Shall We Gather at the River?

Raise your hand if you’ve read this Facebook status update some time in the last few weeks:

Hey folks, for my own personal mental health I’m logging off Facebook for a while. I love you all – be kind to each other!

I’ve read a lot of them. (Heck, I’ve posted one or two of them.) In the last few months Facebook has stopped being a guilty pleasure and started being a painful habit. I’m not sure why that is. Is it that the algorithms have started condensing the things we see to pound us with one emotion – and that emotion right now for so many of my friends is fear and anger and pain? Is that all we’re posting to Facebook because it seems if we don’t post our fear and anger and pain we’ll seem unsympathetic or uncaring? Is the Facebook algorithm just showing that, in favor of our usual diet of cat pictures and travel selfies?

I don’t know. But I can feel the community I’ve had in Facebook breaking apart. I know what it feels and looks like, because it’s happened before.

When I first left college, my social collection was a mailing list. There were about eight or nine of us, all friends from college, who were on it. We emailed each other ALL THE TIME. We probably exchanged one or two hundred emails a day. (We mostly worked from home on computers.) We knew everything about each others lives!

Then we all started getting LiveJournal accounts. That was probably the greatest flowering of “internet friends” for me. It was all psuedonymous (eg. we only knew each other by username, not by actual name. There are still some people who think of me as Oriana, so strong was that connection and identity.) It lasted a long time – maybe 6 or 7 years – and we had extremely strong relationships with each other in these intertwining dialogues. I called 911 for LJ friends who needed medical intervention (which is extra challenging when you don’t know their real name or where they lived – I solved that by knowing who they knew In Real Life and reaching out to those people). I invited LJ friends to my home, and many remain dear and beloved friends.

But at some point around 2010, the LJ community fell apart. It stopped working, people wrote their goodbyes or just drifted off. Where my friends used to post about 100 posts a day, that same list now rarely has more than one or two posts a day – and most of those are syndicated from other sources like blogs. It was frankly a huge loss. I still miss it, although I was one of the drifters. I got a job that didn’t allow for massive amounts of dinking around online and switched my focus to a long form blog that I updated less often but more intentionally. (This one!) “My Truant Pen” is lot less interactive and dialoguey than Livejournal. But according to my stats, not that many people read this blog any more either.

Now I think Facebook is dying, but unlike when LJ died I don’t know where they’re going. Are we digitally disconnecting? There are upsides and downsides to that. Spending less time glued to screens is no bad thing, especially when replaced with coffee dates and quality time. But taking away that community and filling the void with isolation is a bad thing. For me, I want a group of friends in lively online community that I can know and be known by, who share and care about each other. Ideally this has a big overlap with my group of proximate friends I can hang out with.

I’ve propose G+ (look me up at https://plus.google.com/u/0/+BrendaFlynn) as a place to connect. Somehow that has not been met with universal approbation. So I’m genuinely curious – what are you doing? Have you completely unplugged from social media? Did you switch platforms for connection – and if so to what? Do you miss the connection? Do you think after the dust settles people will go back, or is this a permanent migration. Where can I go to be with you?

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8 thoughts on “Shall We Gather at the River?

  1. I still read LJ, though I hardly ever post. But I check it every morning! But I think I’m staying on FB. I know I’ll lose some folks…but much of my community is a tad younger than me, and I don’t think they’re going to shake the habit.

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  2. I wonder if the break is just temporary? When you’re in a like-minded bubble and the thing you all know can’t possibly happen somehow does, it’s natural to take a break; in a weird way, you feel betrayed.

    The form of social media I want to split from permanently is Twitter.

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    1. You and Twitter are a like a couple with dynamic chemistry and no compromise ability. You’ll keep breaking up and making up.

      I don’t know if it’s temporary or not. I think some people have legitimately stepped out for good. I’d go with them if there was a better place for community.

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  3. Honestly, I’ve been thinking this same thing. Facebook has slowly been becoming a wasteland, and the election pushed it past the point of no return. I’ve been using Instagram quite a bit — because I like photography — but it’s not the platform for long form updates. I don’t know what happens now, but it makes me nervous. Facebook has been my portal to friends I miss and new friends for eight years. But you’re right — it’s disappearing.

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  4. I’ve always treated Facebook as a read what’s on the first page and move on for the day kind of thing, so my habits aren’t really changing. (I might check it twice on a weekend day.) I just don’t have time to do more.

    I marvel at the days of that email list – I’ve having trouble wrapping my head around how I had time to deal with that much email. And yet I did. I think that’s the thing I miss most about that time in my life. It felt like I had more time.

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