I’ve been thinking about ostriches today. I feel like leaving social media. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are often described as “toxic” and I certainly am becoming easily discouraged, cynical, and irritable. Perhaps I would be happier without social media. The trouble with leaving the social media world is that there’s a risk of simply ignoring the problem. Sticking my head in the sand, so to speak.
I wanted to write about this dilemma. I’m not sure what it was that I wanted to say, but one thing I thought I knew was that I’d need a picture of an ostrich with his head in the sand, to accompany whatever it would be that I ended up writing. In performing a search for such an image, I was met with an overwhelming amount of materials from ostrich anti-defamation groups, which have a strong online presence. I learned something today: Ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. At least, not when they’re in danger, as a commonly referenced myth asserts. Sure, they’ll poke around in the sand when they’re rotating eggs, and that’s been caught on camera (rude), but it’s not what it looks like. If an ostrich is in trouble, he’s a fight or flight (well, run) creature just like you and me.
With this knowledge, I can no longer in good conscience present the ostrich as a visual aid describing my criticisms of social media exits.
A better model of why it can be dumb to leave social media is this guy:
Leaving social media has always struck me as a pretentious, idealistic, sanctimonious gesture, captured very well in this College Humor video. Any time I read an article telling us to put down the phones, I get a little resentful. Here’s a fine example of one such article, published very recently by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and written by a Crisis magazine writer. I can’t say I disagree with anything written in the article, but as I read through it, I can’t help but hearing, “you see, I do not like your conversations! The things you share are sensationalist at best, and insipid at worst.”
Some people leave the big social media platforms on principle, because they are alarmed by the sheer size and power of these companies, and suspicious of their agendas. It’s a boycott attitude of sorts. I’m anti-boycott. You could say that I boycott boycotts. When I was a kid, my mom decided that our household would boycott the People’s Republic of China. Mom had a host of grievances with China that remain quite valid today. Over time, however, it became overwhelmingly clear that our family boycott was in no way slowing the import of manufactured items from China to the United States. To our frustration, China continued to grow into a sinister totalitarian superpower. And at the same time, it was very difficult for our family to find eligible stuff to buy. Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and even Japan – you guys stepped up big-time and carried us through those days, so thank you. Eventually it was too much though; we caved and ended the embargo.
Ever since then, I’ve regarded boycotts as futile. If a corporation takes the earnings I generate, and give it all to Darth Vader, then that is on them. As a Catholic, I will have my attorney site the double-effect principle when I arrive at the pearly gates.
So it is not as a boycott that I want to leave these platforms. Nor is it that I find the content boring, or the users flawed. And it has nothing to do with ostriches. I think it’s just that social media has run it’s course. I don’t know how to articulate that, but I think it just doesn’t work anymore. Could also just be that I’m old.
Part of me wants to stay on the apps; go down with the ship, and be a light in the darkness (assuming I can be positive and not be merely a liker of sarcastic satire and memes). I wonder if I should stay to show people I care about them. To laugh with them in their triumphs and mourn their sorrows. To show that I still love them, even when what they share is saddening, frustrating, discouraging, or downright hostile. Is it a form of martyrdom to stay on these apps, and take all these arrows, so I can simply love my enemy and perhaps be in some way present to the lonely? Am I being super dramatic? Sorry.
Truly though, I don’t know. I wonder how many people even really look at social media. If you’re not an addict like I am, why would one ever go on?
The answer is unclear to me. So little is certain. Except, I know for a fact that ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand when they sense danger.