Facebook Withdrawals, Pt. 4(?)

Day Something Or Other

When there’s something cool I find on the internet, something really cool that I’d never seen before and think other people haven’t seen before, something like this:

Something I know a particular subset of people would think is cool, I want to share it with them, I want to feel cool doing it, and I want them to like it. I want it instantly, I want it NOW and I can’t because I’m not on Facebook. There are people I don’t actually hang out with but am maybe better friends with in an online capacity. Does that mean we actually like each other, though? Or do our left-brains connect? Do we connect on the basis of keeping our right-brains slightly active while others’ atrophy in a world of words and typing? Why do I need other people to think I’m cool? Why do I need other people in order to think I’m cool?

The people I would share this with will never see it because there isn’t going to be a “next time I see them.” This upsets me. I’m not sad; I’m not angry. I’m frustrated to a level that felt like this belonged in the withdrawals category.

I rejoined The Old Reader, because something about Feedly bothers me and I don’t use it. It’s the way the feed works. It’s difficult and clumsy when it comes to getting rid of what I’ve already read or had no interest in. The Old Reader is closer to original Google Reader in that it makes it rather simple and fast to comb through the sites I want to be in touch with that day, skip from article to article, and hide those I’ve read already. Also, it still had all my Google Reader sites in it from when I first tried it back when GR went away.

Something I noticed: 98% of the blogs I’d been following all stop around 2011-2013. Using this infographic, I’m going to say this is after the much-ballyhooed alterations to our Newsfeed in 2009. You know, the “Popular Posts” change, cascading to several other timeline algorithm changes over the next two years. It’s the one where you have to consciously change it back to chronological (a much less addictive, less reductive, less manipulated way to experience the site) every day, or few hours, or few days seemingly at random, or it would silently revert to Most Popular setting. I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection to the drop-off of blogs and the Most Popular setting and the increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle. Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

Without any real scientific research to back this up, I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection between: the drop-off of blogs, the Most Popular setting, an increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle and its surrounding chaos and general inability of the Western populace to tell reality from their own information bubbles.

Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

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Facebook Withdrawals, pt. 3

Day 5

No signs of physical withdrawals. Just the mental — reach for something that isn’t there (a phone, a tab); a longing to share things with only antiquated outlets like email or Google Plus to reach out with.

As I misspelled something today it occurred to me that the displacement of the letters might be related to brain hemisphere activity. I’d typed “Westwordl” instead of “Westworld.” The displacement of the D and the L could imply that my left hand was moving faster than my right (the D is on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard). It would be interesting to have a keystroke study done to see if consistent kinds of misspellings and so-called internet slang all sprang forth from Right- or Left-brain dominance being exacerbated by internet usage.

Facebook Withdrawals, Day Two

Day Two

Mental acuity clearly has taken a hit. Without social media, every few minutes I feel stranded without any idea what to do with myself, even as I do other things. Very similar to nicotine mental addiction. Every few minutes, I would forget what to do with my hands. In this case, I forget what to do with my mind. It’s going to take some time to rewire. Without real physical withdrawals, though, it’s not so bad. Well, no physical withdrawals apart from a tiny attention span that is growing but still not very useful for anything except facebook.

I don’t know whether to consider that withdrawal, though. It’s clearly the effect of using the tech, as opposed to the effect of not using the tech. It’s just become apparent without it. The advantageous part of quitting now is that the symptoms of withdrawal had already become an everyday thing for me. Every second between facebook had become a slog of scatterbrained difficulties, perhaps exacerbated by working a register at a restaurant where all of my meatspace interplays had reduced to forty-five-second bursts with people I’d never see again. My temper was short, my ability to calm down lessened — all symptoms I’d noticed from nicotine withdrawal. So if I’m going to be in constant withdrawal unless literally using it, and using it 100% of my day is not a possibility, quitting is quantitatively the same.

(In case you haven’t noticed, when I’m stressed and my mind is taxed, my vocabulary goes up ironically. I have trouble thinking of simple ways to convey ideas, and start spouting a lot of fifty cent words and using textbook syntax.)

It occurred to me that many of my more nonsensically vile interactions over the past year or two were very similar to when I’d quit smoking at the same time as a friend. We’d get into an altercation instead of conversations because both of our brains were taxed, leading to: 1) incapable of communicating properly (both telling and listening accurately), 2) going straight from misunderstanding to unbridled rage, and 3) not being able to expel said rage once begun. We’re all on a drug, and going through the phases together. There are very few sober people to help us rehab from social media and with so many addicts both enabling one another and discouraging quitting, we may be in for more striking breakdowns of the social order because of our loss of grip on reality and our own temperaments.

