Social Media and Mental Miasma

Snapchat was a #HellNo from the get-go to me.

I haven’t made a post about minimalism in a while, and this blog primarily treats it where it intersects with Hellenism. When I cut back on social media last year, I deleted my Instagram and Facebook.

I made content rules for myself regarding what I could post on Twitter using a popular Minimalist community member’s worksheet. I kept Tumblr because the people whom I follow there make me feel happy and enriched by their posts. Goodreads, too, I kept — it’s where I have been managing my reading lists for years. All of the accounts I retained have a purpose.

Social media is designed to addict and distract. It doesn’t matter where one socializes — I quit Facebook, but someone else’s trigger space might be Tumblr or Twitter any of the myriad other platforms. Snapchat’s expiring and self-deleting posts sound like an ultimate social media slot machine, so I refuse to even visit the base URL.

When I think about social media, I think of baby Zagreus distracted by toys while the Titans creep through the grass to kill him. I also have a mental mash-up of Plato’s Cave and the concept in the Yoga Sutras of the light of the soul throwing images on the walls as they filter through mental and physical experiences — and how we get caught up so much with these images that we forget to re-center ourselves in the knowledge that these things are all just light and shadow.

Sometimes, the shadows thrown in imagination and in the garden of delights are good and aretê-enhancing. These are the things that motivate people to do better. I follow constructed language prompts on Tumblr that make my craft better because they help me think about my projects in new ways. I follow indigenous language rights Tumblr and Twitter accounts, and these enhance my understanding and vocabulary when explaining why I support Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and religious freedom to others.

Focusing on Hellenism, I follow Tumblr and Twitter accounts that show historical religious art from the areas and time periods where and when the Athanatoi were given high honors and some Tumblr accounts that post compelling devotional ideas, anecdotes, and images. I can satisfy myself learning new things and committing to grow in these spaces. I can learn about new creative projects of people in our communities and flag things that I want to read and follow up on. That is my firm boundary for a good use of social media.

Here is an adorable cat photo from @AncientAnatolia with the Library of Ephesus in the background, which many of us need in our lives. Here is an amazing image of Hermes, and here is someone I follow conlanging out the polytheistic epithet system in one of ler constructed languages.

With time reclaimed from social media, I can make space to read things like The Final Pagan Generation or Greek Gods Abroad. (I’m currently reading the latter.) I have the mental space and energy to grow in my household worship and devotional practice while working a 40-hour-a-week job and writing 10,000 words per week total, spread across my creative projects. For someone in an older generation who didn’t grow up alongside the Internet, none of this may sound like a big deal, and it probably sounds like us young’uns didn’t develop crucial life skills. It is huge for me and for many Millennials, who were taught how to use technology but not how to be mindful about it and hold space in our minds and lives for ourselves.

There is a cycle, though, to the social media I have retained. It’s more evident on Twitter than it is on Tumblr, and it’s hardly present at all on Goodreads. It’s been even more evident since January 2017. Twitter cycles through periods of anxiety and panic that tend to peak on Thursdays, after our administration has had the time in the earlier part of the week to lash out and injure the dignity and rights of queer people, women, and racial/ethnic minorities. The cycle is less visible on Tumblr, perhaps due to the Tumblrs I follow.

It’s easy to turn the bad things happening in this world into co-rumination. If something upsets me online, I need to figure out why and how to make it actionable. For instance, when I was upset over a news article about a transgender six-year-old girl being denied bathroom access because the nurse was not at school that day (also, Focus on the Family’s anti-trans bus was showing up in my city that week), I showed up at a pro-trans rally because that was a concrete way of showing my support for transgender rights.

What I’ve learned since leaving Facebook is that no social media platform is inherently miasmic. It all depends on the effect a platform has on you and your mindful self-awareness. It all depends on your ability to disengage and step back when things get heated or upsetting — because it is in those quiet mental moments when a person can center limself and think, discovering ler own voice at the center of that maelstrom.

For me, Facebook led to an endless stream of anxiety. It, like all other social media platforms, is designed to keep you there even when that’s not the best thing for your mind and soul — and so those feelings just looped. People share things on Facebook that they’d never share in their real lives. They get into arguments because everyone is there, and by the time these arguments are done, do you have enough time and mental energy to actually call your rep over the appallingly low FEMA budget? Probably not.

I don’t intend to go back to Facebook ever. Messenger doesn’t require an account there, and Facebook has removed the giant white boxes that prevented me from seeing page/event updates without an account.

I have grown up with technology, and I was never taught the same mental stamina techniques that older generations use. Instead, I have to learn them on my own. I control and limit my access to some web sites via extensions like Offtime (phone) and Freedom.to (web). I activate Offtime whenever I can feel my mind swaying towards noise, and Freedom.to is on a schedule where it activates and cuts me off from social media for most of my weekday evenings. That way, I can focus on my creative projects and things that actually matter in my life. Better focus on my projects is a transferrable skill I can use in ritual.

(I also recently listened to this podcast episode, which will change how I work, read, and live even further.)

After all, what good is liking someone’s post on Twitter about finally publishing that devotional work if social media keeps me too distracted to read it?

And be honest — how many of you clicked on that cat photo and got distracted by your Twitter notifications and timeline? 😜

 

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