It is easy to hate Facebook nowadays. Or anything that requires some social element. Yet here we are, feeding the animals our livelihood in exchange for obscure self-worth. To think there was a time not too long ago where no one gave a shit about your vacation photos.
Two things happened on the eve of my 32nd birthday. I was sitting at home and stewing over something I had seen on Facebook and Twitter. I also watched Paterson.
The former: I couldn’t tell you what it was that bothered me. Not even the context of the conversation or the issue at hand. What I did know is that the thing I used to keep up with all of my friends and family became the thing that I also used to keep up on news and current events. The streams had crossed. There was no such thing as polite conversation anymore. Like assholes at the library, I was subject to loud conversations that I wanted nothing to do with while I was trying to get something done.
Then I saw Paterson. It’s the latest Jim Jarmusch flick released on Amazon. Adam Driver plays Paterson, who lives in modern day Paterson, New Jersey, makes a living driving a bus, and writes (by hand!) fabulous Then he does nothing with them. No social media, because he doesn’t even have a phone. While the movie does not go without conflict, Paterson seems like an all-around happy guy.
Credits rolled, I deleted everything social off my phone. It was time to clean the kitchen.
When he still lived in Denver, I frequented a yoga instructor named Kyle who would always allude to “keeping people out of your kitchen.” He’d say this while pointing to his head. Your kitchen – the handful of gray matter between your ears that dominates your entire world. When people fuck with it, the entire self goes tits-up and the bad day ensues.
Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that “up in your kitchen” is an idiom as old as baseball and trash-talk. The idea is still the same: if your kitchen isn’t clean, you can’t cook. If you can’t cook, you won’t nourish. Give this circumstance a long enough timeline and we’re all corpses.
Speaking of nourishment – for platforms built around this idea of an “endless feed” of content, why is it we are rarely left feeling nourish after an hour of scrolling?
“Everyone is wishing you a happy birthday on Facebook,” my wife tells me over lunch. This is the day after Paterson, after the deleting of apps from my phone. That morning I had participated in a lazy (well, I made sure it was lazy) yoga practice at Red Rocks. Now we were gearing up for an afternoon at a music festival in the middle of the city. I only knew of three genuine birthday wishes – two granted through text messages, another through Messenger. The rest were not as sincere emails from brands (Happy Birthday! Why not take 20% off whatever you order TODAY (and today only!)).
The rest of the day I snapped a few photos with my phone’s camera. Those pictures then stayed there, on the camera, rather than be immediately shared out to harvest likes and comments. Every performance was live-streamed/ Snapped/ Instagrammed out to some degree. If someone were to harvest all of that footage I’m sure the entire festival could be pieced back together in a chaos of resolutions and camera angles and those little stamp filter things that go on everything.
When I finally crashed that night, my phone battery was still at 77%. Usually, it is completely drained.
All of this is not the manifesto of a retroactive luddite. I am not going to shirk responsibilities to hole up in a cabin heated by wood fire surviving off venison (although, should the opportunity volunteer itself…).
No, this is an observation to the thing that most of us are bothered by, but can’t quite name: Ambient Conversations. Like a busy room where everyone chatters so much you can’t finish a thought. Or how I can’t write if I know the words to the song I’m listening to. All of the social media which serves as the center point to our lives today is built on the idea of conversation. People you know, or don’t know, shouting into the void. Other people shouting back. Comments sections. Reactionary emojis. Entire news segments built around the latest thing the president Tweeted. Stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter but is paraded before us anyway.
These conversations and the profile pictures and usernames tied to them, they tend to fuck up your kitchen.
I used to like saying “Everyone always seems to be mad at something.” I guess it was rather alarming to discover that people actually went seeking out things to be upset over.
The solutions ended up being pretty simple:
- Instagram went back on the phone. It is the only app I genuinely love to use. The only one that I genuinely missed during the blackout. The ambient conversations are minimal.
- I only pay attention to the things that people intentionally want to speak with ME (and only me!) about. I’ve turned email notifications back on for a lot of the social apps to alert me when I’m directly tagged in or am invited to something.
- Save for notifications from a select few individuals, my phone is silent and dark.
- 20 minutes of news in the morning. That’s it. There was a time when news was dished out in 22-minute segments with commercial breaks. That was it. Then The Simpsons came on. I want to live in that world again. I have refined the news sources I need down to a single RSS feed. I may not know as much about the world anymore or what my friends think of it, and I’d love someone to convince me that this is a bad thing.
Everything got a lot quieter. The kitchen is cleaner. Now I just need to learn to cook.