“Always Drink Upstream From The Herd” – Will Rogers
I’ve been sidetracked and distracted for a long while now since my last post. Its interesting to note that I started this blog to connect back to who I am and partially who I was and find the joy I use to feel about life that has somehow eluded me through various circumstances which has led to a huge disconnect from personal purpose. But one of these steps kind of threw me off and took me the wrong way, until mid July when I decided enough was enough and when I first wrote this post but waited until today to post it. Not much has changed and the below still stands after two months.
The mistake I made was thinking maybe I should be a little bit more like the crowd and try not to be such an outsider. I signed up for a Facebook account and reconnected to some old friends, some people I work with and some who were friends of friends. It all seemed exciting and worthwhile, I was feeling a momentum and a little hope that this thing is actually working and I am rebuilding some bridges, displaying a side of me publicly whether politically or artistically that I don’t often show. In a way by doing this, I thought it will help me learn more about myself or at least validate those traits that I value but can hardly display at other places, such as interviews with some old timer like Mel Blanc (Not sure why I remember this between all the stuff I shared), political comics, engineering marvels, unique artistic expressions, etc etc.
What Facebook did to me was alter my behavior and attitude. Even though at the beginning I knew that I have to watch my addiction to it, I disabled my cell phone data option for Facebook so that I couldn’t check it without wireless, thereby limiting its use and didn’t make the icon so accessible on my phone or computer. But that didn’t last long and I began wanting to check it constantly and changed all my options.
As the political atmosphere of the US began to change through the primaries, I began to share more and more stuff, to try to get some of what I believed to be the truths of the moment, out to the “Friends”. They were not opinionated, but informative. I got zero likes and then noticed if I posted something absolutely dumb, I got a bunch of likes. So I decided to post comic strips about our political process and mostly not flattering to Trump.
“So you think you have friends on Facebook, let’s see how many of them show up to help you move” Mark Yard from the Nightly Show
As you might have guessed already, I have leftist liberal, but really middle of the road political views as I agree with some of the conservative view points too, such as self reliance, though I believe some temporary help to accomplish self reliance is necessary as so beautifully demonstrated recently in Episode 4 of the new podcast by Malcolm Gladwell called “Revisionist History”.
But I noticed that I am getting nothing, not even any comments and so, I tested the water and posted something absolutely stupid and there again got a bunch of likes. Now, I know that it’s really the circle of friends that affect that, but I think I had a good blend of them and frankly, maybe two of them were Republicans that I know of who would have disapproved some of my political views. But on one post when Huffington Post bashed Trump, I came and posted that it was too hard and noticed that she appreciated the post and we chatted a little. It wasn’t just political though, it was anything that was slightly serious or required reading or demanded more than a quick glance. I realized this is also a lazy medium, though I know that should have been obvious from the start, but I am slow!
The other thing that I noticed is when something was liked, majority of the time the bulk of the likes came in quickly, so it wasn’t like most waited to check their FB. They were just as much as a like junkie as me. But to me the likes were half the satisfaction, I wanted the comments. I needed more than an emoji, I needed original thought. It’s something that I’ve had since childhood that has in many ways hindered me. I urge interactions to be real when it matters. I am a little wiser about it now, but it is still part of who I am. Emojis are great, but augment it with something when it matters.
I also noticed on a specific user would only like my stuff when I liked hers. At first I thought I was imagining it, so I started testing it and ignoring her for a while and then I liked something random and noticed she immediately liked something I posted. Then I would repeat the behaviour and see the same results. The truth was she had nothing interesting to share and though she tried, it was boring 90% of the time, but her close family and friends supported her. I appreciated that about them but I didn’t appreciate the behavior.
That wasn’t a big deal though, I think the reality check of Facebook came to me when I was around people who looked so happy and amazing on Facebook and then in person were the most miserable, unhappy, nitpicking and dysfunctional relationship I had ever seen. As someone who dabbled in photography, I have always known the lies of the image and how that image can be used to control, case and point Hollywood & the Entertainment Industry. But this opened my eyes a bit more to something else. We are becoming a culture of personal public relations engines. Each one of us is emitting this persona that is showing half the picture. That encounter placed a great impression on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I came back almost disgusted with Facebook and felt even more disgusted by ourselves. But I couldn’t stop using it. I wanted to be accepted in this realm and grow my friend count and share more interesting stuff or at least what I thought was interesting. I had lost control of what mattered and not in a happy place.
In the past few week I picked up smoking for a little bit, thought stopped again and I noticed that I would love to go out with my phone, sit down somewhere and have a smoke while I browsed Facebook. I started going out more and more and suddenly I noticed myself feeling lost. I felt my life meaning depleted and myself more frustrated. Why don’t they get it. I shared a real study or I shared a great comic that clarifies the hard truths of our time and existance. I even shared a great comedian with one of the funniest skits he has and very little notice! Then a friend shares a pet picture and they all go crazy. Is the social group I’ve created in this realm that shallow and escapist? Are they really afraid to share anything real that could potentially reflect badly on them. Has the PR machine totally taken over?
