Social media has been on my mind a lot lately. As someone who used to consider myself a news junkie, so to speak, this past year has marked a change for me, the first time in my life, where I've decided that pulling back specifically on my news intake, was necessary for my emotional and mental health. I struggled a bit initially with the decision, but after a shift in view, I'm good with it.
I grew up reading my father's newspaper, The Boston Globe, and loved newspapers, embracing local news wherever I lived: New York, Philadelphia, then eventually Japan, where I developed an expensive news habit that people who lived abroad pre-internet news, would understand. I would buy as many as three English language newspapers a day: The Japan Times, the Asahi Shinbun, the Mainichi Daily News, and before they merged with the New York Times, The International Herald Tribune. Weekends I would often buy the British Financial Times for their weekend section. This was a habit that cost the equivalent of a subscription to Cable TV now...but when you live abroad and foreign news was limited, if you are starved for information abroad, you will budget it, if you can.
I did not participate in much social media (Facebook) until after I had a child. Before that I was involved in online forums for the expat community in Japan, which were a mix of international people living in Japan, a lot of US military who were or had been based in Japan, and a smaller number of English fluent Japanese, which all made for interesting discussions. Eventually some of the dynamics and discussions got so intense with regulars, I decided I was done, and stepped away. It was after I moved back to the US and my daughter was young, that I started reconnecting with many people I had lost touch with in over a decade of living abroad, mostly through Facebook.
When I first lived abroad in Japan the only way to talk to people was via landline, and making international calls required a huge deposit (maybe $500) so international calls were made from special telephones you had to go to. If you wanted to communicate with someone abroad you either had to physically go to the special phone booth, or mail a letter, which was not fast. The level of isolation from news and disconnection with people afar, was dramatic. It seems like a thousand years ago compared to now. I spent a lot of time reading, studying Japanese and watching Japanese tv, apart from work and getting out and about, which was limited by the expense of Japan.
When I started dealing with antiques in Japan and the US in the 1990s, I began selling online, and developed a good sized international client base that I primarily communicated via email with, and though now we text and tend to express ourselves more briefly, at that time, people still wrote letters (email). It was a good time for communication, as people took more time in their writing, and I got to know a lot of people via email and business, living all over the world.
Now I am an artist and the art world has been relatively slow to embrace online business, but greatly utilizes social media. There remains a certain resistance to selling, which I understand, as virtual representation is secondary to actual presence. Artists however are quite engaged with topics they are interested in via social media, political activism, and networking, as well as creative opportunities. I think if it weren't for so much of the positive expression of my fellow artists on social media, that I might have opted out by now.
Meanwhile, as much as can be found that is positive, there is without question, a lot of negative impact. To being with, all of this is incredibly dynamic, and we don't really know what is happening entirely to us, as life increasingly shifts to a virtual presence, all done with our very anciently wired hearts and brains.
Young people are so vulnerable to all of this, especially since they have no memory of any other kind of life. Super achievers and perfectionists have infinite illusion to feast on online- and maybe not the critical sense and groundedness to recognize reality checks, and to know when what they are seeing is so over the top. It is all to easy in virtual worlds to get very, very lost and off balance.
I believe we are SO powerfully influenced by the visual, more than we even understand. Social motivations, peer connection, adrenal response, ego vulnerabilities, make us to some degree, putty in the hands of this powerful virtual world we have created. While I find so much of interest and engagement online, at the same time I find it oppressive, enervating, and ultimately quite distracting from being present in my day to day life. I can say without question virtual life has radically changed my life- from the life I experienced in my 20s, to now, they feel like entirely different worlds. Having lived abroad as well at times where I would not speak my native language for days, spending long periods of time alone without contact with most of the people I know, I cannot believe the changes social media and internet communications have wrought. I feel like my brain is being / and has been, rewired...
Also, our identities and sense of self are shifting, as we identify with an illusive online representation, that can be quite dissociated from our actual being! Getting older, this is even harder, one can feel ever more vulnerable as having to be primarily represented through photographs. As a Buddhist this is my truth I suppose, as I confront my impending mortality on my face (haha). I know the temptation to delete it all and step away, is there for me, and I do know people who take time outs, and sometimes completely opting out. I can imagine this may increasingly be a direction for people who find it all just too much.
Recently I heard in the news how an experiment with facebook robots that use their own language startled management; the robots using their own language started talking to each other- a malfunction where noone could understand what they were saying. The experiment was promptly shut down. I'm sure there are already horror movies written like this...
I find that artists and creative people are some of the most actively involved people in social media, but I wonder more and more, how the creative people I know, are relating to it all... I'd love to hear from you.