For the last 4 months, since I left for India, I have used social media very little. To be honest I’ve always been pretty incompetent with it, and have never really seen the need to have much on the go other then Facebook to magnify my self-identity. Only using one platform for this, I’ve realized, is a double-edged sword. If your perception of the world and its inhabitants is to be mediated by physically abstract idea-spaces it’s probably a good thing not to leave it in the hands of a single one of them to cook your information for you. And if this is the world we’re headed towards, it makes sense to try and become skillful and mindful about your use of them so that you can at the same time ensure your economic well-being and the integrity of your mental health.
But I must accept myself for what I am. A defenceless social media dilettante. I am both bad at the internet, and very susceptible to its negative effects on my emotional well-being. Part of the reason why I left Toronto and went a-rambling was, at least partially, to decouple myself from my social network, both the one localized in that particular place and the abstraction of same presented by the funhouse mirror of identity and information that is Facebook. My reasons for doing so had nothing to do with the character of my friends. It’s more about my own dysfunctional relationship to cities, art, identity and ideology. Though these dysfunctions may stem from the usual human predicaments; having a body that needs to eat, wants to fuck and likes being around other bodies, they are certainly encouraged by technology.
One of the problems with social media in general, and Facebook in particular is that in a space of pure, non-localized information the human tendency to band together must, almost by necessity, manifest itself in the form of ideas, and people have started to become very concerned with coordinating themselves based on the ideas they hold. This is obviously bolstered by the categorizing impulse of modern capitalism, which needs to group people together in order to market to them. Of course, ideology is nothing new, and the dangers of untempered group ideology are obvious, but it seems like the expectation of ideological thinking has grown more encompassing with social media. Nowadays not only is it incumbent upon you to pick a side in the grand arenas of Capitalism vs. Marxism, Globalism vs. Nationalism, Theism vs. Atheism and maintain a consistency of pure opinion based on membership to whichever idea cluster you purport to belong to, you’re expected to have factional opinions about everything. Music. Food. Television. Clothes. Craft beer. Astrology. Smartphones. Kitchen Gadgets. Lawnmowers. The expectation is that your opinions on these things are stable and simple, that they say important things about your relationship to larger ideologies, which must also be stable and simple, and that it’s important that all of your opinions be subject to open scrutiny. You are at once expected to be an expert on everything you consume and expected to defend yourself in open court on matters which are usually entirely subjective.
All my life I’ve been a person who feels like it’s important to be right. To have coherent opinions and express them freely. But it feels like the more honest I am with myself, the more I try to look with clarity at the world around me and the more I look inside the less I feel like I can even claim to have opinions in a way that is concrete and unambiguous. Every issue I look at leads to different conclusions depending on which perspective you take, even those conclusions are murky and fraught with contradictions and everything I learn about the natural world and my own internal life seems to emphasize that objectivity simply doesn’t exist. Nature, whether within or without, doesn’t assign value or even definition to anything, it just is. The only objective truth is silence. This may sound like either a liberating notion, or an incitement to brutality and chaos depending on what cards your holding, and of course its probably both. In any case it’s a tough pill to swallow for that puffed up part of me which needs to present itself as an idealized image of individual power and understanding that is at once capable of manipulating it’s world with microscopic rigor and also at complete free-flowing ease with the universe. In other words, the part of me which feels most at home expressing itself on Facebook. Being sort of uncomfortably baffled by life isn’t much of a look.
This instinct to curate an image of yourself that is idealized, fantastic and self-indulgent is another problem with social media. People spend so much time in contact with these abstract idea spaces that they begin to transfer the attitudes and expectations of the image onto their real life. You see this all the time with yoga people who get so caught up in the construction of their identity that they begin to play out the artificial role in their day to day life. They walk around the world pretending to be a beacon of love and life and energy, striking conspicuously contemplative poses in the presence of others and telling people to “just breathe” when they’re feeling depressed while forcing a practiced smile. But anyone can see how dishonest it is. Telling someone “just breathe,” or some other motivational-poster slogan when they have serious and valid existential questions is not helpful. It’s neither compassionate nor skillful. When someone has serious and valid existential questions that are troubling them and you want to help you need to climb into the shit with them and either help hash it all out or, more likely, just be there with them in the shit and try to get comfortable with the mystery together. The problem is that when you do this you might get shit on your face.
Don’t get me wrong, learning how to breathe (Or move, relax, be etc.) is an enormously powerful way to understand and empower yourself. But that’s a serious lifelong process of practice and study. Slogans are insufficient.
If I was being cynical I’d accuse these people of being more concerned with marketing themselves as a yoga product rather then teaching or practicing actual yoga. This is surely a dynamic that exists out there, but it’s way too easy to be spiritually lazy and just assume that everyone’s stupid and an asshole. Things are usually deeper then that. I think people who have decided to promote or teach or publicly practice yoga or any kind of spiritual discipline are legitimately frightened by the idea that they can’t live up to the ideals that the practices represent. They’ve discovered a glimpse of the awareness and love that are real outcomes of these practices and they feel a responsibility to be impeccable, both for themselves and for others. This is then coupled with the normal anxieties of life in a market economy. The problem is that these spiritual ideals are unrealistic. It’s important that they’re unrealistic. Part of the process of liberation is the confounding of the ego and it’s necessary for the practices to be humbling if they can truly be called spiritual practices. Being honest about where you’re at is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
There’s no doubt that I see all this playing out in my own psyche first and foremost, both the cynical dynamic and the deeper one. The difference is that I don’t even have the self control to pretend to be happy all the time. It’s hard enough to be superficially polite.
Anyways, spending a minimal amount of time on social media has been helpful. These blog posts update onto my Facebook automatically though I sometimes promote them directly. I’m trying not to obsess too much about “likes” and views but that’s tough. I communicate with people directly through messenger if I want to know what they’re up to and never lurk peoples walls. I don’t even look at my newsfeed unless I’m truly bored, and I just settled into Goa, a place where there’s no excuse for a rootless yoga hippie like me to be bored unless you really want to just spend the afternoon being bored.
Things are nice.
All the best.
Shambo Shankara Namah Shivaya