The one thing that didn’t stop getting likes was family pictures though. For most part they kept their popularity when I had the kids in them. But anything that required a bit of thinking, just wasn’t cutting it. I know I can join groups and post to them, but didn’t really want to expanding that much more into Facebook as I already see the great comments on youtube to know what to expect from those I don’t know. But to be honest, that wasn’t the point. The point was that I started caring about this medium and it changed my behavior, my joys and my motivations. I know the political shares were a turnoff to many but I shared great little artistic bits or great quotes. The question was why does sharing this crap matter? I had never shared that much in my life and now not only was my brain instantly saying, this will be a great share but it wanted instant satisfaction too.
When I look at it, I wasn’t learning nothing I couldn’t learn better and much more elaborately through a book. I wasn’t walking away satisfied half the time. I might have pissed off some people with the posts and I was being distracted constantly. So what was the point of using this medium when I could gain peace, learn much better and more in depth about the topics I am interested in and frankly feel much more peaceful and happier. Why was I doing this to myself? I decided I have to end this, but couldn’t bring myself to quite doing it. Not that I didn’t want to, but because it is an addiction, just like any other drug, including that cigarette.
Last night, I am sitting watching a little TV and here comes Rami Malek on the Late show. I had only seen him in the Pacific and he left an impression on me. He started talking about his new series Mr. Robot, which I hadn’t heard of, so I went on youtube to look it up and this scene came up after watching a few: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYo2wtL9fsY
It really confirmed the dissatisfaction vividly and I didn’t want it to get any worse. I can keep most things in balance, but not this and maybe that’s why the owner of Facebook is a Billionaire. This is a social drug and has an epidemic addiction which no one really seems to want to talk about. Apparently, much like the cigarette companies, Facebook has also done its own study and knows of the social damage it has created. Maybe in years to come, we’ll see a class action law suit too. From the little I read online, it appears that it creates jealousy, resentment, makes people feel lonely, less imaginative, decreases intimacy, makes them happy and unhappy, amplifies grudges, avoid social contact, compare, affect mood and ostracized to name a few. It might not give you lung cancer, but I am sure all these negative traits will in the end create some sickness that could well be a cancer.
I see its affects of social media on my kids who don’t use Facebook but have many other apps. I kept my Facebook addiction out of their site too. Even though I talk to them and try to make them aware, they for most part seem to ignore me for now and look at me as the old man who doesn’t understand. Though I know later these efforts will come to fruition in their lives. I am not saying social media is bad, but if not used in the right dose for the right purpose, it can have adverse effects.
Now, someone could be reading this and thinking of me as some sort of a misanthrope. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. I like people, but I like them in small groups and preferably educated and well traveled and if neither, at least open minded and experienced in life to share something they’ve learned in their journey. I get my best highs of people like this. But this digital medium we have sucked ourselves into is taking away something human, something instinctive about us. Its making human interaction too easy and too comfortable. It’s just like text and email. Rapid fire of communication, most of which need a reply and as a result we begin to get efficient and ignoring is part of that efficiency. The problem is that this is all great and can be seen as a tool, but what happens is that many of us replace it and forgo the personal experience. Look at the Millennial generation. So many have poor social skills and so many are struggling to even look you in the eye. I am not saying previous generations were great, but they caught on quicker as we didn’t have this crutch. The most social Millennials that I’ve seen are the ones who have customer service jobs and have been forced to interact with people. But then that is true of anyone, which is exactly my point.
I posted the Mr. Robot post and said goodbye to the Facebook friends with a quick two word note and logged off. Removed the icon from my computer, removed the app from my phone and today I feel more at peace. I feel more motivated, more alive and haven’t had one cigarette. The inner voice that I have learned to listen to more and more has confirmed this to be the correct move too. It feels like one of those essential truths you learn about yourself as life progresses.
The funny part is today I heard a great interview with the ghost writer of Trump’s Art of the Deal book, which was really eye opening and then another great podcast which I posted above and the sharing feeling came over me, but then I said to myself “What’s the point, you are the only one who cares and that should be enough”.
So as the heading implies, I wasn’t made to move with the herd unfortunately and would rather be ahead or to be quite honest, even behind if I can see and avoid the herd’s crap. But frankly it doesn’t take much to stay ahead. All you have to do is read a book, the newspapers and find something you love to do and do it, even if it kills you. In a recent interview with Bryan Cranston, he said something almost as a matter of fact that struck a chord with me. He said “I knew I wanted to be an actor, even if it meant getting by and sharing an apartment for the rest of my life”. He was certainly keeping ahead of the herd instead of on the chain gang.
I want to reiterate that I am not against social media. I love youtube and have learned so much by hearing great lectures, watching tutorials and currently improving some photography skills. There is nothing like finding a group of people with positive comments who enhance that experience. I am writing this blog to share a certain truth and experience in my own life, hoping someone else will relate and grow from it, post a comment to elevate my view, etc etc. What I am saying here is a necessary balance that allows our human experience to be elevated not restricted and diminished.
Not related to the topic of hand, but worth noting, if you haven’t seen “Trumbo”, it’s a great little movie that takes on the topic of standing up for your beliefs, the challenges it produces and the long term cost. An adult movie we don’t see that often anymore.
Do what you love, enjoy the moment and veer from the paved path once in awhile.