The internet is a paradoxical beast. When it was first envisioned people thought that it might lead to this world of infinite information. Ignorance would be slayed and everyone would become like god: Omniscient and eternal. The internet hit and while there do exist some magnificent monoliths to the mind like Wikipedia or the Khan Academy the majority of it is being used for either porn (which I have nothing against) and social media (which is the inspiration for this post).
We are social mammals and want to do what we can to build strong emotional connections with a small group of like mammals. The more alike we are the more powerful the connections and, at least historically, the greater our survival. This creates something called an echo chamber and nobody is really immune from it, I certainly am not. Whenever people upset me I just set them to ignore and erase them from my mind. This isn’t to say I don’t like competing beliefs about the world, I absolutely devour the stuff. I want as many different people telling me as many different things as they can. I don’t think I necessarily have any addictions but if I did the closest thing would be my habituation towards intellectual conflict. I want people to disagree with me so we can chat about things.
Most people don’t want this. When you approach someone’s beliefs and question them the response you will get is usually defensive. You can actually manufacture this and make it far more exaggerated than it would naturally be. The 9/11 attacks were exaggerated (which is quite a feat) to get people behind losing their civil liberties, people who are for the TSA will vehemently disagree with any argument against it. Similarly gun activists (who erroneously call themselves gun rights activists) will usually get extremely heated if you even suggest that guns might not belong in everyone’s hands. A sure sign that you are in this situation is when someone starts using hyperbole to make their point. “If we let gays marry then people will start fucking jaguars.” That kind of thing.
Again I’m not speaking from a place of superiority. I fall for it just like everyone else and I even notice it when its happening. I’ll start talking about how interesting I find clams and a few clams-activist remarks later I suddenly am trying to figure out how I am on the side of “pro-apartheid”. What the hell? I don’t approve of anything that happened… But that is the power of fanaticism, it is infectious and it will draw defensiveness and aggressiveness out of anyone given the right sequence.
This desire to avoid any kind of conflict and to condemn those who offer it in good spirit is what creates these echo chambers. It isn’t exclusively what causes it, I should clarify, but it plays a pretty big part (as far as I can tell). I have been told in the past that I’m a terrible person for not just sitting back and coasting. Of course I’ve also been told I’m a terrible person for not memorizing every little thing that was taught in high school, but the source of that criticism is dead to me anyways.
Social media is one of the worlds most remarkable echo chambers. Everyone follows people they like, ignores people they dislike, and gets information only from sources that conform with their beliefs and desires. Marketing builds on this by only sending ads to people that match what they already believe and desire. This doesn’t just stunt learning and evolution of mind but it destroys it. This compounds on top of the already toxic effects of aging and leaves people as far inferior to the people they could have been.
Not all discourse is created equal either. I’m not saying that you should be chatting with people who are pro-child abuse. Not all ideas are equal, not all beliefs are equal, and people who argue that they are are usually trying to push something extreme on you. Being for the extermination of mosquitoes is not the same as being for the extermination of blue whales or bald eagles. In some largely irrelevant ways, surely, but nothing of substance.
What do I get out of going to social media? I don’t have monetary investment in any of these sources. Facebook in particular charges me if I want to reach more people. Twitter moves far too fast to be interesting. Imgur becomes more of a vapid timesink than an actual productive tool. Reddit is an extreme echo chamber where news is delivered in just the right way to push an agenda, the very thing that they often (rightly) criticize cable hour news for doing. I raise money for all these companies, surely, but what do I get? Lost time, possible conflicts with people which will lead to that block and forget (for them or me) that I mentioned earlier, and no growth.
If instead I spend that time reading books or fixing up my website I’m getting actual value for my time. It is with this thought in mind that I’ve installed Block Site on my web browser and hit all the time sinks that were becoming a destructive habit for me. I’m sitting on dozens of books, a handful of unwritten stories, and a website that is partly broken. None of these things get done if I’m just drooling over a rather static Facebook feed wall.
I’ve even set the urls to redirect to my website to remind myself what I should be working on. I don’t know how long this will work but considering I haven’t been to the escapist or Reddit in nearly a half year, I think I’ll manage.
Tomorrow I’m going to try and take this new time to write a stream of consciousness short story. I haven’t decided for sure on the title but I think folks will find the story interesting.