We all have fears in life. Some people have arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. Some people have agoraphobia, or the fear of open, crowded areas. I think what I have is a variant of anatidaephobia. That’s the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.
It’s like that part from the first Harry Potter where Uncle Vernon goes outside one day to find a parliament of owls (yes, that’s what a group of owls is called) perched on every building just staring at his house.
It’s not ducks or owls for me, though. My fear is of that blue bird on the Twitter page. Every time I see it somewhere, I feel the weight of its gaze watching me. Kind of scary, since it doesn’t have eyes. It always seems to ask, “Why did you stop using social media?”
I don’t know what my problem is. I grew up with the Internet just like everyone else. My mom started me on Tamagotchis when I was a kid, the training wheels for making friends through technology. I graduated to Myspace and within the first minute I already had my first friend on there. Some dude named Tom. In my profile pictures, I “duck-faced” with the best of them. I always held up the backwards-sideways peace sign in what I assume was a mass movement to support Gandhi’s advocacy of nonviolence.
Then, Myspace flopped. So I migrated with the rest of the world to Facebook, where I went against everything my parents said and accepted that it was actually okay to write on walls. Facebook even encouraged it. It was that rebellious attitude that drew me to the site. But now Facebook is in decline, too. People are migrating again. This time, it seems like it’s being taken too seriously. The new website even has a bird as its logo. And people don’t talk on this new site. They “tweet”. Like birds do. I don’t think I want to be a bird. In fact, I don’t think I like social media now…or that I ever did. It’s become some unrecognizable cult of weird bird people.
While the duckfaces suddenly made sense, my feelings of apprehension started way before that. I always felt so anxious using social media, like it was a competition. Some guy has 429 friends and people commenting about what he says even if he’s just posting a picture of scrambled eggs (notice how it always comes back to birds). I wanted people to care that much about what I did. My eggs are just as good as the next guy’s! I’d make eggs even if I didn’t want them just so I could post a picture of them. But no one would comment on them. Not even Tom. The solution? Friend more people so they’ll like my posts.
The problem was I grew to feel like I was just collecting all the people I know like trading cards. But at least trading cards do stuff. Once I’ve collected all the cards for my Magic: The Gathering deck, at least I’m able to conquer any opposing decks and feel like a champion. I mean my Avatar of Might does eight damage and has trample. What abilities did people on my friends list have? Posting pictures of cats asking for cheeseburgers? Yeah, nice. How the hell am I supposed to conquer anyone with that?
People often praise social media for being unfiltered because it allows people to talk about what’s important to them. But what if what’s important to people is really stupid? In his article, Twitter Quitters and the Unfiltered Feed Problem, Josh Constine of TechCrunch said, “At its heart, Twitter is a firehose. Everything you tweet shows up to every one of your followers. It’s what makes Twitter feel like the real-time pulse of the world… But then you follow a few more people, and then a few more… Gradually, your feed gets noisier and noisier. A few of the accounts you’ve followed post dozens of times a day and drown out everyone else.”
We saw a perfect example of this back when Spike Lee tweeted out “George Zimmerman’s” address in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and so many people heard about it and took it upon themselves to send out death threats to Zimmerman’s home. When Lee later found out his information was wrong and admitted it over Twitter, far less people saw or retweeted that because it wasn’t exciting. Fresh news and celebrity quotes had everyone’s attention. So many people never got the news that the address was wrong, which led to the old couple that actually lived at the home still getting death threats over a year later. Don’t worry, they don’t suffer alone though. Some of the jurors from the Zimmerman case also got death threats after their ruling, so maybe they can start a club.
Despite Constine’s argument, we don’t call social media a firehose. We call it a news feed, as in we’re feeding ourselves with news. Maybe whenever the inventor of Twitter wanted a snack he went to the fridge, opened the door, and was buried under an avalanche of German chocolate cake, diet orange soda, rotisserie chicken, jalapeno peppers, pistachio ice cream, and turkey sausage patties. Then one day, after eating his way free, he decided it would be a great idea if our consumption of the news functioned in the same manner, and thus Twitter was born!