In summation: symptoms of algorithm addiction (it’s not the social media, it’s the underlying algorithm that has mutated into a habitual form [the end goal of all products in a capitalist system is to create addiction]) I’ve so far diagnosed:

1) shortened attention span
2) inhibited thinking
3) detachment from 3-dimensional space
4) inhibited person-to-person empathy
5) increased label/stereotype identification, ie tribalism correlated with source of dopamine hits as opposed to actual physical identity (Rachel Dolezal, as a for instance, might be the end result of having more black friends on facebook than white)
6) shortened temper / burnt out dopamine receptors no longer capable of compensating irritation chemicals

Synthesize this information with the symptoms you’ve seen around you, especially in Western culture broadly, but also in personal interactions both on- and offline. I think you’ll find you have experiences that have almost no other explanation.

Facebook Withdrawals

Quitting Facebook for Lent

Day One

I find my phone in my hand randomly without reason. I stare at it for at least three seconds before I realize there’s nothing I could want to do with it. Where before I used to take it out to do something else and then realize I was on Facebook instead and had forgotten the original intent, now I realize some of those times might have not been “other reasons I’d forgotten,” and that my hand and eyes and subconscious had taken out my phone and checked Facebook all on their own. Feeling even better about doing this.

In the moments where I take out my phone and stare at it, there is a strangely existential panic eerily similar to cigarette withdrawals in physical sensation yet emotionally more like not answering the phone when a lover who is bad for you calls. I’m also reminded of my adolescent freakouts when the internet stopped working and I couldn’t get on any of my chatrooms, which reminds me that I’ve been using some version of social media as long as I’ve been smoking. This has the potential to get very intense before it’s over.

Philosophical: the rise of identity politics entered my mind as I contemplated a near-violent real-space incident from Monday, the 27th. The fact that facebook, whose hold is certainly greatest in the West, hits the dopamine centers associated with human connection but provides no long-term connections with other individuals can be directly linked to the loss of individual empathy and the rise of empathy with labels. When one is connecting in short bursts all day with fifty to a hundred people, the brain must rewire to associate that connection with broader categories. One doesn’t connect with black friends; he or she connects to blackness. One doesn’t connect to Republican friends, one connects to Republican-ness. People who read Salon. People who comment on certain YouTube channels, etc. When someone criticizes the label or the umbrella through which the label connects — a facebook group or a webpage or a blog — the entire group jumps to defend themselves, or at least those who identify with the label the most. If men are criticized, anyone who thinks of himself as a man feels the need to chime in and say “Not all men…”

Symbols vs. Meaning (of Kaepernick and Copernicus)

We really shouldn’t be surprised football fans can’t handle a player defying a symbol. Football is where the country is trained to worship symbols at the expense of the concepts and ideas they represent.

Owners, players, strategies, rules, and ideals all change year after year, after year. The goal posts are literally moved. Even the territories the symbols represent move back and forth, with no reason or rhyme, leaving nothing but the flag (name, symbol, colors) to hold onto.

Once a group of people is sufficiently attached to a symbol–be it a nation’s flag, a holy book, skin color, or a racist team name–one can alter, inch-by-inch, everything that symbol stands for, and they will follow the symbol rather than the ideals that got them to associate with the symbol in the first place. Why? Because they relinquished their will to that symbol long ago. People cannot possibly make the entire amount of decisions presented to them on a daily basis. Our brain has learned shortcuts, and when these are exploited we barely notice until one day we wake up in some moment of clarity after crossing the point of no return.

Cognitive dissonance is bred into the fan from the ground up. The game is called football, despite the predominant mode being to carry the ball with one’s hands. Cheerleaders, present but ignored, subconsciously associate sexual arousal with mentalities of warmongering, escalation, and binary thinking. Us vs. Them. Our newscasting in the nation now reflects our sportscasting, and political enthusiasm has been replaced with high-stakes fandom of one team or another, with no comprehension or attachment to underpinning ideologies.

At least with World Cup and Olympics, there are real nationalities in play. The “teams” in major Western sports are absolutely meaningless. Faceless corporations playing wargames for the amusement and training of the masses. The game is played all for an ultimately fruitless but symbolic victory. It is the ultimate defeat of the symbol over meaning. I guess what I’m saying is, I prefer baseball.

3 Factors Contributing to Backlash Culture

Another article addressing fandom vs. art. Here I’d argue there’s more nuance to the anti-Ghostbusters fervor. It’s certainly part sexism–geekdom, up until the mid-90’s, had been a boys club. JK Rowling is due no small amount of credit for evening out the geeky playing field over the past 20 years. A new influx of females into a once not only all male arena but an arena of males who also infamously do not interact with the female gender is bound to create friction. Note this fear is actually of “mainstream” females, who have increasingly embraced genre entertainment. There were always girls, to some degree, in geek culture. But now there are ones who wear makeup, are thin as rails, cosplay the way cheerleaders dress at Halloween, and have the full range of social skills. There’s an inherent distrust on the part of the male geek of these kinds of people. The jocks are Captain America fans, too, now, but no geek boy is going to pull the muscular guy in the Superman costume’s card. They’re inherently afraid of overtly masculine men.

