I woke up this morning feeling fine.
I got out of bed, had some juice and some coffee, saw my girlfriend off to work, fed my dogs and took them for a walk, but for some reason I found myself in an unshakable mental funk. I tried practicing walking meditation. I tried calming my breath. I tried smiling. But my patience was becoming non-existent; my energy was failing at 9:30 in the morning, and the cold winds of depression were starting to seep under my doors of perception.
What happened? How could a morning which started with smiles, kisses, sunshine and fair weather turn into what I could only see as the beginning of a despondency of indeterminate length?
By the end of my walk, I had my answer.
The seemingly endless echo chamber of opinions that is social media had subconsciously changed my perspective on the world around me: Nothing was cool. Nobody was happy. No longer was there any hope for a bright future for me or anybody else. Divisiveness and bickering now ruled. The huddled masses were now left to our own devices, only to fight with each other over who was right about subjects that very few people truly understand. And while I’m stoked that everybody found their political, environmental and social science degrees, the proliferation of biased rhetoric had become an overwhelming bummer.
In short, I had scrolled through my Facebook news feed whilst shitting.
Ever since the election, and even more so since the inauguration of Donald Trump, my news feed has been nothing if not bombarded by treatises on how fucked we all are now.
And while I hold my own opinions on the situation, I’ve grown very tired of the futility of voicing them via electronic public forum. I don’t even like seeing posts that I agree with anymore, because in my mind, it’s all put in front of me to keep me logged in, hour after hour. In the meantime, I have pants that haven’t been through the wash since New Year’s, and all it feels like is defeat.
Kind of like the feeling you get when trade this…
and ultimately end up with this…
I understand how the algorithms behind the 7-headed monstrosity of Facebook takes a seemingly objective, non-nuanced human being and helps them create an online profile which can ease the activity of long-distance communication. The age of the rotary telephone and long-distance charges are gone. Onward to a brave, new future and all that.
But after that, you’re asked about your interests. Your tastes in music, clothes, entertainment, fashion and art. Your political and social leanings. The next thing you know, you have, in your hand!, a wellspring of validation: article after article and updates galore telling you that you’re right! You are not alone in your opinions. In fact, it seems as though the WHOLE WORLD agrees with you, except for that one person you went to high school with, who you never really hung out with, but they were nice enough, and they were kinda funny in Geometry II, so you went ahead and accepted their friend request. That’s alright because your cousin sure shut them up! And onward down your feed you go…
Until, lo and behold, it’s your weird Aunt who you only ever really saw at a few Thanksgivings as a child, but your parents insisted that you add her to your friends list. Now she’s on the same bandwagon as that dude from high school! Weirdos, man! Why doesn’t somebody put these people in their place? That’s okay…
They never really go away, though.
Dissent against what you hold to be true and sacrosanct still manages to find a way through the cracks. You might find yourself thinking, “Where do these people come from? Isn’t it scary that we share a country with…? How could somebody in their right mind believe…? Why don’t they just stay in their hole in the ground? Why don’t they just leave? Maybe I should leave? If there are people out there who really think that way, then this place is falling apart, and it’s really not safe out there…”
I’m not at all flattered to admit that these are thoughts that I’ve found myself thinking. I will readily admit that Solipsism is something that I have toyed with and will still indulge in from time to time, but only playfully. Because when I stopped looking at the world from one side of one fence, I started to realize that there’s another side of the fence, and holy shit!, another fence beyond that, and what’s this?, another fence behind me, and yards and points of view and understandings that I can’t even see from here!, crossroads and intersections of personal philosophies, all built from lifetimes of different experiences and upbringings. And the more I delved into that understanding, the more my empathy and compassion for other people grew.
I also started to see the flip side of my logic. Lock somebody in a room where there’s nothing but people who are on their same team, and show them pictures of a stranger who isn’t wearing the same color, so to speak. Show them the picture intermittently for an undetermined amount of time, and it will be a matter of course that the people in that room won’t like that person in the different shirt.
By utilizing a platform that was supposed to help people stay in touch and communicate with each other, we have created another situation where it’s more “us against us”. And it wouldn’t take much looking to find information on how quickly and drastically “us against us” in modernized countries can turn into deadly confrontation. Ukraine 3 years ago, for example.
So in line with my long-standing tradition of running to my big sister for help, I came back from walking my dogs this morning, went to my computer and sought out my eldest sibling, #1 expat, and VCR VIP, Shannon Duvall for her insight on what I felt was troubling me this time around. About a month ago she herself had decided to take an indefinite sabbatical from looking at her Facebook news feed, only using messenger for staying in touch and looking up information for events on Facebook pages, but other than that, no scrolling. Having a strong desire to completely disconnect from the world of social media (which would make things terribly bothersome as far as promoting a band is concerned – therefor not an option), I asked her how exactly she managed to pull it off.
The answer was simple: ignore it.
Don’t ignore your problems and those of the world around you, but instead, if it is something you feel that strongly about, find some way to affect change. If the issue is something that is real to you and you feel the inherent need to get involved, you will make the time. But recognize that banding up with your buddies on Facebook to criticize policy and other people is at best masturbatory, at worse divisive, and ultimately achieves NOTHING.
And, SPOILER ALERT, if for some reason you decide, after ex-ing out of this, to distance yourself from your favorite means of digital affirmation, if you find yourself on that platform at a later date, perhaps to look up information on something that only exists there, you might find an update from this seemingly inanimate creation, telling you how much it misses you and how much it cares about you. As though it has become sentient and now has feelings. To paraphrase one of my favorite comedians, Bill Burr, “That is some creepy, New World Order shit.”
But any joking aside, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just telling you what I’m doing.
I’m a product of an ignored generation, somewhere in-between Gen X and Millennials. I came of working age right when the Great Recession hit. And my method of retaining income (my family-owned carpentry business) was taken down along with the housing market collapse. Even before that, we had been undercut by cheaper labor supplied by immigrants. I know first hand what it’s like to lose income in that manner. I’m not proud to admit that there was talk of sabotaging work crews that had taken contracts which had previously been promised to us. Remember what I said about “us against us” and how a narrow perspective can lead to terrible actions? Luckily, a collective sense of karma, or perhaps just a fear of potential litigation prevented any action on the notion. After all, what would we have succeeded in, aside from hurting other hard-working people who struggle more than us? People just looking for a way to succeed? People taking advantage of a situation?
Eventually, as you may well know, I found different means of survival in the world. I moved away from home and dove head first into an unknown place, made a lot of friends in the process and saw the world through eyes that would have been impossible to imagine had I stayed in one place.
So my point is, how many of you can understand where I’m coming from? One side of the fence being from that of a “disenfranchised working man” to that of “empathetic peacenik who gets excited about leveling up his Duolingo Spanish score”? As Fat Mike once said, “Walk some in my shoes, then tell me to fuck off.”
All I know is that numbly thumbing on that hypnotic, glowing screen isn’t helping me, and I know the symptoms of addiction when I see them. I can draw lines as to the social implications on my own time.
My girlfriend and I have noticed that her sons have a problem disconnecting from their phones. Time slips by, assignments get ignored and grades slip. Where does the time go? I’ve mocked and criticized and belittled the situation, but yet, I find ways to legitimize my own mindless use: “I have a job. I have a band. I cleaned up. I’m just relaxing.” I’m also well aware of my own sense of hypocrisy.
I mean, I started this fuckin’ blog to write about music, and my most recent posts (when I actually put time toward it) have been little more than me complaining about the fucked current state of affairs on the American political landscape! When and how did I become so distracted?
I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know a change is in order.
I have books to read, and there’s a world outside.
Maybe I’ll see you out there.