Friday, January 18, 2013

Woman Breaks Her Facebook Addiction: Maybe Everyone Should!

It was interesting reading about Sara Scribner's New Year's resolution to break off (and break out of) Facebook, which appears to have nearly 1 billion around the world enslaved in a never-ending social solipsist's merry-go-round. As Sara noted in her piece on her recent liberation:

"Two days after I’d made the New Year’s resolution to quit Facebook, I realized how much the site had been messing with my mind. Holding hands with my son, walking down a gritty urban street in downtown Los Angeles, I suddenly stepped out of myself and observed the way my innocent, sun-kissed 6-year-old contrasted with the steely greys of the streetscape around us."

She also recounts how the break elicited a similar dynamic seen in other addictions,

"And not even a week into this experiment, I already felt sunk. The suspicion that Facebook was satisfying a need I didn’t even know I had — training me for a certain kind of behavior — made me wonder if I needed a support group or something."

Possibly not a bad idea. In an earlier blog around 3 years ago I cited author Mark Bauerlein 's book (The Dumbest Generation), in which  he depressingly documents how the under-30 crowd in particular were foregoing knowledge-based maturity to wallow in a self-confected, solipsistic, social mirror world of their own egos and selves.  Bauerlein observed that 18-20 year olds especially loved digital social media because it “allows them to construct a reflexive surrounding.” While their boring job at Mickey D's maybe tires them and the college classroom with its droning profs irks them, their twittering, facebooking, Myspacing and video gaming “mirrors their own woes and fantasies, a pre-packaged representation of the world, a ‘Daily ME’”

Thus he noted, this single-minded attachment "contributed to an artificial solipsistic world filtered by the egocentric dispositions of the users."  Instead of being a channel of information and knowledge consolidation, the monitor screen becomes a mirror of the young users’ own limited selves and under-developed psyches.

The solipsist framework with its unmentioned rules for all who participated, enabled all the things that bothered and bored to be blocked out. The people they don’t know and don’t want to know (e.g. would never "friend")  they could exclude at the touch of key. A new bomb may have been developed by Iran, and an earthquake may have killed thousands in China, but in the case of Facebook users it’s the old monkey show: “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” .

A delimited reality is confected which deliberately excludes the harsh outside world, and confines the personalized reality to chirpy “how r ya’s”, or gossip, mainly in deformed English which Bauerlein ranks just above the reading level of pre-school children’s books (determined by the median frequency of rare or difficult words per 1000 – with print newspapers at the top with 68.3 and pre-school books at 16.3)

The entire mental superstructure was revealed in the words of one 16 year old girl quoted (p. 137-38) when asked by a journalist if she wasn’t worried that she was denied a broader picture. Her illuminating retort:
“I’m not trying to get a broader picture, I’m trying to get what I want”.

Out of the mouths of “babes”!

My point in the earlier blog is that we were  engendering a generation of über-dumpkopfs. This might not matter so much in the scheme of things for a nation, but when that nation's future depends on a majority knowing critical information, and also developing critical thinking skills, it can be catastrophic. As Bauerlein put it in respect to the popularity factor:

“At number one stood Facebook (78.1%) followed by MySpace (50.7%). Only 5% checked a blog or forum on politics, economics, law or policy”

This is sad bordering on pathetic. As Bauerlein noted, for real insight, education and the potential for critical thinking based on it to occur, "people must encounter worthwhile things outside their personal sphere of interest and brainpower."

That Facebook would insinuate itself into a life to the extent of excluding so much else is not surprising.  Scribner herself noted that while she first joined to share family photos it gradually descended into random, driven 'rummaging' and time wasting. As she put it:

"We know the pattern by now. That initial rush arrives with the first “like,” comment, or share. Then it becomes a habit. Instead of reading a book or the newspaper, I would troll through my friends’ pictures or comments, jumping from one stray, random idea to another. I was feeling fragmented, even a bit wasted, by the end of my daily FB journey."
Adding to the preceding are the encumbering social burdens,  a phenomenon of interjected -interlinked differing social milieus and often clashing personas that needed to be reconciled. As she describes it:

"I had to switch roles often on Facebook. Students at the school where I work would friend me, and then I would have to alter my comments. My boss friended me. Soon, I was jumping through a number of mental hoops, double-checking whether the “me” I broadcast was professional, upbeat, proper. It’s not easy to make all these projected selves cohere: My friends and family include folks from Southern evangelical Christianity, from the rap/rock critic subculture, from ’90s bohemia, from mommy-land, from the public-education universe. My guess is that most people on social media have some variation of this problem. In life, I entered each space separately; on Facebook, it all happened simultaneously."

And, of course, Sara notes the social -chasing, hierarchy -seeking downsides that elicit recall of  privileged circles in "junior high":

"Some people say that the Web takes everyone who uses it – regardless of age — back to a high-school mentality. But this experience vaulted me back to junior high, when a new girl, a queen bee, entered my group of more-or-less popular friends. She instantly turned them into a vicious pack of exclusionary vipers, seeking opportunities to create lower-caste members of the group and to make them taste the pain of rejection again and again."

The truth is that the Web is a marvelous place to gain richness of insight and educational ballast, if one knows where to go, and follows through. On the other hand, if one merely wraps oneself in a social cocoon of one's own making it can be hard to grow, or escape.

Fortunately, Sara Scribner was able to and the fact that she could do it shows perhaps anyone else can, if they set their mind to it!

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