First of all, I do! I have this blog. That’s my social media.
But otherwise, there are several reasons you don’t see me on Facebook (you did briefly, for a few months) or Twitter (I lasted there a bit longer but hated it and the world by the time I left) or Tiktok. Here are some of them:
1) It’s not real interaction. It feels like real interaction, but it’s not. We develop opinions about others on social media, but we really don’t know them. They may be the nicest people in the world, the very person you’d want for your best friend or neighbor, and yet because they aimed for snarky humor, and it failed, now you have this whole bundle of opinions and feelings about them that are irrational and wrong.
Or, I should say, I do that. And I think everyone does, but I’ll own my part in it, and when we pile up everyone worldwide who does it, what we end up with is anger, enmity, and wrong judgments on a massive scale. You cannot get to know someone in 20 words of text or a random “like” of a video or article.
2) It’s a time drain, and it’s an energy drain, and it throws me off my goals. My goals include being a writer, writing four books per year most years, and I also read books (partly for enjoyment, but partly because of writing, to watch how genre expectations are changing, to see if I can/wish to write in a new genre.) That’s what I want to do with my best hours, not waste them on social media. (And I don’t have a TV either, though I will stream a free movie now and then.)
What happens when you check social media, or your texts, or the alerts you sign up for on your phone, or your three email accounts, is that you tend to go deeper into each than you intended, and you tend to spend more time on each than you planned to, and you tend to go around in a circle of various ones that has become a pattern, and then a habit, and then an addiction. And then sometimes you go around the circle twice. Or twice, three times a day. Yikes!
I’d rather write.
I’d also rather spend time with my friends, tend to my garden, take a walk, go somewhere interesting where I learn something (I’m big on parks with interpretive centers, but I’ll attend lectures and community events that are about something I don’t know much about at all). I’d rather go outside at dawn and stare at the sky, with my eyes and sometimes with binoculars, glimpsing the transit of a moon of Jupiter or the faint swollen hint of a big spiral galaxy. We have one short, precious life. Do you really want to spend it arguing with strangers online? Or even sharing cute parrot photos with strangers online?
3) Leading to: it makes me worry about crap I cannot control. At worst, it makes me try and do something about crap I cannot control! And that wastes more of my precious and finite life.
I’ll take something that was big in the writing community a few years ago. This idiot woman tried to trademark a common word. And then others did too. Like they’d try to trademark the word “invasion” as applies to SF books. I can only assume cocaine addiction is a big thing at the US Trademark Office, for they approved these ludicrous applications. Not only did I spend time raging about it online, in writers’ groups and possibly during my short stint in social media, but I became a person who haunted the Trademark applications and wrote refutations (not the right word, but that’s what it was) of them. In one case, I hunted down the heirs to a dead author’s copyrights and explained they were about to get hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit for something copyrighted 50 years ago because of this trademark application.
You might say “well, that was nice of you.” Yeah, well, thanks, but it was stupid of me. I have so many hours in the day that I have good energy. I want to spend it on writing and laughing with friends. My low-energy hours I spend on things like accounting, repairs, gardening, cooking and cleaning. My awful-energy hours I lie back and watch a movie I’ve probably seen before or play Wordle.
Did I “make a difference?” Probably not. Probably all that would have been worked out without my efforts. Or it won’t work out, and I’ll die and it still won’t be worked out, and that’s just the way of life. But this I know: my anxiety over it was an energy drain, and time spent on it was a waste of me. Leading me to:
4) When people say they like social media, they sometimes say “It keeps me informed.” Uhuh. I’ll agree this far: it keeps you informed only on what the social media owners want for you to be informed about. (which might be very iffy information indeed.) I’m sure all my readers are bright enough to grasp there are 10,000 awful things happening around the world that you aren’t being informed about, and that you could equally as obsess and worry about them as the 20 things social media and TV news fed to you today. And you’d have equal control over their outcome: zilch.
Don’t get manipulated like that. And quit worrying over what you can’t control. Control what you can, and (spoiler alert) that doesn’t go far beyond your own skin.
5) Making us feel connected, liked, entertained, and informed is the whole purpose of social media. Note I don’t say it makes us connected, liked, entertained, and informed. It makes us feel we are. That’s the product. It appeals to some junior-high age need in us when our followers grow or we get “likes.”
