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Imagine a week without using social media

Imagine being without social media for a month. (You say you’ve managed without it all your life? Consider this an exercise in empathy.) No quickie Facebook updates, or notifications on what friends real or imagined are up to. That video on Instagram will have to find a way to be shared without you. For tweets, you open the window.

Day one: No problem, you think. “I can do this.” Day two: A little itchy, a little twitchy, but you get through it. After all, billions of people still aren’t on Facebook, right? Day three: This is what it must feel like to be without electricity or running water.

Day four: “Why am I doing this again? Because some guy in a newspaper asked me to?” A strongly worded letter to the editor is in order, don’t you think? Day five: Didn’t somebody recently lose his Instagram name to Meghan and Prince Harry because he wasn’t using it enough? What if something like that happens to you? Sleep is very fitful that night. Day six: Really, a week is a more reasonable test than a month, which means you’re almost there.

Day seven: God rested on the seventh day, so that means it’s kind of a day off for this, too. You immediately track me down and give me a piece of your mind. (Facebook: munnwalk. Twitter: @jollygoodthen. I like to be helpful.)

How hard this little exercise is depends on why you’re using social media in the first place. I’ve seen Facebook users who only post about one issue. It’s simply a tool for them, and when the issue is resolved, their account will lie mostly dormant until the next one. At the other extreme, there are those for whom it appears to be an integral part of their identity.

Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the phone company jingle “Reach out and touch someone.” (Careful there, Joe Biden.) That desire hasn’t changed. People also go to spill their guts; as a cry for help; to help those crying for help; to keep track of their son or daughter or president; to be informed or entertainingly misinformed; because they don’t or can’t get out much, they want to see the world, and this is a big part of what modern day life is. And, of course, for the cats.

I recently read Jaron Lanier’s book “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” While it didn’t convince me to follow suit Right Now, it does provide plenty of ammunition.

His main targets are Facebook and Google, the biggest players in the addiction business. They say love is a drug. “Like” is too, as well as all the algorithmic tricks employed to keep your eyes glued to those little screens. The Matrix was onto something: the system feeds off us, in this case greedily sucking in all our data for the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to build their empires.

Lanier decries the amoral business model, where information is indiscriminately sold to anyone, the worst of whom seek to corrupt the better angels of our nature. Find a new model, he says. Until then, opt out to do your bit to help force change. You decide.

I’ve been on social media of one form or another for much of my adult life, starting with Usenet newsgroups, which is basically organized texting using a computer. From there I went on to forums, and finally the behemoths of today.

My preferred platform is actually the individual blog (prettygoodbritain.com), partly because I’m not fond of overlords like Zuckerberg wielding too much power. Small is beautiful. If I have an addiction, it’s to writing and playful photoshopping, though I too have felt the dopamine rush of the retweet. Which sounds so silly when you say it out loud.

Fortunately, there is plenty out there that’s worthwhile. On that list I include the Seneca County Museum’s talented historytellers on Facebook, and Maria Popova, whose Brainpickings add cerebral value to Twitter.

I approached a couple of people I only know thanks to the internet and asked them for their thoughts on social media.

Jon Adams is an artist who calls Tiffin home. “Facebook is an indispensable connection for me,” he wrote back, doubtless shooing one of his cats from the keyboard. It also helps him sell his paintings, which beats peddling personal data.

Sara Sherman was in my graduating class at Columbian back in the mists of the ’80s, though like so many classmates, we only really connected when the digital age grew up. “It’s a time suck if you aren’t careful,” she said. “If you are scrolling away, you aren’t doing more positive activities such as actual human interaction, exercise, reading a book.” She recommends “living your own life,” which is something we all used to do by default, not “watching how great everyone else appears to be living.”  

I don’t think you have to delete your accounts, unless they are in the process of deleting you. Be grateful that, unlike real life, you can indeed take a break. Wherever you are, share the best of yourself.

Scott Munn is a former Tiffin resident who has lived in England for 21 years.

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