism–a rigidity and moral superiority equal to that of the conservatives, except this is based on how ‘woke’ a person is.
I’m bisexual by default. I prefer just to say I’m sexual, but I understand that we need shortcuts in how we talk to each other. By saying I’m bisexual, I give out the general idea that I’m attracted to more than just one gender. I don’t like omnisexual or pansexual, and I think bisexual is limiting, but it works for me. I don’t know any genderfluid or nonbinary people in real life (to my knowledge), and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be attracted to them, but it’s not currently part of my attraction. If it happens, I will update as I go, but I can only do the best with what I’m giving at any one time.
In addition, the tone of this person was “I’m better than you because my thinking is supposedly more progressive” that never is a good look. I’ve seen it more and more within liberal circles, and it becomes a checklist of buzzwords you have to use in order to be considered ‘woke’. And, yes, I’m going to continue putting ‘woke’ in quotes because most people who talk about being woke usually aren’t. It’s more about feeling superior and looking down on other people, and there is often no humanity/compassion in the people displaying this behavior.
Look. I understand if you’re passionate about something, it can be frustrating when other people don’t think/feel the same way. But, if your goal is to get people to change their viewpoint, talking down to them and acting as if they’re morally inferior to you isn’t going to do the trick. No one likes being talked down to or being told they’re stupid. In addition, it’s hard to argue with someone like that because anything you say only further reinforces their belief that you’re stupid and ignorant.
In addition, the nice, neat soundbites often don’t touch on the fact that life is messier than the neat scenarios presented online. Let’s take the example of ‘friendzone’. It’s canon that the friendzone doesn’t exist, that it was invented by MRA types to decry the nefarious wiles of women and the many ways we trod upon innocent men. Now, I agree with most of the criticism about the term friendzone, but I disagree that it never happens the way it’s originally described. There are absolutely women (and men) who like to surround themselves with people who attracted to them in order to get a boost or to have their acolytes do things for them. In addition, the line between friend and lover isn’t as hard-drawn as the detractors of the ‘friendzone’ like to claim. An example from my own life. I tend to be attracted to people I’m friends with. If I like someone as a person, then they can be more physically attractive to me. Likewise, I have been physically attracted to someone and become friends with them because of that attraction. I’ve hoped it’d grow into something more, but it rarely did.
I will say, it’s not easy to be friends with someone you’re attracted to. I’ve done it more than once, and it’s hard to sublimate the desire. It’s not impossible, but I haven’t always been good about it. The first major example was when I was a first-year student in college. I got to be really good friends with a transfer student, let’s call him Thomas because that’s not his name. He was creative and artsy, but he was also a hard drinker, self-destructive, and gay. We were inseparable for a semester. We were so close, all my friends assumed we were a couple. And, I was deeply and madly in love with him. I pushed that down and tried to enjoy the friendship we had, but it was difficult, especially as we were pretty physically demonstrative with each other (hugging and cuddling and holding hands and shit).
I finally exploded the friendship by doing something stupid because I couldn’t handle the fact that I loved him, I felt as if we were in a relationship, and yet, we weren’t. Very much were not. I still feel bad for ending the friendship the way I did, but I was immature and could not handle it at the time. Does it make me a bad person or a predator who pouted when she couldn’t get her way? No. I was a fucked-up eighteen-year old who believed what society told me–if I just loved him enough, he’d eventually love me back.
It’s easy to say online, “Accept the situation or stop being friends”, but it doesn’t leave much room for the fact that emotions and real life rarely work so nice and neatly. Should I have ended my friendship with Thomas once I realized I had romantic/sexual feelings for him? Maybe. Should I have tried harder to accept our friendship for what it was? Yes, but I wasn’t able to do that at the time. Would I have been better off that semester without him in my life? No. He gave me so much that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
My long-winded point is that it’s rarely as easy in real life to apply the solutions declared online, and it’s not always beneficial to do so. It would behoove those of us who are heavy social media users to realize that the internet is not a reflection of the real world.