This leads to the second factor: the gentrification of nerd culture. The “mainstreaming” of nerd culture can be paralleled pretty readily with the patterns of gentrification. The influx of neurotypicals into what was once a safe haven for the atypical can be likened to middle-class kids touring impoverished areas as their own private rumspringa. Gentrification often leads to the ironic situation where the minority being pushed out, whatever that may be, attacks another, newer minority as opposed to focusing their anger on the actual invading force. See the attacks on gays in New Orleans’s Marigny/Bywater neighborhoods instead of attacks on Yuppies, and the anger at immigrants when poor whites are displaced from their jobs by corporations they allowed to buy whole towns.

Finally, the last factor is the manufactured backlash as part of reverse marketing psychology. This isn’t being talked about widely, but then current marketing strategies that are obvious once you notice them are effective because no one’s mentioning them. Working up an internet backlash is the best marketing tool on social media. There are several ways to do it. You can just hone in on one racist or sexist tweet against your product and pretend it’s a movement. Boom! Instant backlash-backlash that far outweighs the initial controversy and your film/toy/whatever is trending for the next six months. If there isn’t a tweet, a fake account can be made in seconds. If you want it to happen more organically, one can simply edit the US trailers poorly so as to make your film look less funny than it is. Either way, complaints are lumped into an -ist category, and anyone against that will fight them, all of this regardless of the film’s quality. Spite is a strong impulse. Also, one could, say, continuously chop up their films into hot messes and release better cuts on video, ensuring sales on the backend. If I know this, the marketing firms know this.

The internet, its economic ramifications on the entertainment industries, and the conversion of news media into an entertainment industry in the post-9/11 world has elevated opinion to the level of fact, fan fiction to the level of the licensed remake, and otherwise faded the divide between us and authority. This is good in a way. Like punk rock, indie rock, alternative rock, the blues, hip-hop, etc in music, the independent film movements over the years, and the initial, pre-Disney explosion of Marvel Studios, it takes art back to its roots and out of the exclusive hands of elite corporate shills. At the same time, it has its drawbacks. When it comes to art, the audience doesn’t know what it wants until it gets it. If it starts to dictate content, the pool becomes just as stagnant as when a corporate entity is in charge. All food becomes junk food when customer satisfaction is all that matters. Art for art’s sake is masturbation. There must be a balance between audience, artist, experimentation, and to a certain extent, business. Audiences like to be challenged, they just don’t know they do, just as children run from what they fear and simultaneously love to be scared.

But… If you aren’t doing something original anyway, what’s the difference? If all you have to offer is a product, the audience will rightfully take ownership. The lack of involvement from the original artists in the Ghostbusters film is the most important aspect. Announcing their cameos and tacit approval helped a little, but they weren’t creating it. A sequel is to continue the work. A remake, reboot, prequel, etc. is a bit more of an erasure of the original work and carries an implicit “we are improving on the original” in its DNA, even if unintended. Without the original artists’ involvement, it instantly changes states in the consumer’s mind. Now, it is a product, and products, like shampoo or a Burger King meal or a Toyota Camry, are custom-order. In a capitalist society, we collect products and display them around ourselves to represent our individual identities–increasingly nebulous things in the Internet Age. I want my car red, my burger with no lettuce, my shampoo moisturizing, and my Superman films happier than my Batman films.

TV is currently where video art is being made. Stranger Things can be criticized as a one giant homage, but so can the films its homaging–all slices of life that called back to the B-horror, science fiction, and 50’s childhoods of their creators, now in turn being called back to by a show set in their heyday–but is still its own intellectual property. Other Netflix and cable programs can be said to be roughly the same percentage of adaptations to new material and so-called “adult” drama or video literature as film was 20 years ago. Visual art has moved from the short story phase into the novel phase, and it’s not going back.

As far as restoring balance to the film as an artistic, if still predominantly commercial medium, there’s only one way out I can see. If you produce consistently satisfying art and stay true to the source in spirit if not in letter, then the audience eventually surrenders. Notice no one bitch about James Gunn’s changes to Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Russo Brothers’ alterations to Winter Soldier and Civil War storylines. Sure, there are some sticklers as there always will be, but for the most part, they’ve gone over like the original Lord of the Rings films. Faithful where appropriate, altered to make better films and to make real artistic statements as films. Warner Brothers, meanwhile, gets eviscerated for making admittedly horribly edited films, but I’d argue mostly for not respecting the spirit of the source materials while simultaneously having nothing to say. That makes you a product, and we are far less forgiving of those mistakes.

