2018.11.10

Social media is challenging

I struggle with social media. A lot. It's a genuine strugglefest and painparty.

I don't like the way it makes me feel to use it, I feel abandoned when other people use it when we are supposedly spending time together, and I am displeased with some of the societal side-effects I perceive.

Interruptibility feels terrible

Social media, and its necessary lifestyle of interrutibleness, make me feel awful. Gross. Icky. I want to write about why.

Beyond my intense distaste for advertising, upon which I will not here expound, I feel an urge to narcissistic behaviour when I engage with social media, and more disturbing, it takes over my mind in a very negative way. I feel a use-compulsion akin to what drug addiction must feel like: I have to constantly check it, I am persistently aware of it, and I look forward to the next time I get to use it -- even though using makes me feel like shit.

I dislike that in order to properly or effectively participate in social media of all forms, including text messaging with many people, I have to be constantly on alert. It saps my attention, makes me less productive, and depresses me to be beholden to a device. I feel like have to to be interruptible at all times.

I reject constant interruptibility. I want to be non-interruptible. Most of the time, you can't reach me. That's ok.

Yes, I miss opportunities to participate because I didn't check my phone for a few hours while I was working or reading or cleaning or cooking or one of thousands of other activities that I regard as integral to my life experience. I missed coming to dinner with you, or talking to you, or whatever you wanted from me at that time that I had to respond immediately to be able to do with you. This is an acceptable loss to me. This is why I plan ahead, even to make phone calls. (I think the Amish know something we out here don't...)

Being interruptible reduces the amount of attention I can give to my task at hand, regardless of whether I actually am interrupted. The notifications from social media, including text messaging to some extent, drain me.

When I allow myself to be interruptible by a phone's notifications, and I do do this sometimes -- flip that little switch to allow my phone to make noise and vibrate -- I am making a conscious choice to sacrifice my quality of engagement with whatever I am doing or whomever I am with.

I miss playing with my friends when we were kids. It was hours and hours of whatever fun games we could find. Water fights, the trampoline, bike riding outside. Video games, board games, magic inside. Games of imagination, true engagement with my mind and the world and people around me.

It's that engagement that I feel that I -- nay, we -- have lost. But, is it just that I am old? Am I merely yearning for times lost, mis-remembering the authenticity of my childhood experiences? Why is that immersion of experience so hard to achieve, so rare, as an adult?

I posit that it was far more achievable before the modern cell phone and social media and, now that we have those inventions, authentic experience is available only to those who deliberately seek it. I seek it.

I think that social media gets in the way of authentic experience. I believe this because I have far more deep conversations, enjoy more memorable experiences, even get a lot more out of that movie we watched together, when the people I share them with are genuinely present -- specifically, they are not using social media at the time.

Let's do an exercise. Open your photo library. Spend the time to make a photo album of 20-100 photos of you or your friends from memorable moments.

Now, how many of those pictures have people in them actively using social media? Why is that?

Social betrayal

I feel betrayed, abandoned, and ignored when my friends, family, or social partners use social media during personal engagements.

I find it not uncommon to be in the middle of a conversation and be interrupted by the other person's phone. Rarely is a conversation precious or engaging enough for the overwhelming majority of people I interact with to not look at their phone the moment a notification is received. And that moment of interruption, that conscious (or maybe unconscious) choice to follow the notification, feels like a betrayal.

Perhaps the biggest problem I've had with social media getting in the way of my social experiences has been with my family, where it is not uncommon for the majority of people to be engaged on their phone during a family gathering. To me, a family gathering is a very special time, one where we come together to celebrate each other, some ecstatic moment in one person's life, or a holiday. And I travel to come to them; no one travels to me for them. So, to spend so much of my time and mental energy to be fully present for these gatherings only to be surrounded by people on their phones, is, well, a betrayal.

More specifically, I feel like I have not had my redacted's attention in years. When we get together for family gatherings, those precious few times I want to get to feel loved from all sides, redacted is glued to their device. It seems like everyone is, true, but especially redacted. From the moment they walk in the door, eyes and hands on phone.

What are you doing that's so much more interesting than me? I travel dozens of hours and thousands of miles, use my vacation time, spend hundreds or thousands of my hard-earned dollars -- cash that would also be very well-spent on transition -- to come home to Colorado (holy shit is it expensive to change genders). And yet, you are glued to that damned device.

