I just deleted several more of my social media accounts, as a birthday present to myself, something I really didn’t think much about, but seeing as yesterday was my birthday the resulting “panic” of me NOT being on Facebook led to a few rather strange conversations filled with both light shock and bewilderment. “Oh my God, I searched for you on Facebook and you were GONE, something must have happened, what happened?” “Did they delete your account?” “Was it accidental?” “How are you going to start over again?”
I did delete my accounts on purpose. I have many reasons which I will attempt to relay below, but I wanted to start with a disclaimer. If YOU are on social media, and you love it, then I say “cool” Stay, use it, love it, do whatever you find valuable or rewarding. I didn’t love it, at all, and found it to be something I was no longer okay with being a part of. Again, I’ll line out the reasons below, and I’m REALLY trying not to finger point here, but I’m sure at least some of this is going to sound like me being high and mighty. Let me assure you, I’m not. I’m a guy still trying to figure out his Monday through Friday and when asked what I do, besides saying “I work for Blurb” the rest of my story is as cloudy as anyone’s. But as you will see, I’m still in the playground, to some degree, something I will also try to explain. Oh, and for those of you saying “Who F****** cares?” Good question.
YouTube (Probably THE most powerful of all online tools, but I don’t want to film myself.)
Pinterest (Never really gave it a true shot.)
Twitter (The BEST tool in my mind, and I don’t follow the stream so no clouded mental space.)
LinkedIn (I was always on here and never knew why, but now I do.)
Vimeo (Haven’t used in ages, forgot I had it, so will probably kill it as well.)
It’s over, done, finalized and official that I will no longer feel the warm embrace of being “liked.” I have officially killed my Facebook page and in the process severed deep and lasting relationships with 2354 “friends” worldwide.
I’m not really losing these friends, just their online versions, and the idea that we are really connected via these networks.
The only reason I lasted this long was my job. As most of you know, I work for Blurb and our company has a large social following, one that reaches the edges of the Earth. I always thought “I can’t possibly delete my account because it’s essential in deseminating all this critical information.” I’d heard nearly every single speaker for the past five years suggest to their eager audiences, “Well, you need to get your social media up and running and then connect with your following.” I heard art department heads tell their students they can’t survive without it, and I watched as numerous friends began to donate nearly their ENTIRE life to the addictive gesture of checking their Facebook page. I don’t use “addiction” lightly. I’ve spend the past few years monitoring(informally) how, why and how often people “use” their Facebook pages, and what I found, for me, was alarming.
I first noticed this craziness in the early days of Facebook during my time as a portrait photographer. I was photographing kids mostly, and like I do now, I was using a Hasselblad camera with exactly twelve images per roll. During the brief moments when I would reload my 6×6 I would watch as the kids would pick up their mobile phone, punch in the code, check their Facebook page, turn the phone off and place it back on the ground. Within TEN SECONDS, if I had not engaged them, they would again pick up their phone, punch in the code and check their Facebook page. They would do this over and over and over and would continue to do it until I finally decided to engage them once again. Imagine doing this ten times in less than three minutes. I mentioned to my wife that I found this crazy trend developing, but if you haven’t paid close attention, and she hadn’t, it didn’t seem that alarming, at least at the time. Fast forward to today and well, we know what kind of spell these sites have on kids, adults, etc. I guess you might call the condition “advanced” now.
Last year, returning from one of my Blurb missions, I landed at John Wayne Airport in Orange County California. We were fortunate and actually landed eight minutes early. The only issue was we didn’t have a gate. The pilot came on and said “The good news is that we are early, but we are going to have to wait eight minutes for a place to park.” The woman next to me, based on her clothing and briefcase, was who I would label as a midlevel executive, business traveler. During our delay she turned on her phone, punched in the code and checked her Facebook page twenty-four times in eight minutes. Again, I don’t use “addiction” lightly.
I can also tell you that each weekday, during my morning visits to the gym, I routinely sit in a sauna. I do this because I love it, but I also do it because it is helping me rid myself of Lyme Disease. I can tell you that I am routinely the ONLY person IN THE SAUNA who is not on their phone monitoring their Facebook page. Yes, I said in the sauna. The age range is from early 20’s to late 60’s. There is never any talking, unless someone is dumb enough to actually make a phone call, which does happen from time to time, but that person is normally turned on like a pack of wolves feeding on Bambi.
