On Leaving “Social Media”

(First posted on Medium)

This will be my last contribution to the digital publishing platform lately known as “social media.” No more “blogging” of any sort, long or short, for me. I’ve taken breaks in the past, but this time I’m done for good. After various online experiments and experiences on and off over about ten years, I’ve come to this conclusion: human culture — the various arts and sciences and crafts, including journalism — is best served when served slow, that is, un-electrified.

The health and power of the humanities in particular, already at risk from proliferating digital distractions, is intimately wed to the medium of print, or so it seems to me. The idea that the internet is extending the reach and influence of what some call “high-brow” culture or any worthy thing, such as wisdom and democracy, strikes me as wishful thinking. For even if good poetry, for example, is reaching more eyeballs these days (doubtful) thanks to the wired web, seeing a poem on a glowing screen is not of the same quality of experience as reading a poem printed on paper. As a way of embodying and comprehending written language, print is simply superior. Why consume or compose fast media (like fast food) when there is better nourishment and pleasure to be had with slow media?

Some claim that the internet and social media is fostering democracy by undermining totalitarian control and censorship, aiding protest movements in various ways. Perhaps so, at least sometimes, but digital democracy can be countered by digital dictatorship and centralized government control. Meanwhile, the unedited, poppycock “populism” to be found on the internet seems to be enabling the rise of political demagoguery here in the oh so digitally-savvy but poorly educated United States. What’s more, internet traffic is dominated by a handful of corporations for whom the making of profit, not democracy, remains the ultimate objective. I can no longer accept the notion that the “digital revolution” is improving our culture or politics in any significant way; in fact, on balance, it is perhaps doing more harm than good.

“But you can’t stop technological progress . . . .” Maybe not on a large-scale, societal level,  but you can personally slow it down, and you can personally slow down enough to think about what you are doing and choose, at least sometimes, to do what feels best. Anyone who picks up a printed book or a pen today or goes outside for a walk or does anything that is not digital or automated or electronic is, at least momentarily, pausing technological progress. Not everything new is worthwhile or better than the old. I am old enough to have experienced life without the personal computer and the internet and, while the internet/social media does provide some conveniences, access to information and superficial sociality, living without it is not that much of a hardship and is often a great pleasure.

I realize that younger and more devoted followers of what’s now known simply and a bit arrogantly as “technology” (the fork is also a form of technology) will have no patience with any critique of “social media” that involves opting out. But the problem with our digital culture is that, generally speaking, it lacks analog patience. The young have always to some extent been impatient and impulsive, but the culture we live in now seems to have been sped up and hyped up to such a degree, so bedazzled with digital stimuli that we are losing some of the slower, calmer, duller virtues and joys that inform human health and happiness. You can “blog” about needing more health and happiness and hope for “followers” (the more the happier), or you can cook a meal or read a good book or go for a walk or find a stranger to talk to. If you are a writer, you can keep a notebook, mull it over, and send out your best stuff to a helpful editor. The hours of our lives are limited; why settle for “virtual reality” when you can have the real thing?

So why have I bothered to compose one last post on what I now regard as an inferior medium? Whatever the medium, it is good manners to say goodbye, and while I have not been on this Medium thing very long, I do owe my few online “followers” a proper farewell and a few parting words of advice, which I’m hoping to keep under 5 minutes of reading time so they can get onto more important things.

Farewell, loyal followers and random digital readers. I hope that, despite the challenges of the medium, at least some of my messages got through and delivered a small bit of knowledge and enjoyment. And here’s a last few words of advice for myself and you: if “the medium is the message”, as Marshall McLuhan said, then the message I take from “social media” is — stick with print and the corner bar. McLuhan also less famously said, “Mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth.” In that case, give me, at least, real mud.