Please, put it down. Pay attention to me and the other people around you. We're worth it, I promise. And if somehow I am not that interesting or worth investing time into, then don't come. Or, at least excuse yourself into a private area where I can not feel simultaneously pandered-to by your having come despite clearly having other plans (to use a phone) and ignored by you (by your use of a phone).

Friends and phones are just as much a challenge as family. Here's an example of why:

I like playing games, a lot. The kind that take a lot of attention, focus, and planning. Games that take hours to complete, and which will be won or lost by attention, detail, and rule. Terra Mystica, Twilight Struggle, Innovation. I also like playing simple games, like Dixit, Bananagrams, Catan, and so many more. (Please no more Steve Jackson games though, they're terrible)

When I play games, I strive to leave my phone on silent, and not use it, perhaps save to control music with which to set the mood. I abandon my device and enter a state of uninterruptibility deliberately to focus on the game and the experience it brings. Flavor is important to me, as is the social aspect of gaming. Friendly competitiveness is a skill I have earned across a lifetime of play, in board games, video games, Magic, and others. It's deeply satisfying to have such an experience with another person.

Something critical in the gaming experience is lost when even one player is on social media or a pocket device while playing. Their attention is sapped, they have to ask more questions and repeat things to clarify, they make poorer decisions, and take longer turns. Analysis paralysis be damned, it's those players who weren't paying attention to the game that make it take so long. Then, because one person is doing it, others start. They had to wait, they were bored on the other phone-person's turn, so now it's ok for them to do it.

No, no it isn't ok for you to be on your phone while playing a board game. Be present with me. Have this experience with me. Create something worth remembering. Will you remember what you looked at while you were on the phone while playing with me, or will you remember the game?

And if there is one romantic turnoff for me, it's using your phone while we are together in time that I set aside to be with you. I didn't sign up for a date with your phone. I don't want to kiss and cuddle your phone. I don't want to hold your phone's hand.

I want to be with you. Let's be here together. And if that's not possible, it's ok. I just think that you should know what you're losing out on. Chances are that I rode my bike to come see you. I looked forward to it all day. I wanted to look into your eyes.

There's only one of me, a mathematician trans woman eagle scout fairy from colorado who services her own cars and bicycles, camps in the middle of winter, bikes year-round in Wisconsin, programs in four languages, is an excellent chef, plays video games, loves dancing to electronic music, cries from deep emotion often, listens uncommonly intently, and is beautiful and kinky to boot. I want you to be with me, the one and only Danielle Amethyst. All I ask is that you be present -- that you make a concerted effort to pay attention to me the way I want to pay attention to you if you let me -- by putting down that phone. Put it down, hold my hand, and look into my eyes. Be with me. I love you.

Boredom, drugs, and admonition

I am uncomfortable with the death of boredom, at the hands of social media.

Yes, boredom has died many deaths at the hands of many varied media perpetrators. Video games, the walkman, the newspaper. There are pictures at hand that show socially disconnected groups of people ignoring each other using each of these.

This one, social media on a portable device, is new and perfidious.

I see parents cruising social media on their phones while walking a stroller with their infant. I see my students compulsively using their phones during my classes (come on, I'm not blind, y'all). I see my friends give up on listening to me in the middle of me explaining my deepest thoughts and feelings in intimate conversation to check social media.

I see the death of boredom. And social media is the perpetrator.

Social media is a drug. It's a social drug that takes a bunch of people constant effort to sustain the high. But it's a drug.

I hope by now I've convinced you that social media is a real problem in my life -- not from the way that I use it, because I don't -- but from the way it negatively effects nearly every personal interaction I have in every day of my life in 2018.

So, if social media is a drug, and it's negatively effecting me (or you), what should I do about it? I spend a lot of time thinking about this, and I want to make it clear, that I am not trying to control you or tell you that social media is bad, mmmkay. I am telling you that I would prefer that you use it when I am not around you, just as I really don't want to interact with you on a personal level when you are drunk or fucked up.

So, when and where do I, Danielle Amethyst, think that people should use social media? When/re would you use drugs? That's when/re you should use social media. Do it in your bedroom in your house with other consenting adults when you have nothing better to do, in a park with no one else around. Just don't do your drugs or social media around me, please.

