I love social media. I’ve written papers about it, studied its effects, presented my opinions about it at social media conferences, developed a networking strategy around it for my students, have been interviewed about it on national radio, and have even been credited as a pioneer in one of its art forms.
I have a particular affection for Facebook, and have been on that platform for –what?– 11 years now? More? I suppose I could look it up; but you get the point.
In recent months, though, the experience has soured for me. I’ve always seen Facebook as a platform not only for sharing fake news and photos of the dog and my breakfast (and sometimes of the dog glaring at my breakfast), but also for expressing what I consider to be wit.
Yep, I’m one of those people who thinks he posts supposedly funny things on Facebook. I like to think that many of those posts are socially insightful. And I tend to favour the sneering, cynical, and satirical style of commentary. Why just say something when you can instead wrap that same thing inside a delicious burrito-shaped joke?
I’ve written jokes for comedians and have even had a couple published in obscure venues. I’ve also dabbled with narrative versions of stand-up comedy; here’s a clumsy taste. As a writer, I’ve always held the deepest admiration for champions of the Swiftian school of satire. My quips, though, often fall short of those lofty standards. Of late, I have found myself increasingly called to explain the nature of the joke to people who take extreme offence or, more commonly, people who misidentify the target of the humour. The latter can be quite hurtful when the target is misidentified as the very population I am trying to champion.
It’s exhausting, and was starting to be the cause of some stress in my life. What was before a source of great joy for me had become an ordeal of worry before every post… who will object to this one? Who will call me names, both publicly and privately? These commenters are typically not strangers, after all. They are usually people I know, love, and admire. So it’s not simply a matter of being a hard-ass who ignores all criticism.
If I love the people in my life, then I care what they think of me.
I’m used to getting hate mail from strangers. Long time readers of this blog (if there are any left) will recall fondly the fairly regular threats of physical violence left in the comments section after many posts. Pretty much every Huffington Post article I write garners me some angry (to be kind) emails. And whenever I tweet something about Donald Trump, often a nameless egg will tweet back with a singularly unoriginal racist slur and an invitation to do something untoward and sexual with an awkwardly shaped inanimate (and sometimes animate) object.
That’s the expected and acceptable price, as I see it, of being what the kids used to call a “public intellectual”. But for a Facebook post, the disapproval comes from friends and family. And that stuff you have to take seriously if you have a heart.
Frankly, it isn’t the disapproval that I find most distressing. Rather, it’s what they call in professional wrestling, “no-selling.” We appear to be in an era of earnestness, which might not be a bad thing. But it doesn’t lend itself to the ready acceptance of sneering comedy. I will give you a very banal and harmless example of what I mean.
I was at a conference last week, and passed the organizer, a friend, in the hallway for the umpteenth time that day. I sarcastically said aloud to her, “You again? It’s almost like you run this thing!”
A young woman overheard this exchange, then quickly took me aside to explain, in a rather condescending tone, “You know, she actually does run this thing.”
Yes, I know. That was the joke. It wasn’t a particularly good joke; but they all can’t be gems.
The number of times I have to post the following meme in response to someone explaining my own joke to me is, for lack of a better word, distressing:
I don’t think my sense of humour has changed much over the years. But I do think society has changed, to the point where my brand of public humour is no longer as acceptable as it used to be, even a few years ago. As one Facebook friend would offer, maybe “no one under 35 or over 60 understands sarcasm.” I suspect that that is the nature of social evolution, and I accept it.
As a result, I made up my mind to suspend my Facebook account yesterday. But a friend convinced me instead to restrict all future posts to a handful of readers who are, shall we say, hardened and inured to the things that I flippantly write.
The problem is twofold. First, I have 1400 Facebook followers (he says, trying not to brag), and culling that number is an ordeal unto itself. Second, I really am a broken man, burnt out and beaten down by what I will problematically call a combination of “outrage culture” and this unforeseen epidemic of earnestness. This was supposed to be fun; and now it’s just work. I’m old and I’m tired. I don’t want to post anything more on Facebook. I think I’m done… at least for now.
When I made the decision to leave all social media yesterday, I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders. Immediately, I had more time in the day, and a lot less fear of opening my mouth (figuratively). I decided to spend that additional time getting re-acquainted with my first social media love: blogging.
For the next few days, in lieu of actually posting specific things on the preferred social media sites of the day (Facebook and Twitter), I will instead summarize my day in blog form. My blog posts get automatically posted to my Facebook page anyway, so I guess this is sort of cheating. Will anyone read it? I don’t really care. And I have no intention of reading any comments that might appear.
The purpose of this experiment is to see if I am indeed more joyful and productive when I’m not dancing like a coked-up monkey on social media. (Just say no, monkey. Just say no.)
This is the first of those daily posts. So let’s begin…
Today began with my mandatory daily workout, cleaning my condo, returning a rental car, then meeting a student in my office.
Of course, the student did not show up. This happens regularly to me, by the way. She would later say she was in my office at noon, waiting. This was a surprise to me, since I also was in my office at noon; and it’s a very small office. I can be oblivious at times. But I think I would have noticed another person in there with me. And she would have noticed the pants-less professor. (I kid! I kid!)
Then, my friends, I made my OVERLY COMPLICATED BREAKFAST™:
It’s eggs scrambled in yogurt, Ikea veggie balls, banana slices, apple slices fried in ghee, and kale & broccoli sauteed with olive oil and fresh garlic. Oh, and yes, that’s a drone. Oh you didn’t have a drone with your breakfast? Sucks to be you.
Compare that to yesterday’s breakfast, which was not only my only meal of the day, but was a ginormous, calorie-infused behemoth from the Baker Street Cafe in Ottawa:
Then I got back on my scooter and zipped back to my office to meet with a visiting Brazilian scholar (yes, yes, insert your own shaving joke here) about….. statistics! Yes, friends, the intellectual essence of my day was filled pretending to understand a particular statistical analysis of which I have, at best, a cursory understanding.
I find that one can most easily feign expertise when the audience is not a native speaker of English. A dour demeanour and well timed frowns go a long way to conveying the impression of understanding. I really need to find her a true expert to help.
Then I answered the phone. I never answer the phone unless my mother is calling! I don’t know what came over me. It was Environics. Now, I have a soft spot for telephone surveyors; I used to be one. (One day I will put into writing some of the INSANE experiences I had as a telephone surveyor.) So, out of respect for this very challenging job, I did the interviewer a solid and agreed to complete an online survey…. about how well the Ontario government is doing its job. Oh, I can already hear my doctor friends seething over this one!
And the last thing I did today…. or at least the last thing that I will share with you people… is to finally write my review of the new Star Trek TV show for my other website, Skiffy. Go check it out. Go. Now.
That is all, people. I think I will go catch a late night screening of Blade Runner 2049 now. See you tomorrow, same Wat time, same Wat channel.
Well, guess what? I reserved a vrtucar to get to the movie on time. (Vrtucar is our local car sharing service). In my rush not to miss the trailers, I parked haphazardly and scratched the vehicle:
Oh, it gets better, my friend. It seems I got the day of the movie wrong. That’s right, I drove all that way and damaged the vehicle to not see a movie.
On top of that? Because I did not see a movie, I could not get my parking validated.
This has verily been a championship week for me.