Mass society is pervasive. It has infiltrated every nook and cranny of my existence, of our existence. Our… hmm… who am I talking about when I say “our”? Can “our” include you, the one who is reading this? Honestly, I love you, but I have been increasingly and intentionally unfaithful to social media, the ultimate tool of mass society, and a place we both have inhabited. And since you have a relationship with social media, my hunch is that you have been unfaithful too. Social media is the mistress for a married man. One may think they have been faithful to the mistress because the mistress is thought about all the time, yet in his heart he knows his wife has been there all along – and life would be better if the relationship with his wife would be restored. But he needs to have the courage to break up with his mistress.
Let me tell you about my break up with social media. And like all memorable break-ups, this one might be messy. To get a clear idea of my relationship with social media I have to get clear about a few things first. I need a careful manifesto in order to successfully negotiate my boundaries with social media. Like a controlling partner, it has its fingers in every pie, and each of them have become spoiled. Social media has the effect of waves of water on the sand of the beach; with each wave a little bit more of one’s life is eroded away. It arrives to you with its own agenda, and with every view, every minute of attention, your own agency is slowly worn away.
You see, my world has always had two parts: public and private. At least I remember that it had those two parts. My house acted as a boundary between the two. This boundary existed when I lived in my Canadian hometown, and it existed in my travels in Korea, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia.
Inside my childhood home, the rotary phone and the TV were closed to the public world when they were turned off or unplugged or we chose not to answer. The biggest incursions of the public world in our private lives would be when, as kids, we would have to close the curtains so the outside world couldn’t see us playing cards. They also happened when telemarketers would try to call between 5:30 and 7:00 pm and we wouldn’t pick up the phone because that time was sacred, because we were eating dinner together. But now, social media accompanies us to dinner, whether we are posting pictures of our food or texting others to see if they are coming even when the majority of our dinner party is already there. And social media has soaked up our time between 9 – 11 pm, the time I used to reserve for reading books. In other words, the times when I was deliberately refining my own thoughts and identity, or when I was appreciating the togetherness of a family meal, is now open to public consumption, and commented on by my high school classmate who I have neither seen nor talked to in decades. My sphere of intimates is now 457 “friends” who somehow seem to have some vested interest in doing the work of real intimates: communing together, refining our identities and sharing life together. The problem is, the friend group is doing a very poor job of it, through no fault of their own. That is just the way it is. We aren’t sharing life together, and we have almost no impact on the refinement of each other’s identities. My private world has become corrupted by social media.
Since so many of my friends are activists in some parts of their lives, our social space has become who tries to sound more persuasive, and more profound. Like the intellectual dick-wagging that my liberal arts classmates did at the pub while we smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Social Media has colonized simply being together. After all, my relationship with social media has not refined me; instead it has deadened me. And so I, myself, am corrupted by social media.
I thought social media loved me for who I was, with its catered advertising and photo- and video-sharing capabilities; but really, it only loved me for the attention I gave to it. When I stopped going to the pub, stopped drinking beer, and stopped wagging my intellectual dick, the liberal arts classmates simply stopped being friends. This was THE sign to break up then and there. My guess is that Facebook has the same logic. But, I am not sure what has taken me so long this time.
I know now that my private life is filled with God, with birth and married families, with a passionate love for my partner of 18 years, with meaningful hobbies, and with sacred spaces. My private life includes friends that have been with me in joy and in sorrow, through failure and success, and in sickness and in health. They have had a huge part in making me who I authentically am. But social media has now come between me and my circle of intimates. And my relationship with them has become less than authentic; I have become less authentic. Social media has corrupted my privacy.
Social media has also corrupted me publicly, and that in two distinct ways. First, it has corrupted my public relationship to the state. When we debated the Meech Lake Accords in 1996, there was no social media to “establish” the facts. There was only the news and history. We had very few people advocating for our attention. It was up to us and our community to stay informed. But now? Catered news items from my news-giver acts to confirm whatever happens to be going on in my head. I believe that Trudeau is corrupt, and see a story about Trudeau’s corruption. I believe that Trump is a liar; I read an article saying exactly that. I think that Jordan Peterson is filled with hostility; I am suggested to watch Gabor Mate saying exactly the same thing. I believe that conservative people are facing a crisis between those who are facist (socially conservative, racist, and fiscally liberal), and Tories (fiscally conservative, open-minded, and socially liberal), and social media suggests that the Conservatives have a crisis as well. And so I am left doubting whether I really am a globalist, or have merely been brainwashed that way. Social Media has not only shaped my perspective, but shaped it without my intentional input. No longer am I central to authoring my own political identity. This is more than harking back to a previous political identity with nostalgia; it is vastly different than I want it to be. It doesn’t embody my ideal of acting politically. And thus, my political identity is inauthentic.
Along these lines, and the second public corruption, is that social media has infiltrated my circle of friends and acquaintances. It acts as the platform for a wide swath of my social relationships. Work, church worship, and extended friendships come through social media – with nameless invitations being extended through “events” for which I have to register. Shopping is frequently located on this social media space. And all of it is backed by corporate advertisements. There is a feeling that every relationship in this field is transactional, and neither party in the transaction is entirely free. These are not my significant others. These people are not the ones who are interested in so much who I am; rather, they are very interested in the roles I play. These are supposed to be activities of leisure and belonging. Instead, they feel like people want something from me. As I describe it, I feel more than a little “creeped out” by it. This wider group of social connections is corrupted to being social manipulations.
On the day I write this, Joe Biden has been elected as president of the United States. The broadcasts of Donald Trump’s press conferences are now interrupted on supposed “principle”, that he is spreading false and dangerous news. The media, like social media, has broken with him because they recognize that their alliance with him is no longer going to be the cash cow it has been for the past few years. They realize their power to destroy him as they created him on reality TV.
But no one asks what is their corrupt reason for dropping him… I guess everyone realizes that the jig is up. Even relaxed fit jeans went out of style.
Instead, they fall back into their corrupting influence of all things public and all things private. Social Media is the extension of mass society into every nook and cranny of our life, corrupting every private thought, occupying every sacred space, and laying on dishonor to the dignity of the public world. We have been so concerned to keep politics out of our private lives, and have tried to protect our politics from being overrun by narrow private interests, that we forgot to account for how corrupting the influence of mass society has been to both. It continually throws out distraction after influence after the newest, latest thing that pathologically generates needs that can’t be satisfied, and leaves us wanting even though we already have everything.
Well, enough of that! It is time to restore both myself and my community of significant others, and contribute to a political life that has some dignity. It is time to stop looking for what is fulfilling in mass society and its mouthpiece of social media. It is time to break up.