My departure from social media began roughly a year ago while working on my ongoing opus in Pie Town, New Mexico. At the time I was using Instagram in addition to my normal black and white negatives. As I walked the dirt roads around the town I found myself seeing things and thinking “I should put that on Instagram.” So I did. Several hours passed and I realized I hadn’t made any pictures, nor had I really mentally engaged in my surroundings. Instagram was acting as a filter, blocking my actual, real interaction with the people and things around me. I deleted my Instagram account on the spot. To further belabor my point I will tell you another story. Recently, on yet another flight I was positioned next to a young guy who had the classic SoCal surfer look. I was in the aisle seat, he against the window with the middle seat being empty. As the plane readied for departure I noticed he was flicking through screen after screen of Instagram content. The flight attendant came by and said “You need to turn your phone off now.” He faked as if he was turning it off then went right back to scrolling through his IG account. Each time the flight attendant would walk by he would hide his phone and look out the window. After the plane left the ground he kept scrolling until he lost cell signal. I thought this was the end of it, but apparently not. Fifteen minutes from landing he had his phone back out and was scrolling through BLANK INSTAGRAM PAGES. BLANK. There was no content yet he couldn’t stop doing it, staring with a dead gaze into an empty phone. As we neared the ground his beloved signal returned and his face lit up once again. Again I thought this was the end but after deplaning and entering the airport I found myself facing the decision of jumping on the moving staircase or manning up and walking on the fixed airport floor. I noticed the moving stairs were bottlenecked for some reason, so I moved to the outside choosing to walk on my own. The reason the escalator was bottlenecked….yep, you guessed it. “Mr Instagram” was once again on his phone, oblivious to the world around him and was blocking the rest of the passengers who had begun to yell “Hey asshole, get off your phone and walk.” A-D-D-I-C-T-I-O-N. Now again, is this guy you? Is he me? I don’t THINK I’ve ever done this, but I’m sure I’ve caused someone walking down the street to take evasive action because I’ve been on social media. And I know for certain I’ve had to take evasive action, many times, avoiding last second collisions with status updaters. If this seems inconsequential to you, or you are one of those folks who apologizes for this stuff by saying “What are you gonna do?” or “Well that is the world we live in now,” things I’ve heard relentlessly over the past few years, I get it, but I just made the decision to do what I could by not participating.
The moment I began to find myself thinking about social media was the moment I knew I had to leave. I’d heard social described as a “quiet lie” because it’s based on the underlying concept of being “liked” where the participant crafts a funnier, wittier more humane version of themselves to attract more “likes,” followers or comments. More than once I’d thought to myself, “I wonder what the response will be to this post or this image.” “I wonder how many comments I’ll get, or likes I’ll receive.” The realization I was having these thoughts was like mental poison entering my veins.
These aren’t the only reasons I killed my Facebook page. I also did it because nobody I know is able to actually consume what is offered via the interface. My primary need as a guy that makes things is UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. That is what I’m after, and social media is the LAST place you will ever find it. In fact, the volume of information, advertising, messaging and liking is so far beyond any realistically consumable level I feel you are in essence guaranteeing nobody will pay attention to whatever it is you choose to post. Informational heartbeats, lost in a lifecycle akin to the blink of a eye. Look at click through rates if you want evidence. I’ve posted links to essays and had “likes” less than five seconds after posting, which tells me the viewer saw the avatar, the name, probably said “I know him,” and “liked” without reading or really thinking about the story. So I asked myself, “What is the point?” I also don’t photograph myself. I find the “selfie” epidemic somewhat alarming, and I’m that guy still using a portrait a friend made over ten years ago. It is the only real portrait I have.
Social media is also an unbelievable time suck. There is a defensiveness about this. I know a lot of folks who say “I’m not on it that much.” I’ve studied several of these people and “not that much” translates to “all day, everyday.” The idea is intriguing, being connected to the wider world, but in essence many people are alone, at home, clinging to the idea of being connected. I realized I would be far better off talking to a neighbor than being connected via the short attention span theatre of social media. You can point to things like “The Arab Spring” and the validity of social media, and I would say you are absolutely correct, however, the VAST majority of people I know on social media are not attempting to dig their society out from under a repressive regime. Most of the people I know are sharing random information, animal photos, ridiculous videos or SELF PROMOTING at their own repressive level. (And believe me, A LOT of people are at wits end about this self promotion situation.)
