What with Facebook back in the news, and not in a good way, and a renewed wave of interest in ditching it, I looked back on my own experiences with walking away from it. Again, the single biggest boon is that I feel like I have my mind back. But with that came another boon: It was all the easier for me to recognize unproductive social things in most any form, because I now had a model for what they felt like.
If there's one mode of interaction I remember most from Facebook, if only because it's the one I loathed the most, it's the tiresome business of arguing with people you barely know to win a point they don't actually care about hearing your side of save as a way to use against you. I always felt on some level this kind of nyah-nyah duelling was idiotic, not least of all because people are generally not persuaded of anything by having a stranger harangue or au-contraire them.
When people change their minds about something, it's because of an experience they have that they process on their own terms, typically emotional ones, and come to their own conclusions about. This doesn't happen on "Facebook time" (or "Twitter time", either), but on one's own time. People's minds are changed most by deep counterexamples that they are able to process first emotionally and then rationally. So if someone else works very hard to position themselves as someone who is not amenable to revising the way they look at life (whether because that's what they actually want, or because that's how they want to be seen by the people they care most about being seen by), I tend to take them on face value and save my energy. Some people care more about being right than fixing anything; avoid them.
If someone disagrees with me on a matter of taste, that's fine, because nobody has to account for taste; that's why they call it taste. I have no beef with people who find Blade Runner boring, or a story like The Accidental Tourist rife with clichés (my take: a cliché is as much about the deployment and the mode of use as it is the item itself; the mere fact something can be a cliché, or has been one in another venue, doesn't automatically make it one). Or if they find what I have to say factually lacking, they can point out the facts, and I'll take that in on my own time. I don't have to personally approve of, or befriend, everyone I can draw a useful lesson or a worthy insight from.
But not every comment from every rando from every corner of the earth is worth sanctioning with a response. I'm not obliged to reply to every opinion for the same reason nobody is obliged to give it to me in the first place.
I bring all this up because one of the big lies of media like Facebook is how it makes you feel like all this stuff shoved at you requires a response, even if it's only in the form of a thumbs-up or a grouchy emoticon. But it doesn't. At least, not there and in that moment. Some of that I blame on the form factor; when it feels like everyone you know is offering up an opinion on something, you feel subtly pressured into doing the same.
The rest, I blame on something more fundamental, which is that by default people are in the habit of talking just to fill the air. It's a bad habit, and I'm far from innocent on that score. But a venue like FB — and the act of removing one's self from it — makes it painfully clear we do this more out of some invisible sense of obligation than anything else. We don't want to look like the stupid one, or the antisocial one, or the one who didn't pipe up first, or what have you. We've had that long before FB, but FB and social media generally deliver the acute, distilled, triple-zero-purity version of it.
So, what if we see something that is too dangerous or ugly to let pass unannounced? Then by all means say something, but bear in mind that the vast majority of what is going to be offered to you in good faith probably won't meet that threshold. I say "in good faith" because if you find yourself constantly surrounded by people shoving stuff at you in bad faith, I recommend getting out of there and finding something to do with yourself that isn't psychically toxic. (The larger question of how much of the society we've unthinkingly created is in fact quite psychically toxic, and passes unnoticed, is another question. We never noticed how filthy the air actually was until we banned leaded gasoline.)
None of this, by the way, constitutes an argument against trying to make the world a less inhumane and unnecessarily painful place. It's just that the vast majority of the effort needed to make those changes is not going to consist of arguing with people online. Life's too short to waste on bad venues.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind