Songs for the Struggling Artist

The Internet Is Not a Friend
October 10, 2021, 9:47 pm
Filed under: community, Social Media, technology | Tags: , , , , ,

In the throes of my grief, I thought I’d just go along as normal, just get on the internet, see what’s what. You will be stunned to learn that the internet did not make me feel any better!

Over and over, I turned to the internet and over and over, it did not help. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Reddit, not Instagram. Shocking, I know.

None of those things could do the heavy lifting of distracting me or providing comfort. Of any kind. I do not know why I turned to them, except that it has become habitual. Also, I guess I don’t have websites I just visit for fun or whatever anymore so the internet is no longer a series of places to check out, but weird social media plazas that I visit regularly.

I don’t really use any of these places in a personal way anymore. Most of them are where I put arts or career news, or occasionally promote the blog or podcasts. When big things happen, am I meant to put out a personal press release on my social media? Should I say something about what had happened? I do nothing personal on Twitter, Reddit or Instagram. But a lot of my personal friends are also my Facebook friends and it’s where they share their news – so it is confusing.  Also, I have over a thousand Facebook friends. I did not really want or need a thousand condolences. I thought it might make sense just to skip it. After all, in the first few days after the news of my brother’s death, all I wanted was to just pretend it hadn’t happened so I hung around Facebook, watching all the people go on about their lives as if there hadn’t just been an enormous earthquake in my world.

But then I started to make my way out of the denial stage and into something just as sad but realer. There is something so terribly clarifying about this sort of grief. It was just so clear what did me good and what did not. Hugs, good. Social media, no good. Not bad, necessarily – just not good.

I have thought this before. I’ve known this. And yet these weird tools have somehow become so ubiquitous in my life, I find it hard not to engage with them. Now I have to relearn how to be, not only without my brother – but also, without my old crutches because they are useless in this scenario.

I’ve found it challenging to write anything of substance while riding the roller coaster of grief but managed a little fantastical interlude about saving my brother with a time machine. I was wary about sharing the news of his death on Facebook but I figured that since Facebook typically shows my blogs to only a handful of people, I could probably covertly share the news to a handful or people without too much fanfare. It didn’t really pan out that way, though.

In the past year, when I posted a blog on my personal Facebook page, I got a handful of views, around 2 or 3 on average. When I posted this one, Facebook boosted it up to 331. This led to 50+ comments on the post and almost a hundred likes. I suppose I had a sense that Facebook might be programmed to promote a death post. For a while there, in the past few months, it felt like my feed was exclusively death announcements and ads. I chalked it up to my age and a time in our lives when we tend to lose people. But now I realize that death drives engagement so the algorithm is trained to seek it out even when it’s not obvious. I said nothing about the content of the blog post in my description in the feed but now I realize that the algorithm is likely trained to respond to words in the comments like “loss” and “condolences.”

Is it good to hear from friends in a time like this? Absolutely. But like the stream of Happy Birthdays on one’s special day, the comments do tend to blend together after a while. I found I had to be very deliberate about how I took them in so I didn’t lose the individuality of each person who kindly took the time to comment. Meanwhile, direct messages regardless of the medium did not require such diligence. Texts, emails, even cards in the mail. These things opened up conversation or gave me something to touch and look at instead of feeling like I was fording a river of condolence.

Then Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all disappeared for a day and the crash and the whistle blowing that proceeded it seems to have prompted many of my Facebook friends to leave the platform. Some are migrating to Instagram (not sure I get that one, it’s the same company) and some are migrating to Twitter and encouraging their friends to join them there. Over on Reddit, everyone gleefully watched this crash and then Reddit went down for a day or two. Despite all the ways none of these platforms make me feel good, this migration does make me think about why Facebook, in particular, has a hold on me. First and foremost, most of my friends are there. I go where my friends are. I moved to NYC because my friends were here and I got on Facebook because my friends were joining. I want to be where my friends are – full stop.

The problem with Twitter is that while some of my friends are there, Twitter never shows them to me. I see endless posts for political analysts and public figures but only once in a blue moon do I see a friend and they rarely see me. And while it was weird as hell to be discussing my brother’s death on Facebook – there was not even a like on my blog post about it on Twitter, where it gets auto-shared, and there’s not even a way to share a blog post on Instagram. It’s all very weird and confusing. Because while the Facebook river of condolence was overwhelming, it was an outpouring of kindness and support in a time when it is needed. It is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s challenging to take in.

Facebook has squandered so much of its potential by turning a place that used to be cool, full of our friends, into a political cesspool whirling around relentless advertising peppered with people’s saddest moments. Is it any wonder folks are leaving? It’s just not fun to be there anymore. And it used to be. Really! Is it awful? Of course. Are we prepared to do without it? I’m not sure. We need an alternative and I don’t think Twitter is it.

Also – we’ve tanked all the other ways we used to let people know about things. We don’t have everyone’s phone numbers. We don’t have their mailing addresses for our show postcards or life announcements. Facebook has become the town square where we tack up our announcements for passersby and somehow there’s no better way to get out the news. And that doesn’t make me feel good either.

I see, though, in the saddest moments, that there’s really nothing the internet can do. It is clear, again, that it is not the place to go for comfort. That place is actual people, with actual bodies who can actually hug you.

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2 Comments so far
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Hug, hug, hug.

Comment by Dan Renkin

Comment by erainbowd

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