Today I was attempting to communicate with someone I had never met. I thought she lived here in New Mexico but I found out she is now living in a remote section of a remote region of a remote country in Latin America. When I discovered her contact information I was at first bummed to see only a mailing address. My first thought was “How is that possible?” This is a first world, progressive, semi-famous person, she HAS to have more than that. Then I realized how great it was. Ten minutes later I had my letter written, my envelope out and a guestimate of the currency required to actually get my post to her doorstep. If you want to communicate with her you have to really put some effort in, which is a great way to cut out the noise of modern “communication.”
Effort. Ah, that slippery slope. I’ve been saying for ten years that convenience and conformity will be what kills professional photography in the end(an opinion that rankles more than a few folks), and I see social as being part of the problem. Now look, is social media inherently evil? I don’t actually know. If you have your ear to the ground and hear the rumblings of corporate driven data mining then all bets are off. It’s been said if you are on social media YOU are the commodity being traded. I’ll let you decide about all this. I’m speaking only of my realization that social media holds no upside to me because when I’m communicating with you I actually want you. I want the truthful you, the calm and centered you and the you that is allowing me to tap your undivided attention, and from what I can tell that you doesn’t exist on Facebook. Never has, never will. In fact I find it difficult to even be around “Facebookers” or “Instagramers” because they seem perpetually distracted, filtering every moment through the lens of the incessant share. I’ve also been around those we begin their conversations with “Did you see such and such on Facebook?” and when I reply “I’m not on Facebook,” it doesn’t even register, and within seconds they ask again “Well, did you see what so and so said on Facebook?”
The responses to my departure have been interesting, and in some cases akin to me saying “I’m going to rob that liquor store across the street.” There were gasps, questions, incredulous faces and shocking statements about not being able to promote my work or survive as a photographer.(I haven’t been a photographer in over three years, something I’ve written about and posted on social media endlessly, which tells you how many people are actually reading the content.)
Again, this post and this action is simply my opinion, nothing more, and you could dispute or dispel any or all of these points. I will leave you to it because, not to be callus, I don’t care. A retouching friend in LA once said to me, regarding digital retouching, “We are living in an age we will look back on and cringe, a time when those in the future will look at our work and say these people just didn’t know when to say when.” I feel the same about this age of social media. I think we will look back at the time and the lives we donated and cringe.
In a ten year period we went from claiming the technology was the greatest thing in human history to a technoconsumerism society where retreats are being held to detox people off of the same technology. I spoke to a film director in Los Angeles who said he now has to tell guests at his gatherings to pile their phones in the center of a table and anyone caught reaching for their device is politely asked to leave. Same for another who explained at business dinners anyone caught on social media has to pay the entire bill.
Perhaps I’m making too much of this. Perhaps I’m not. Again, it all comes down to undivided attention, something I’m finding so rare it feels like it should be on the endangered species list.
After finishing this post I began the great deletion process, four networks so far, and I have to say, they do NOT make it easy. Facebook wasn’t bad, but several other sites made it so confusing it reeked of a ploy to just get you to say “Ah screw it, I can’t figure it out, I’ll just leave it.” Direct support was nowhere to be found. Online tutorials showed screens and menus that did not exist in my account. I also said “Screw it,” but instead of leaving as is I just deleted what I could. Good luck out there.
What is really interesting to me is since I deleted these darn things, which as you now know hasn’t been long, I noticed something. Social media had become my default brain space. When I was in between tasks, or even tabs, my brain would say “You should check your social media accounts.” Subliminal. “Oh, you have a free second…check your accounts.” And now, I have nothing to check. I’m curious just how much time I’m going to save and just how much of that time and energy I can channel, funnel or apply to actual work?
Now, if there is ANYONE who read this far you might be asking “Well, you still have a blog and you still have Twitter, so you really AREN’T off social media.” Yep, true. I will continue to blog because I love writing, and if you know about this blog you know I’m long winded and prefer long-form “journalism.” Twitter for me is a great tool for delivering information. It was the first social media site I used and will probably be the last. I can’t possibly follow the stream, so Twitter doesn’t enter my mental space like the others do.
You see I have a new agenda in life, and to achieve what I’m after will require every once of time, energy, luck and focus, and anything that takes away from this I can no longer afford to be a part of. So, if you still have any interest in communicating with me, I’m an easy guy to find. Email, phone, or even a letter if you see fit.