[Pinned|En] Deactivism: The Pleasures of Life without Social Media

God knows the temptation is strong…

Sometimes a simple article is worth a hundred books (… maybe not any books). The following is by one of my absolute favourite writers on the internet, who has more to do with my current way of thinking than he would be comfortable knowing (though he has nothing to do with most of my opinions). No matter how many times I go back to read him, it soon feels like it has been such a long time since he has stopped writing [Late update: He actually came back on the very same day this article was published; spooky stuff!]. This particular article, although it had pushed me to ‘disconnect’ when it came out, has a lot to do with what this blog (as well as the internet in general) is about. Among its more damning observations is this one:

« “Information is power,” the word-obsessed like to tell each other, when information is actually as good as a pile of junk. When you have little, or less power than others, then sometimes delusions of power set in and you cast about looking for make-believe substitutes for power, like information. Equal access to information is celebrated—when there can be no equal access under present conditions. Access is reduced to the mere act of gaining hold of data, but what renders it “accessible” depends on resources that are still distributed highly unequally, such as the training necessary to make sense of the information. »

This issue is related to another article he wrote ten years prior, summarized in the following:

« Open access is open only to those privileged to have use of the medium, the Internet. So it was never really all that “open.” »

“Online sharing culture” as the product of “narcissistic injury” is an important prism through which to understand the internet, but it does not tell the whole story. These two specific articles are the reason why, from the very moment of its setting up, Minor Input consciously saw itself as an admission of powerlessness… although there is still the occasional lapse of thinking. Why keep at it, then? I frankly cannot answer why, against all logic, I continue to produce articles (not that many as I try to keep them to a minimum; most of the ‘action’ I consider to be happening over here). Moreover, there is also the issue of “appropriation” of the work of others so as to ‘steer’ it into ‘unapproved’ directions, a nightmarish topic for me to delve into (not for a lack of confidence in my process, but because I can anticipate the variety of things it will be ascribed to). The same goes for many of those others as well, I am sure. Another reason that makes me not so eager to write online, especially concerning my own country:

« The only value I see in social media, especially in having withdrawn, is understanding that the movements that thrive with such media are busy achieving their own implosion. Having created echo chambers, the only way for individuals to excel, to gain notice, to capture attention, to secure some pre-eminence, is by attacking those that are readily available, i.e., from one’s own circle. The external enemy has been removed or distanced, so now the attacks are primarily against one’s own: that is where one proves one’s worth as a supremely critical firebrand, one who possesses the ultimate moral purity and correctness of political vision. […] Social media are thus the perfect way to box all of this up, and then we can kick the box away. The movements that are built on such foundations, will destroy themselves, or be destroyed by the generous backlash they provoke. »

Please be careful as you surf the “internet”, dear reader, because so many waves are more artificial than you may suspect.

« Finally, on February 21 (2018), I decided to completely withdraw myself from the two main social media accounts that had kept me busy online for nearly a decade: Twitter and Facebook. My account of leaving these two so-called social network sites is not any more special or deserving of attention than any of the countless others. All I have done is to rejoin the overwhelming majority of humanity which, regardless of all the hype designed to promote social media, remains wholly disengaged and indifferent. Being like any other person in this majority is hardly a special achievement, worthy of a lengthy essay, but I do feel regret for not giving a proper farewell to the nearly 8,000 who subscribed to my Twitter feed, and the nearly 5,000 in Facebook.

The final straw, but not the primary reason, was finding on the last morning that just overnight (precisely, during the night), I had been stripped of dozens of followers (others reported losing many thousands). For three solid months I had seen a mysterious pattern—the exact moment I logged in after a few months’ absence in late 2017, I instantaneously lost 84 followers (and I had not even typed a word). For the months that followed, and for the first time ever, my net gain in followers was consistently negative. Constantly I saw that former followers had been either deleted or suspended, or the total number of accounts they followed was always reduced to zero—they were forced to follow nobody. I also saw a political pattern: the accounts were always those of libertarians and conservative populists, especially Italian, British, and American. On my last day, I investigated further and found that each of the accounts that had been stopped from following me or anyone else, had a statement posted on them by Twitter: “Caution: this account is temporarily restricted”—as if it were some radioactive contaminant. It was reported by many others that a purge was underway in Twitter, focused on anti-liberal accounts, which only added to previous rounds of shadow bans, account deletions, censored trending topics, etc., with similar measures to suppress posts and persons in Facebook. The idea that I was spending time on sites where unseen managers would decide what I was permitted to see or read, was absolutely galling. My continued presence simply validated the censorship, by taking the selfish line that as long as I was not directly and overtly censored (yet), then the system was still acceptable. Why should I? Who made me do it? How many insults can one take?

This moves us to much larger issues, and I would encourage others to both experiment and reflect on their practice. First, I had taken several periods of absence from “social media” (to use that idiotic term)—sometimes an absence would last mere days, other times a couple of weeks, and on three occasions it would last several months. For a few years, I refused to post anything on Sundays or during major holidays: the idea was not to cheapen treasured days of rest and celebration, by being obsessively focused on building content for Twitter and Facebook. What I noticed from each of these absences was how immensely beneficial they were for me: the peace of mind, the increased clarity, the development of new plans, with more time devoted to exercise, relaxation, spending time with those that matter to me, and reading serious work…as in books. As a result, over the last year I deliberately began to scale down my involvement with sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Second, those absences reminded me of all the ways I had grown to resent the intrusion of the Internet as such, the Internet as a whole, remembering how much better things were before 1994, when I first started using the “World Wide Web” (and even then because a professor at SUNY-Binghamton forced me: to compel us to get email accounts, he decided grades would only be communicated to us via email). I did not own my first computer until the late 1990s. I have thought of the millions of jobs lost thanks to the Internet, and the way that daily social interactions had been perversely altered. Displacement and dispossession of economies and geographies is the ongoing gift of the Internet.

Gathering information was once a fully social and even multi-sensory experience. Sometime in the 1980s, when I needed an Amnesty International report for a research paper after reading a reference in a newspaper article, I could not just visit a website and download it. I could telephone their office in Toronto and ask them to mail it, but there was the issue of paying for it, which had to be done in person. So getting this document meant setting aside time on a Saturday afternoon, showering, getting dressed, walking, taking a bus, then a subway, seeing people, a chance encounter with a friend downtown, then walking further downtown, visiting the people at the AI office, getting the document, having a conversation (and obtaining further leads), and then doing the return journey, with a stop at a café along the way, and then a record store, all the while enjoying a beautiful sunny day. By the time I reached home, I had already read the report in full and made notes. That was life without the Web: slower, healthier, and friendlier.

All that has been replaced by sitting in a chair for hours (murder for one’s health) and harvesting a vast number of PDF documents, which I rarely have the time to read, and which I sometimes re-download forgetting that I already have them. Fast yes, but also unhealthy and isolated—efficiency without substantive gain. Working at a computer could just as well be done in prison, because at this stage surroundings no longer matter.

The fact of the matter is that we do not need the Internet, we do not need social media, and we certainly do not need “smart phones”. What are you, a brain surgeon, that you always have to be available in case of an emergency call? Listen to what people say when they use these “essential” gadgets, as I listen to the hordes on campus—the most typical utterances are: “Hey, what’s up? Yeah I’m on the escalator. Ok, see ya later”. Impressive. Clearly, it’s money well spent. It is almost as if individuals have become afraid of a moment of silence, possibly because they intuitively fear discovering that inside, they are empty.

Third, there is the political economy of social media […] »

Source: Deactivism: The Pleasures of Life without Social Media — Zero Anthropology