It’s not that I don’t see the utility of social media. I had an on and off relationship with it for years, repeatedly coming back to the promises that it would all be different next time. Social media is like that ex who comes around throwing pebbles at your window at 2 A.M. to try and work it all out. I open a yogurt and under the lid it tells me to like Yoplait on Facebook. I open a pack of batteries and I’m told to follow the Energizer Bunny on Twitter. Those are friends I didn’t even know I had. Who wouldn’t want to be friends online with a rabbit wearing sunglasses?
The break up is just plain hard. With social media you’re not leaving one person, you’re leaving everyone. It’s not even just your friends that guilt trip you for not heeding peer pressure anymore. I have an email in my inbox from Prezi with the subject line, “This is the last email we will ever send you.” The message itself goes on to say, “Be honest, you don’t read our emails. In fact, you’re probably not reading this email, and since we don’t want to annoy you, this is the last Marketing email we’ll send you.” I’m fully expecting Facebook to one up this passive aggression by sending Gotye to my home to serenade me with, “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
I don’t think I’ll go back to the passive aggressive bird cultists though. It’s not that I don’t enjoy catching up with friends, but Facebook is like catching up with that douchey friend who’s always bragging about their life. Where else is it acceptable to just announce out of the blue to a crowd of people that you just bought a new car and it’s totally awesome? It used to be if you wanted to make yourself feel bad you had to work for it, imagining how much happier everyone else was in life. Now just go online and people will tell you how much better their lives are than yours. Like why do you have to ruin my delusions? Sometimes I like imagining that just getting out of bed is enough of an accomplishment for the day.
Plenty of decent people use social media too, so I try not to paint everyone with the same brush. I guess I just have trouble ignoring the more negative aspects of the whole thing. Yesterday, I saw that Hitler of all people has a Twitter account. One of his recent tweets to his 255,000 followers reads, “What was the hardest part of WW2? My dick.” Yeah, stay classy there, Adolf. Meanwhile there are plenty of positive, successful role models that never felt the allure of this bird business. George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence both abstain from microblogging. So is it better to stand with the sexiest man alive and the woman ELLE called, “the most powerful woman in the entertainment business in 2013”, or with a man with a silly mustache? I think we know the right answer.
Anyone who’s seen some Alfred Hitchcock probably thinks this whole bird cult won’t end well, but I’m not trying to say Mark Zuckerberg is this generation’s Jim Jones or anything. But if he ever offers me a glass of Kool-Aid I’ll still decline. Yes, even if it’s cherry. I understand some people get a lot of good use out of social media even though I don’t. That difference of opinion is fine. You see a mother bird regurgitating into her chick’s mouth and call it gross? Well that chick calls it dinner. It’s just that there’re enough tragic stories like Tyler Clementi’s, and Amanda Todd’s out there to remind me social media doesn’t make everyone’s life better, and shouldn’t be viewed as essential.
So even though I feel like kind of a failure for not being able to utilize this thing that’s so ingrained in most people’s lives now, it’s not like I’m left unable to communicate. On Mashable, Ruby Karp wrote an article called, “I’m 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook,” explaining why her generation might skip Facebook as well. She says, “Although I do have a Facebook, none of my other friends do. My friends just thought it was a waste of time. I decided to get a Facebook just to see what it was all about. I soon discovered that Facebook is useless without friends.” Right now it’s all about being concise with the 140 characters on Twitter, or your 7 seconds on Vine. Twitter has become a gigantic flock where people feel the ability to hear so many voices at once makes them more informed. Me though, I feel more sociable having one conversation with a single person than trying to be heard among the millions on Twitter. So what if the generation after Ruby Karp’s feels the same way? As Ruby says, social media needs teens to survive. But what if teens decide they don’t need social media?