Eira Tansey

What I learned from my third annual social media fast

tl;dr: it’s all bullshit, folks, and it’s bad for ya

This is the third year I’ve done a Lenten social media fast, where I cut myself off from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With a couple of exceptions I feel OK about, I haven’t purposefully pulled up or logged in to any social media platform services except when really necessary (i.e. I had to get in touch with someone and had no clue how to reach them through phone, email, or snail mail). And unlike past years, this year I really, really, REALLY haven’t missed social media except for a couple of fleeting moments where I thought “Hmm, wonder what archivist twitter thinks about this?” or “Hmm, this would be a really cute picture of my cat to post.” I think 2016 was the year of binging on The Internetz during the election, and in the wake of the (Electoral College) election of (Popular Vote Loser) the 45th President, I needed a fucking break. And this third fast I have felt so unbelievably free and liberated. Let me count the reasons why:

*It feels GLORIOUS to not instantly know what a shithead Trump and his merry band of mediocre white guys are. I still pay attention to the news, but there’s only so many times you can refresh the NYTimes and Guardian apps, whereas Twitter has an endless hot take firehose. Sometimes I do feel behind on the scary shit going down, but the stuff that is truly heinous usually makes it on to my radar in multiple ways (e.g., the passenger that United dragged off the plane), whereas the stuff that is more of a viral outrage du jour (e.g., a tone deaf advertising strategy) sort of shambles onto my radar once or twice before mercifully receding into the viral trash heap. I’m pretty good with the trade-off of not knowing INSTANTLY about everything in order to be able to sustain a slow burn outrage over the truly long-term bullshit that will affect us for decades, like changing the tax code, court cases, and the gutting of environmental and science programs.

*I have far too many shitty experiences with men on social media, including some men I actually know and (used to) respect who act like assholes when there’s a screen between us. I’ve often thought about setting up a folder I share with selected people (i.e. other women) of screenshots titled “Men Explain Things To Me,” but hey, living well is the best revenge. I have been semi-doxxed, insulted, harassed, and had my work erased on every social media platform I’ve ever had an account on, except instagram (probably because I mostly post pictures of my chubby alien cat and trees from my hikes). A lot of what Lindy West said in this interview resonated with me. (Also, in general I love the Twitter quitter genre)

Given that post-election there is emerging evidence of a rise in aggression against women, why should I spend my time in spaces in which women are devalued at best and actively harmed at worst? Shit, who knows when the nukes are going to start launching. I might as well spend my screen time liking instagram photos from my hair stylist who makes me and other curly-haired women around this city feel like goddesses rather than dealing with men who make me feel awful.

*And on the flip side, sometimes I can be the asshole on social media. I like not worrying if I put my foot in my mouth or offended someone because most of what I share on social media is, by default, a first draft. And often it’s a shitty first draft that ends up requiring an apology, slice of humble pie, or deep and exhausting introspection.

*My attention span returned. I can actually sit down and read long and involved complicated books and not get distracted after 5 pages. It’s amazing.

*Unlike that time I tweeted about the Ohio legislature rushing through some totally bullshit abortion legislation and it got retweeted like 2,000 times, I enjoy the feeling of not worrying that something I tweet will go viral and I’ll have to babysit it in case anyone starts making actionable threats.

After my first two social media Lenten fasts, I went right back to my normal interwebz habits. This year I’m putting some protocols in place once Lent is over, because I think I need it to recalibrate my relationship permanently with social media, especially to mentally handle an unending terrible news cycle, and continuing to focus on projects that ultimately bring me joy and meaning, rather than succumbing to an unending exercise in passive horror scrolling.

Ultimately, speaking only to my own personal experience, social media is very similar to alcohol in that it can quickly become too much of a good thing. A few years ago, I dialed back my alcohol consumption, because I didn’t like the way I acted when I drank too much, and dealing with hangovers is a ludicrously stupid waste of time. I have a set of protocols to keep myself in check, and as a result I now enjoy alcohol responsibly without turning into an asshole juggling hangovers and guilt. Similarly, I’ve found that when I’m on social media too much, I don’t like the person I turn into.

I’ve honestly entertained deleting all of my social media accounts entirely (so tempting!) however I’ve noticed that despite my repeated pleas to get my friends to holler at me about upcoming social justice-y type events (whether we’re talking local activism, or library/archives professional stuff), it somehow hasn’t taken, and the vast majority of these things are primarily shared on social media. But I don’t feel lonely – the folks I’m closest to I either see in person, call, email or text back and forth with on a pretty regular basis.

So… I’m trying to figure out what a recalibrated social media experience looks like. I’m not breaking the fast until the protocols are in place. I honestly don’t know what the answer is yet. Maybe it’s logging in once a week to do a brief check-in on upcoming events and actions, maybe it’s deleting some accounts, maybe it’s setting up a metering system to charge myself for social media use (this is probably more tracking than I want to do, but I love the concept – like a micro-tithe to the EFF or something for every time I login to twitter!) And given that social media is designed to be addictive and the favored delivery method via smart phones captures a disturbing amount of our waking hours, I realize that uh, there’s a reason why we hear a lot more about people quitting altogether than saying “Here’s how I use social media less than I did before.”

I don’t really know what the long-term answer is, beyond “whatever works for me,” but I know that this fast was really necessary, and was the reset button my brain desperately needed. I am trying to heed the words of Wendell Berry:

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Categorised as: life

One Comment

  1. Jennifer S. says:

    A couple weeks ago, when someone tweeted a link to an article you wrote, I was thinking about how after the first or second of your fasts (maybe both), you came back on Twitter and asked what you had missed. My answer was, “Not much.” This year my answer was going to be, “Even less than usual,” for exactly the reasons you mention above. I think I’ve told you I can no longer be on social media during the work day. I love it. It does entertain me in the evenings when I’m home alone, but I too have put some protocols into place for myself. I met all my local friends through Twitter. These days, we barely tweet with each other. Yet I have remained connected with those who I am truly friends. I know you will find your balance!