So much has happened this year/has been happening for the past few months/is happening right now that it’s strange to have one’s brain sort of taken over by, of all things, Twitter.
Discussion of family loss ahead.
Folks on Twitter like to call it a hell site. Like, I see it across varying groups of people who don’t know each other. Seeing that term always rankles me a bit – not because I think they’re wrong from their perspective, though. It’s more because I always feel like it assumes something special about Twitter and its algorithm vs the way US society is set up in general.
Because as far as I can see, Twitter isn’t really doing anything we don’t already do, in person.
All it does it make it faster.
It’s kind of hard to summarize why I think that, so I’ll share a recent issue I had:
There’s this Twitter user. Smart person, sharp, funny, someone I like. They were recently frustrated about a surgery they were about to get, and their perception that in the US, some of the requirements for getting surgery are based upon a myth. In their words, it was a medical issue that just doesn’t happen anymore.
My father died just this summer due to this thing that this Twitter user states doesn’t happen anymore.
He died of the thing they state is a myth.
OK, that HURTS. That hurts a lot, particularly when I still have so much rage over what happened to my father. This Twitter user’s thread hits me like they’re saying his death didn’t matter. And my first instinct is to correct this person, to say no you’re wrong, to say this is real, to say my father’s death means something.
I spent a good 2 hours starting replies and sobbing, then erasing them, then starting again and sobbing.
In the end, I said nothing. Closed the browser window; shut down the phone.
Because. This person was about to go into surgery the next day. It wouldn’t help them to know this happens. They’re already following the requirement – they’re just ranting about it. Which I can also identify with, having had multiple surgeries myself.
And because. This person did some research. It’s not their fault that they didn’t see the medical literature that reflects my father’s situation.
I started to understand that the only reason I was going to tell them was to make my father matter to someone else, and basically try to make them take back what I felt was his erasure.
Except, yknow… why? He mattered SO so much to the people who knew him. His memorial* was packed. There’s literally nothing a person on Twitter can do to erase him from our minds and our hearts.
So why did I feel such a strong urge to do this?
It’s because I often feel like my soul is invisible to others. And I’m not the only one who struggles to make oneself be seen. But I don’t actually need this specific individual to see my father. As much as I’m sobbing about it, as much as I feel the need to SAY something? I had to acknowledge that the thing that invisibled my father and my pain over his loss is not this Twitter user.
It’s the statistics that hide him. Statistics that determine the way the system is structured.
And that’s a whole different place to go, emotionally.
And and, I was then so grateful I had this long emotional struggle *behind a screen,* because I know if I’d heard this conversations in person, I’d have to either leave the room in which I heard it, or cry in front of people.
I’d end up literally causing a scene in public. Which really makes me think about what folks mean when they talk about failing in public in the context of social media.
Humans are programmed to fight their pain. Our primal instinct, the thing that is in our bones, is to make the pain go away. We look at the closest thing to the pain and our brain decides to identify that as the thing that is causing it. In that moment, our biases get writ large, and we don’t even look at them before we offload.
Social media isn’t the source of this. The anonymous nature of social media actually means nothing as to whether or not someone will say something mean to us. (If you’ve ever been bullied as a kid you know this intimately.) Plenty of people in pain are unable to see beyond it, no matter who is in front of them.
What social media does is show us MORE of what causes us pain**. More of what hurt us. Because there are no longer boundaries to cross, no longer barriers as to what media might reach us. And sometimes we’re in so much pain we actually seek out the people we think caused our pain. And and, because social media, like ANY community, rewards certain kinds of interaction? The things people seek out come to the front of all our collective viewports.
Social media didn’t do this to us.
We did this. We always do this. Our Western culture does this.
The person who gets a lot of attention gets more attention because a whole crowd is looking that way, and folks want to see what they’re looking at.
What social media does is concentrate both our good and our bad, depending on our biases. It is a distillation of what it means to be human.
And I’m not saying Twitter is good. No, not at all. But I think about Facebook, & how awful it is, and I think about the fact that Facebook was specifically designed for college students, and it always leads me to realize that the success of the demographic something is designed for is part of the problem.
Social media is now designed to mimic the relationships people have in a *US school.*
Including the cliques, the cruelty, the horrors that school had for so many people.
Extra-including the fact that the more people know you, the more some people are hoping you’ll fail.
Like any other distillation, some people can take it and some can’t. No one is ever, ever, obligated to.
But it’s not that Twitter is a hell site. It’s that humans carry hell with them, all the time.
I don’t know how to solve it.
But I do know the way to escape the schoolyard mindset isn’t to leave the good parts of school behind. Plenty of people leave school and carry that mindset with them***.
The way I escaped that mindset was to try my hardest to stop looking where the mob is looking. To seek out the voices that aren’t there. Find the person hiding under the bleachers while everyone else is screaming at the game.
Spend a little time with them, instead.
* It was held outside, on a beautifully sunny, breezy day.
** It also shows us more of what’s good. I’ve seen so much kindness. Of course, I might be biased because I met my Spouse on Twitter, so consider me well-salted.
*** Plenty of former co-workers demonstrated this to me.