I know, I am asking a lot. I want people to stop using social media around me. Trust me, I get weekly therapy as part of transition, and a regular topic is my struggle with jealousy from social media. This is an ongoing issue and has been a problem in every romantic relationship I've had since the invention of social media. I'm working on it, too.

I would like to be clear to state that I believe it is fair of me to request your full attention occasionally, under certain circumstances. I ask that you refrain from using social media when we have specifically planned to do something together, especially if we are engaged in a face-to-face activity. I am learning to tolerate the use of social media during things like movies together on a couch, or a car ride, or a casual group dinner. Yet, I still struggle with why we are watching the movie together if we are just going to use devices through it. Can I just please play video games or ride my bike while you social media? That sounds way more fun to me. That is, don't expect me to stick around while you use. I'll be fine on my own, and you can come find me when you are ready to start having authentic experiences with me.

My social media backstory

I think I sound a bit curmudgeonly in this essay. So, I want to add a bit of story on my social media usage history.

I'm a class-of-2000 high school grad, who first used the internet in 1994 via a terminal at my junior high school, and then luckily via dial-up to the school network, called Alpha, from home. It was a fantastic opportunity to really shed my appearance and be who I wanted online. I've used the internet ever since then.

I used a MUD, Realm of the Dragon, extensively for multiple years in junior high and high school. When I went to college in 2000, AIM was pretty popular, and I distinctly remember a few conversations I had with strangers in it. I miss those.

I got a cell phone in December 2000 and learned to text. This was just before t9 predictive texting became a thing and t9 was incredible when I got it.

Things were stably focused around texting and phone calling as a way to stay in touch for a long time. And then Facebook came out. I mean, MySpace was a thing, but it never really was. I signed up for FaceBook in 2011 or so, pehaps 2012, because Alyssa was on there. It seemed like a decent way to have a social experience that was genuinely different from anything I'd had before.

When I joined, I could time-sort the posts, and generally keep my feed to a focused level so that what I saw were my friends talking about what they were up to. At first, it was ok. I rarely actually posted, and generally was interested in what others were posting. I did feel some compulsion to post and check, but it wasn't overwhelming.

Then two things happened. First, I observed that a shift to re-posting came about, and while I would attempt to share the products of my work as a grad student in math, others were sharing links to stupid shit they had nothing to do with. It became a narcissistic pool of people who were competing to take the most credit for finding and posting other peoples' work. Not interesting. My occasional posts, genuinely crafted and heartfelt, were met with crickets in a sea of shitty reposts.

The second major pivot was the loss of the time-sort. No longer was I in control of what I was seeing. Facebook was in firm control of my feed, and I felt like all I got was crap I didn't want to see. It also became really difficult for me to navigate.

I quit facebook in 2013, and have never looked back.

I was also a regular reddit lurker for a few years. I enjoyed r/all, and then subscribed to things of more interest. But in 2016 I became disenchanted with that community, and found that the very same narcissistic, compulsive use behaviour I found in myself when I was on facebook, was happening to me as a reddit user. I stopped visiting, though that addiction was very hard to break. I still find myself with an urge to see what's up in r/mtf or r/3dprinting sometimes, and do occasionally visit. But that's an addiction, and I don't want it.

I have never used Twitter, and have no idea why anyone does.

These days, the closest I come to social media are Thingiverse, Github, and occasionally r/mtf as a lurker. I text, but I'm not that good at it. I leave my phone on silent, including vibrate, at nearly all times (sorry if that makes me hard to get ahold of, but not sorry). I refuse to visit a url with facebook.com in it, even if that means I don't go to the party or go to dinner with you or play games with you. It's not that hard to invite me to something, and I figure that if you really want me there, you'll take the time. I will take the time to invite you....

On the whole, I am far happier on a daily and general basis without any social media in my life. I think this is because I choose what's in front of my eyes by disavowing social media. My experiences tend to be more genuine without social media than with. I get my mind to myself more. I get to spend more time thinking about what I want to think about. I get to be free.

It's good to be free. Free from hate, free from advertising, free from political messaging, free to talk to real humans out in the real world when we look each other in the eye. Free of mind.

Free to love, and full of love, for you and the world.