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Needing to relax? Distance from social media

Commentary: Maintaing my health in an age of COVID

In 2016, at the peak of the Trump vs. Clinton presidential race, I lost one of my best friends. No, he did not die, fortunately; he “unfriended” me on Facebook. Why did he unfriend me? I can’t say for sure, but the conflict began after I posted something about how I wish we could care for each other as much as we seem to care about who is occupying the White House for the next four years.

Such hippy, love-thy-neighbor horse hockey is unacceptable when we have the next Hitler running for president, or so rang the tenor of the feedback I received for my impertinence. I must voice my hatred or else be condemned as a traitor. Or, in this case, unfriended.

Alas my friends, Facebook has become the Two Minute Hate.

For those who haven’t read “1984” by George Orwell, the Two Minute Hate was a group ritual that served to channel the rage that persons felt toward the lack of control over their own lives away from the Party and against purported enemies of the Party.

Shad, the guy who unfriended me, was (and still is in my heart) a real-life friend. One of the best friends I’ve ever had in fact.

Both English majors with a desire to live life as prescribed by Henry David Thoreau: “…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” Shad and I became like brothers during our SUNY Fredonia days. We became so close in fact, after graduating we made the spontaneous decision to drive across the country with barely any money in our pockets to live like Beatniks from a bygone era in the town of Beatniks and Hippies, San Francisco, Calif.

I could fill a book describing all the fun we had together, but among the major highlights of our year-long stay in the City by the Bay was the time we accidentally attended the Memorial Service of “Howl” author Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997).

Ginsberg wrote one of the most famous first lines in all of literature: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” (1956). Fast forward 64 years from Howl’s publication and I personally feel that an update is in order.

“I saw the word ‘friend’ as used by all living generations around the globe, co-opted and destroyed by Facebook.”

I admit it doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly as the original, but hey, at least it’s accurate. And I’m not just grinding an ax here. Talk to anyone who has left Facebook (I know, they’re few and far between, but they do exist) and they will tell you how much relief they’ve experienced as a result. The toxic discourse that floods Facebook is such that psychologists have identified a disorder associated with its misuse: Social Media Anxiety Disorder.

It took me a while — four years, in fact — to realize that I was suffering many of the symptoms associated with the disorder. Clashes on Facebook have kept me up at night.I would spend more time in front of the screen arguing about the news of the day – something none of us has ANY control over – than I would be spending time with my beautiful wife, kids, family, or real-life friends. I’ve had entire weekends ruined because I couldn’t stop obsessing over how to get a “friend” or a group of “friends” to see things from my point of view.

By the way, you’d think we as a collective would realize by now that Facebook is not the platform for those who are desiring to change people’s minds. It’s also not the platform for people to read the article you post. So, the debate you end up spending so much time and energy on is based on folks just reading the headline or the comment you made about the article, not the article itself.

I believe that we are ALL suffering from Social Media Anxiety Disorder to some extent. Why?

My unprofessional answer: Because social media (especially Facebook), is not real, genuine, authentic, socializing. If you can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or hear the person or people you are socializing with, can you even use the word “socializing” to describe the interaction?

Arguments and debates I have with friends and family can be intellectually stimulating as long as they don’t take place on Facebook. Face-to-face disagreements always carry a potential to escalate, but more often than not, because we can look each other in the eye, because there are other non-verbal cues that we as a species have adapted over thousands of years of socializing with each other; because when a person is right in front of you, you can tell that he or she is indeed a person, disagreements are easier to settle.

Facebook arguments on the other hand are a lot more likely to trigger behavior I feel is very much akin to road rage. We are much less likely to feel compassion for a car that cuts us off in traffic because we forget that inside the car is a person just like you and me. When we read a paragraph or a meme about something that we completely disagree with, we forget that there is a person behind the meme, even if we can tell right there that it’s Sally Smith(or whomever).

Here’s the real kicker: there are people who I have been friends with prior to Facebook, but because I’ve interacted with them way more extensively on Facebook, I forgot what they are like in real life. My sense of who they are is completely deluded by what they post. I fear that some of my real-life friends have done the same with me. They have been replacing their real-life memories of me with what I post on Facebook.

I fear that’s what happened with Shad. He replaced all our awesome times together with my refusal to hate Trump as much as he hates Trump.

But guess what: I am not my Facebook profile. Neither are you. My online persona represents a very slim slice of who I am as a human being and a spirit and a soul. My online profile can never represent anything more than my ego, no matter how funny or positive the content is that I post. My negative and positive emotions are triggered by positive or negative feedback.That’s not the kind of dynamic mature adults should be cultivating. That’s how children behave!

In fact, Facebook and almost all social media platforms are nothing more than playgrounds for our egos. We don’t need more ego in this world. We need less.

Facebook has truly become a toxic wasteland and the more we remain in that realm, the more likely we are to become infected by its filth, the more we spread that toxicity to our real-life friends and family.

That’s why I quit it completely and I don’t mean I logged off and I’m refusing to log back on. I did what we all should do.

I unfriended everyone. All 520 “friends” have been unfriended.

If you were one of them, please don’t take it personally. I simply can’t be your “Fakebook” “friend” anymore. I don’t want to engage in any more Two Minute Hates. I want to love you the way friends are supposed to love each other. Remember what that was like?

Damian Sebouhian, a Dunkirk resident, is a former OBSERVER reporter.

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