Twitter has become a moment-to-moment reminder of the worst possibilities & impulses of humanity. Real life is often a moment-to-moment reminder of the best possibilities & impulses of humanity. In 2018, maybe we should spend more time in that latter sphere, and less time here.
David Sirota on Twitter
It is fitting that I am writing this here – on the East Coast, close to the Atlantic, in a big city, nearer a spiritual home, and nearer friends and family. I miss the ocean and, incongruously I miss the grit of a big city. Growing up I had two happy places that caused the greatest excitement – the endless beach (Cape Cod) and the overwhelming large city (New York). Both offered the same thing to me, a kind of beautiful anonymity in their vastness, but balanced out with an offer of finding my own rhythm. The ocean offered the dictate of tides and sun, while the city gave the rush of commerce and the joy of finding your own small quiet space. In the years since my journey has taken me to many places in this country – West Coast, Midwest, Mountains and 10000 Lakes. They’ve all been wonderful, but never as complete as my first two loves.
2017 was a truly tumultuous year. The obvious, moving from married to single, was oddly smooth, thank you ex wife for letting go and then pushing. The national scene and the world were more disturbing and, perhaps, a good distraction (more on that later). The change in living conditions led to a slight decline in my running…okay, let’s be realistic, it ground to a halt. Walking the new neighborhood was good but not as good as the fantastic Colorado beers and food. Speaking of new living conditions, for the first time in 20+ years I had roommates. That was truly interesting, if not humbling, and a bit mind numbing.
That said, 2017 had many bright spots. Caring friends and workmates surrounded me. They reminded me to move aggressively and get through what I needed to do. I’ve got to travel more than I have in many years. I’ve explored and made exceptional memories. I’ve especially enjoyed visiting places I thought I knew and seeing them with new, fresh and hungry eyes. And I have plans to see so much more. I don’t think I have ever felt so really hopeful for the future in my entire life. I’m sorry that I couldn’t say that with such assuredness before, but it’s a moment whose time has arrived. I know a part of it is age, I’m 54 and there is certainly a time element weighing on me. Yet at this age I still have my optimism and I still have my willingness to be passionate about projects, places and people. I would like to think I found what really matters in this world and where my heart belongs.
With that ticking 54-year olds clock there has to be some changes, some prioritization in my life. I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about distractions, especially social media – how we use them, how we pay attention and how we interact with one another through them. I remember joining Facebook 12 years ago when I rejoined Webster University. It was supposed to be cool and it was. Facebook grew quickly and soon I was connecting with friends from grade school, high school, college, old jobs and from across the planet. Honestly, it was pretty amazing. I have “friends” I’ve never physically met in countries that I have never visited. I see relatives growing older that I have not seen in many years. I’ve used it to chronicle my life and moods. It is valuable in that way, but it also seems to take as much as it gives.
Twitter arrived a year later. It was, once again, amazing in that you could reach out and meet people from all places and across all levels of society. Lots of media people, corporations, and leaders were actually using it in a way that allowed them to interact with the public in a direct yet safe way. I remember reaching out to people I admired and being happy to get a like or a quick response. At the time we were running the PLAYBACK website and it was always great to see the artist get excited about what we said about them.
Problems on both quickly cropped up – hurt feelings, extreme responses to postings and the worry (or lack of worry) about the fact that your views might offend or at least need to be defended all made the sites a little less communal. I’m not sure if society had already forgot how to argue, but Twitter and Facebook surely created hot spots that focused our inability to find any common ground. The political situation in the country was certainly topic number one, almost from the beginning. Once we got over finding our long lost classmates we often found out their leanings by a simple stalking of the feeds. It heartened us to find friends and lovers who had not gone radically left or right, but added a bit of stress in our dealings with them if they did. With the latter they would just disappear or sometimes there would be a blaze of hurt and passion followed by the slam of a cyber door. Facebook and Twitter could bring us together, but could not help us alter our all-too-human behavior. The technical mask that can both obscure and reveal our true selves, can be a blunt instrument.
I don’t want to make this as if it is totally about other people. Anybody who knows me, knows my politics – I grew up a Democrat, my grandfather was a union organizer, my dad fluttered in the wind politically, but my mom was a staunch Democrat. I am too, only more so. I feel most of my views are based on what I’ve learned, some solid logic and from paying attention to the news, history and society. I can be pragmatic and I always listen to someone express their views. I may not always agree and even less adopt some of those views, but I understand, like religion, we believe what we do for a reason and those reasons are not always movable, nor do they need to be.
I’ve had friends and people I’ve worked with (and still do) who don’t agree with where I stand politically. Most, to their credit have been understanding of my beliefs and I have always tried being understanding of theirs. Over the years it feels like it is getting harder to be that way. We’ve become more hardened about our beliefs, more willing to cast our nets around a safe group of people we follow on Twitter and friend on Facebook. We’ve inserted ourselves into little echo chamber communities. These safe zones are also where we seem to be forming our opinions and it is here where those opinions are reaffirmed, giving our poorly formed ideas wings.
Far worse to me is the fact that these same enclaves are where we often go to vent about these problems. Yes, social media has been instrumental in getting out the vote, bringing social wrongs to light and making sure that corporations are held in check. But there is a limit to our capacity to handle these things. Our responsiveness grows less elastic and we end up becoming numb to the shouts of real problems because we worry so much about what the president says on his Twitter feed. [I for one am split on whether he is early stage dementia, ill informed and insecure, or he is brilliant by distracting us.] It is all a distraction from actually doing anything. Not just our day-to-day work, living, loving life but also doing anything to make this country whole again. My Tweet does nothing to move anyone. @realdonaldtrump is not reading my thoughts and thinking “Hey, good idea @jimdunn, I was wrong about de-funding that HIV/Aids organization. Tomorrow morning I will fix that.” I get responses sometimes and I get likes even more, but honestly, they are grains of salt in the ocean. And this is not about recognition; this is about making some kind of difference. People that I really admire on social media (@davidfrum, @nicollewallace, @katytur, @barrackobama…) are certainly admirable and their opinions are great for discourse, but it is not moving the needle forward and might even be allowing it to slip further backward. We are in a sea of noise that has become like static. Indistinct and full of opinions, many uninformed ones droning out the informed. It is time to find a new way.
Tonight I read through my Twitter feed and came across @natesilver pointing out how he is astonished a how much time major media spent on Hillary Clinton’s emails last year. The response was astonishing. Hundreds of angry tweets from people who simply couldn’t believe he was defending Clinton with very few responses pointing out that yes, it was a true fact that we spent far too much time demonizing Clinton while Trump happily capitalized on it. Elsewhere there was outrage at the latest Trump stupidity about button size (let’s not even get in to the psychology of penis size and pending nuclear war). We are a nation of angry partisans and bots that act like angry partisans. We stir up fake cyclones of discontent which riles us up or pushes us back to our happy place for comfort. It is masturbation.
So I think for at least awhile, maybe forever, I am going to get off my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts (I still have to work on business accounts). It is just time to start concentrating on real life. I have to work on real solutions. At least I have to be really present. Instead I will be writing here. If I have something really important to say, or really need to vent about this mess we call a government, I will learn to corral my thoughts and put them here.
A Note About My Social Media Accounts: I will not be closing either account down. I had thought about deleting them, but I had this feeling that people would say I was erasing those years. I am proud of both accounts as much as they can be curated and I stand by 95% of all I wrote. I’m certain there is 5% that I want to feel somewhat embarrassed by, but I figure that is more than an acceptable amount. So they will be dormant except to note when I put something on this blog.
I’m hoping to find some kind of peace here. I hope we all do. Best for 2018.