Trendkilling: How All Mass Murderers Are the Same

Been talking about this with a friend for a few months, but have been reticent to say anything. We’ve had a myriad of mass shootings in the past couple of years, and whenever one takes place, the press and thus everyone gets distracted by either their own political agenda or the alleged agenda of the killer: girls rejected them, abortion is murder, Daesh allegiance, mommy didn’t love him, Black Lives Matter. None of it makes sense, however. We’ve got a single epidemic with a thousand causes? Doesn’t seem likely. If we want to solve this problem, we need to search for commonalities, links, and shared causes rather than using each individual tragedy as an excuse to spout off about one subject or another.

At the end of the day, these are all just flashy suicides. The pet cause each killer trumpets and their targets can be found somewhere to the right of your Facebook Timeline in the bar marked “Trending.”

Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killer who arguably made what I’m going to call “Trendkilling” trendy, wasn’t bullied. He was charismatic and well-liked (though not deeply, because no one knew him), just like every psychopath. He only claimed to be bullied because he knew the hysteria it would cause after his death. He knew it would get us to become bullies to the bullied because we’d see them all as potential killers. The shooter who claimed he was mad at women for rejecting him killed more men than women and was not a member of any Men’s Rights association as was claimed. The one who attacked a black church while wearing a swastika was, just a month prior (just long enough to be around when he started planning his elaborate death), a regular attendant at the church and friend to his black fellow parishioners. The BLM sniper, through shooting police in a county that had famously reformed their police department and lowered brutality, likewise accomplished the opposite of helping the movement he claimed. At this point, every mass killer has to know that the result of their attack will be a loss of sympathy for whatever cause they claim and an increase in mayhem. We must conclude, then, that this is the true goal.

That Trending Bar, those things we obsess over or yell at one another about all day, is a great blueprint for planning an attack. It guarantees headlines and lengthy arguments. Particularly if you design your attack not to make sense, like claiming an underdog movement as you commit an atrocity designed to erode sympathy for that movement. The cognitive dissonance ensures all sides of the discussion to follow will be defensive and confused in equal measure.

Violent psychopaths and sociopaths, both homicidal and suicidal (often all in one), all have one thing in common: they can’t connect. By definition, they lack the social skills for deep friendships and the basic empathy we take for granted that allows us to see ourselves in others all day. Absent of it is a lonely place to exist. Just because you can’t connect doesn’t mean you don’t want to. The inability may drive one to suicide one week, but homicide the next as one oscillates between hating oneself and envying those who possess and take for granted what for them must seem a superpower. Now, let someone going through this see that headline and experience the fallout of a trending tragedy around them — look, everyone’s talking about the killer, not just his name, but his deeds. He matters. The whole world cares that he existed, even if only for one shining moment. Subconsciously, this has to be a motivating factor. Why go out when you can go out with a bang? Why die apart from everyone, the same as yesterday, when you can make a connection in the only way you know how right before? When you know they’ll be talking about you for weeks to come?

In the past, the way to make headlines and manufacture connections when one didn’t possess empathy or the basic human tools to connect was to be a serial killer. Like any addiction, it starts with one small death to feel power in a world you feel apart from and powerless in, moving up the food chain and toward ritualization. All, though, really in service of the headline. Of mattering. Of connecting with thousands all at once, and then ending your miserable existence. It only makes sense in the Social Media age that killing one person at a time wouldn’t be enough to properly connect anymore. You have to reach hundreds in one second and die instantly thereafter.

The adage “Don’t feed the trolls” comes to mind. What are trolls but the comments section’s minor sociopaths? Gaining power from our frustration, and mania with our indifference. The only way to stem the tide of mass killings then is to stop reporting them, something unlikely to happen. Ubiquity normalizes behavior, no matter how condemned. Articles featuring details, not just the names of the killers, but their deeds, fuel the perception that these acts are a viable solution to their problem. But we cannot ignore the deaths of large numbers of victims to help prevent the next one. Silence isn’t a message that can be sent. What then?

The only thing I have to offer is this: stop letting the killers dictate the discussion. They aren’t doing it because they’re MRA or BLM or IS or Pro-life or Goth or unpopular. They’re doing it because they want to kill and they want to die. They want those things because they’re sick and alone and disconnected from humanity (an increasing condition due to the internet, just as Industrialization did at the turn of last Century). So maybe say, “Another sad loner, estranged by the common disconnect experienced by human beings during a paradigm shift, committed suicide via terrorism today,” rather than feeding into the ideological misdirection or making anyone famous. Maybe notice that as the false, addictively unsatisfactory, corn syrup saccharine of social media rose, so did the amount of disconnect. As the disconnect rises, so do Trendkillings. And a Trendkilling is just a flashy suicide.