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a propos. this week just got gnar.

a propos. this week just got gnar.

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Red sent me this and asked my thoughts on it as an introvert and a user of social media. This is what I emailed back to her:

I skimmed but didn’t read in detail. I think in a lot of ways it makes sense. However, I really dislike the way it’s presented, drawing a direct causal link between social media and loneliness and using sensationalist, fatalistic headlines. It’s really reductive and simplistic. I think this is a key point:

On the other hand, non-personalized use of Facebook—scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your own activities via your wall, or what Burke calls “passive consumption” and “broadcasting”—correlates to feelings of disconnectedness.

Because the thing is, there are a lot of people who for a lot of different reasons don’t connect well or don’t enjoy connections with the people available to them in real life. The percentage of people I meet in real life with whom I’d be willing to sit down and have a conversation is stunningly low. Tumblr is full of people who just have reached their max capacity for racism, sexism, transphobia, etc., and building online communities with people who are safe is really important for a lot of them (us? I’m not sure I consider myself entirely part of that category; I consider my real life community infinitely more important and supportive than the people I’m in touch with online). In some cases it quite literally saves lives by breaking isolation. Here I’m talking about people who find it impossible to create meaningful, safe relationships with the people available in real life due to oppressive dynamics, but obviously there are also reasons relating to dis/ability and mental health that could and do motivate online community-building for people (including me).

However, I also know that for myself, Tumblr is dangerous when I’m depressed. There are a lot of lonely people on there, a lot of depressed people, a lot of sad people. Sometimes it’s a great source of support, seeing that other people have the same fucked up experiences and reactions to events and relationships as I do, as someone with BPD who doesn’t really know anyone else in real life who has it. Sometimes it’s just incredibly depressing, and everyone’s loneliness and depression becomes quite heavy and overwhelming…it kind of depends on who/what shows up on my dashboard (my feed of blogs on Tumblr that I follow) at any given moment, and then I have to actively decide if aimless Tumblring will make me feel better or worse. 

The difference is whether what’s showing up on my dash is active or passive engagement—I like conversations, people posting pictures of themselves looking hot and feeling good, people thinking about what interests them, people posting things that make themselves feel better, all of which are examples of people engaging actively with online content and with each other. The things that make me feel worse are people just kind of barfing their sadness and loneliness into cyberspace, doing exactly what I’m doing—sitting in bed feeling sad and sorry for themselves. This is not at all to say people shouldn’t do that on Tumblr; I do it sometimes for sure, and I think often it just feels better to say it, to be honest about your insanity, your sadness, your loneliness. And sometimes, for people who have built more of a community online, it’s an effective way to ask for help and support, to find someone to engage with. It’s not unusual for someone to post and say “I feel like shit today, send me nice messages?” and to actually get a lot of nice messages from their followers. That’s really valuable, especially if you don’t have anyone in real life who’ll do that for you.