That we feel like this keeps us there so that the social media owners can gather data on us. That’s the true reason for it to exist. That they make money off us. That they make money off mining our data. That they make money off invading our privacy. It isn’t free. It looks free, and it isn’t. We’re (sorry to be blunt, but it’s so) whoring ourselves, our privacy, to these people.
They are taking it. With our full permission. And selling it. And getting rich from it.
If I wished to, I could know everything about every one of my readers. Facebook will tell me if I spend ad money with them. I could know your politics, if you were fat or thin, if you ever upvoted a racist or “sexy” picture, if you'd ever clicked from FB to take a personality "quiz" and what the results were, what your income is, how many children you have, if you went to university and where, who your friends are, if you own a home or not, if you are in credit card debt or not, and if you prefer Coke to Pepsi products.
Amazon is actually far better about protecting your privacy from advertisers, but they know even more about you. They know if you’ve ever ordered erotica or a vibrator and my books too. They know if you’ve ordered a book called “Is my child a sociopath?” They know your shoe size, FFS. They know everything.
I lied when I was on social media about nearly all of the details of my life. I lied about my university, my date of birth, my year of birth, and my income. (I even lie about that when I apply to a store discount card. Sometimes I say I make $1000/year, and sometimes I say I make $500,000/year, which I definitely do not and will never!) I hope my lies screw up their averages, honestly, when they’re trying to predict consumer behavior. I don’t even carry my phone with me to shop in known places (I carry a phone only on road trips to unfamiliar locales). That thing Google does where it tells you how busy stores are? It’s from pinging your phone, a thousand phones every day at that store. Google (or Apple) knows where you are every second, how long you stood at this aisle, that aisle, where you shop, and where you don’t. This means they can accurately predict a lot more about you, like your income within 5%. (Rich people don’t tend to hang out at the Dollar Tree and Salvation Army thrift store, to use a clear example.) If you pay via your phone, they can associate what you bought with that accumulated data. They sell data about you, your credit card and bank sell data about you….
But not much about me. I pay for groceries with cash and I don’t carry my phone. I’m harder to target with ads, with political solicitations, with targeted brainwashing of any sort (which is what advertising is, and more and more what "this might interest you" links are) than the average American. And I like that. I like being off the radar most of the time. (Can’t be entirely. I need email. I need to be paid into bank accounts. I have to file taxes. Since 9/11, a bank account requires a fixed physical address. So you can’t really be off the grid in 2022, but you can protect a lot of your privacy.)
6) So I don’t do social media, leading you to ask, I’m sure, “but how do you stay connected to people?”
I phone them. I email them. I text them “thinking of you” with a photo I just took of plants in bloom or a sunset. I go out to lunch with them.
“But I can’t do that with 3000 of my Twitter/FB/TikTok friends!”
Hon, those aren’t your friends. Friends are people you’ve actually smelled. That’s my prerequisite for calling someone a friend. If I’ve smelled them, spent enough time with them to know their cologne or soap or even, working hard side by side, their sweat odor, they may be my friend. If I’ve heard their laughter, not seen their “lol,” they might be my friend. If I’ve broken bread with them, they might be my friend. It’s about the nose and ears, friendship, not about the phone or computer screen.
And I assuredly do not have 2000 of them. Twenty is nearer the mark. The twenty people for whom you’d weep bitter tears if they died. Those are your friends.
As a writer, I have something of a passion about keeping words to mean what they actually mean, rather than torturing their meaning for commercial reasons.
In writing, I used to be involved with big writing groups online, and I learned about business there (although I also would have learned from lurking and not getting into petty arguments over little nothings, as I’m ashamed to admit I occasionally did). Learning about how to write, I 90% learned from books, articles, doing the writing, and the feedback of rejection. 10% I learned F2F, in classes and critique groups. I never learned a single thing about the craft of writing from an online interaction. I do still belong to a small online private group with whom I write and joke in the mornings. That small one is plenty.
So you can hunt for me on social media, maybe even find an account there, unused in years (if it has been used any time recently, it has been hacked, and it’d be kind of you to inform FB/Twitter/Insta of that.)
I can’t and wouldn’t tell you what to do. But think about it for yourself, too, okay? Is FB/Twitter/TikTok making you happier? Happier than going out to lunch with a good friend you haven’t seen in three months? Or not?
And I’ll quote the last line of Mary Oliver’s famous poem and hope you ask it of yourself, often:
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?