Opinion piece by Micah Latty.

Looking Up

in Opinion by
By Micah Latty

micah

I don’t like Facebook.[1]

Anyone paying a bit too much attention would notice my account flickering in and out of existence like one of those magic birthday candles that relights a few moments and you blow it out. Except, of course, that Facebook doesn’t keep mysteriously reactivating itself. I suppose this makes my situation somewhat funny, if not also pathetic. Perhaps tragic.

My first concern about Facebook is the way that it, as it becomes ever more ever-present in our lives, distracts us from (and spoils us for) the world around us.

Last summer, watching a child about age 11 meander across an intersection, face glued to his iPad while playing Pokemon Go, I sourly remarked to a friend that the kid would be better off “staring at a tree or something.”

My best childhood memories are of faithfully reading the shredded wheats box every morning and dragging long strips of Eucalyptus bark through the loose dirt along hiking trails in Northern CA. I suspect that if Pokemon Go had existed I would have had no time or patience for these simple, idle pleasures. I have no time for ones like them now. Whenever I have a free moment, I promptly pick up my phone and kill it.

We spend a stunning amount of time on our phones—much, much more than we realize. College men spend about 8 hours on our phones every day. College women spend about 10.

All of that time is time not spent engaging with the real world—time not spent considering the birds or the lilies, absorbed on a good book or TV show, or laughing with a friend. And in those moments when we manage to tear our eyes from what Apple calls “The brightest, most colorful iPhone display,” the world seems somewhat drab in comparison.

A friend of mine recently described social media as a sort of pornography. Something about that rings true.

My second concern with Facebook, one that I think most people share, is the way that it affects our relationships.

I wrote briefly in the last Clarion issue on how difficult it is to have honest but civil discourse. Virtually no dialogue on Facebook is civil—it is enough of a stretch to call it dialogue in the first place. Even if we don’t recognize the incivility in our own posts and comments, we recognize it in pretty much everyone else’s. Or at least those of everyone who disagrees with us. Which is rather convenient.

It seems to me that Facebook trains us to approach people with a fundamentally critical eye. Scrolling through Facebook feels a lot like gossiping; you hear about people without them actually being present to defend or explain themselves. Perhaps because of this, it’s very difficult to “win” at social media—either you’re bad at using it and thus looked down on, or you’re good (too good) and thus looked down on.

Browsing Facebook, already vaguely annoyed at everyone, it is no surprise that we find it difficult to act with civility when we inevitably come across something that we disagree with. On Facebook, we don’t directly interact with a person, we interact with their (most likely) already irritating online persona.

It’s not easy to be kind and generous and patient. But it’s far easier to be kind and generous and patient with a person than a persona.

I don’t think there is an easy solution to how we should interact with these technologies. Simply deleting them can be impractical, as I’ve learned through my admittedly comedic cycle of deactivating and reactivating my Facebook.

What I do think is that we should think more carefully about what these technologies are good for. And then we should try to maximize the pros while minimizing the cons.

For example, I don’t find Facebook good for anything other than the messaging function, so I have deactivated my account (once more) and simply opted to keep Facebook Messenger. I’ve basically turned Facebook into a glorified phone book.

Somewhat more eccentrically—perhaps creatively—I’ve turned my phone screen grayscale. The world around me is once again in more vivid color than my phone screen. They grayscale is unpleasant enough to look at that I might go back to reading the shredded wheats’ box. Or simply looking up.

[1] By “Facebook” I actually mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the story part of Snapchat.

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