It seems a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the humanEdward Said, Orientalism
How many months are we into this pandemic? How many years? I’m honestly not sure at this point but I think it is roughly as old as my daughter so 2? Or just about? Years that is…
If you’re even remotely in the same headspace as me, it feels like the past 2 years (did I get that right…?) have been one never-ending screening of groundhog day.
With one main exception.
No, I’m not talking about the lack of Bill Murray’s dry sense of humour. I mean, I’m sure most of us have developed a similar outlook on life over the course of this constant strain on our psyches. I’m also sure that most of us have had the desire to run outside at some point yelling WHAT ABOUT BOB?! … er… ME?!
Oh, right, wrong Bill Murray movie.
But I digress
No, the major difference I see is that Groundhog Day, starring the talented Mr. Murray, came out in 1993. This was several years before the first social media site opened Pandora’s proverbial Box (does anyone remember Six Degrees? Apparently it was created in 1997…when I was 8 and therefore in no way old enough to be interested).
Why does this matter? Well, while Murray’s character was understandably losing his mind by experiencing the same day over and over again, and yes somewhat publicly as his breakdown happened partially on local cable news, he didn’t have the added strain of scrolling through the endless exhausting narrative of misunderstanding and extreme emotions that is social media. And he would have been the only one scrolling through the same posts over and over again and being aware of it (though, admittedly, social media in general can sometimes feel like the same thing over and over again…). Talk about a nightmare.
Well, my friends, this is an important difference because while social media can be used for good, as this pandemic has dragged on it has increasingly become a place filled with vitriol, hatred, echo chambers, name calling and self-righteousness. And you know what? I for one am exhausted. Nor have I been completely innocent.
In a time when we are forced to isolate in order to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe, we are missing out on more reasoned, understanding conversations in person in favour of one-sided, over-simplified, unhelpful shouting matches through our screens. Now that we are all Zoomed out, we’re not even attempting to speak to each other’s faces, albeit through a screen, and have retreated entirely behind our profile pictures and avatars as we type out and post things we would never dare to say to our friends, family and acquaintances in person.
Now, as I mentioned, I am as guilty as everyone. In the depths of my pandemic fatigue, I have fallen out of the all-important habit of journaling (a crucial outlet for my emotions) and have turned to writing and posting infrequent diatribes on my (thankfully) private Facebook page about how frustrated I am with those who share different opinions as me on the pandemic and what to do about it – amid a myriad of other far less important issues.
And not only that, but the few times I have logged on to Instagram (public) over the past few years, I have felt the need to repost to my story all manner of angry, frustrated and disappointed statements by accounts that are not even my own. Now, don’t get me wrong, if this is what social media is for you and you are doing this in a respectful and curious way, all the power to you. But, for me, I feel that when I enter into these discussions by posting or sharing I am either looking for everyone to agree with me or spoiling for a fight. I’m certainly not in any way encouraging a healthy discussion.
Because, and this is going to get controversial, I don’t think Social Media is the ideal place for a healthy, rational, understanding, well-rounded discussion. I do think it can be a good starting point, as can the news regardless what you think about the motivations of various news outlets, but it is far too ephemeral and shallow to encourage real deep thinking beyond the all-important echo chamber. And this goes for all sides in nearly any debate.
In the quote that began this post, the “schematic authority of text” it was pointing to was likely scholarly publications as opposed to your cousin’s Twitter profile. However, I think it still applies. Have we not decided to intrinsically trust social media posts that confirm our own conscious or unconscious beliefs and/or biases rather than attempting the perhaps disorienting task of either further, wide-ranging research or a proper conversation with someone who disagrees? And I mean a REAL conversation, where both sides are given a chance to talk and have their words digested fully. Not one where you sit there smugly awaiting your turn to talk, barely listening because you feel so sure of how right you are that there’s no way they will maintain their position once you do.
Guilty. Many times over.
I know, I know, what are we supposed to do about this when we’re still in the thick of this global crisis and no where near our normal level of human connection?
Might I, gently, suggest logging off (as I have to a great extent). How about reaching out (when you have the mental capacity – which may not be right now) to a loved one who you have unceremoniously unfollowed or unfriended in a fury based on a single post in order to ask about their point of view and where it stems from? And, and this is the key here, do this without judgment or preconceived notions. If you can.
Might I also suggests, maybe, exiting the doom spiral you may have entered where the world is going to hell in a handbasket and there is no hope left in humanity. Because, you know what? I don’t think we are doomed. And I sure as heck don’t believe all hope is lost.
Again, only take on what you feel mentally able to but, at the very least, try and remember that social media is not reality. It is a curated, monetized version of reality where we only catch a brief and blurry glimpse of who people are and what they are going through.
Instead, try re-engaging with your fellow human beings, whenever you feel safe to do so. These interactions might feel disorienting at first, especially after so many years in relative isolation, but you better believe it is easier to sort out miscommunications and disagreements in person than it is online.
At the end of the movie, Bill Murray did indeed finally escape the Groundhog Day he was living and reliving over and over again. In much the same way, we will see the other side of this pandemic one day soon.
With that in mind, let’s not allow all the online miscommunications and arguments to leave us so fragmented as a species that even a return to normal life no longer feels joyful when it does come around. It’d be nice to know we’re leaving the pandemic with our human connection still intact. Don’t you think?
And, remember, no matter what your doom-scrolling might suggest.
Life is beautiful.