Why You Left Social Media: A Guesswork

Just wanted to drop this piece by Sofia Samatar into a Linkdump but I love it way too much. This is beautiful, especially the ending: Why You Left Social Media: A Guesswork.

At first I thought you were simply taking a break, as writers sometimes do, to meet a deadline or clear your head. That was before the election. Later, during the election and its aftermath, I thought maybe you left because you couldn’t stand the climate. Maybe you’d been harassed, maybe you hated the polarization, the sense that there was no language outside the logic of rival clubs, or maybe you were just tired, maybe you felt you had nothing to add. Perhaps you were suffering a kind of political depression.

I don’t know what you’re doing, today, with your time. […]

A friend of mine once described Twitter as an endless cocktail party. It sounded wonderful. I still like to get ready and I like to go out. I turn myself from side to side in my cocktail dress. I place myself between two mirrors so I can see the back of my hair. I’m not trying to be the most fashionable at the party, or the prettiest, but it’s important to me that I look like myself. I have a certain look. When I scroll through my feed, I’m checking, first of all, to see if I have done justice to this look. There has to be some political commentary, but not too much. I also need a kind of lightness, a sense of joy. Another clip at the nape of the neck might help, or longer earrings. There should be a balance between pop culture and literary references. There are no capital letters unless absolutely necessary. Punctuation is minimal. My colors are black, turquoise, and red. When I look like myself, I feel confident and buoyant. If I make a mistake, accidentally say something that’s not me, I have to go back, take my hair down, start over.

A party where you’re always simultaneously at the party and getting ready for the party. Did it exhaust you?

This is leaving aside the whole question of followers, likes, comments, and so on. You’re at the party, you’re getting ready for the party, and with every passing instant the people around you are reacting to the way you adjust a curl, your choice of shoes. They react or they don’t react. If no one reacts, not even one person, something is wrong. Of course, again, I’m projecting onto you. Maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Maybe that’s really a type of person.

Matias Viegener composed an entire book on Facebook. He wrote: “In the end, we hear everything, even when we think we’re ignoring it.” […]

How to describe today? There’s a white sky layered with blue-gray clouds. There’s a chance of rain in the evening. There’s a stillness, a murky lethargy, to the street. With the right tools I could track the clouds, as I follow the flows and swells of data, what’s trending, what’s popular in my circles, what’s hot. How matter likes to hang out together. Meteorologist of the internet, I read word clouds that map data visually, enlarging the words with the most weight. “One can’t argue with a word cloud,” writes Jodi Dean. “It doesn’t take a position. It marks a moment. It registers aspects of the intensity of that moment: repetition entails intensity, in this equation. But one doesn’t know why or whether it’s called for or what it’s in relation to. It’s just intense.” Did you drop social media because you got sick of reading the sky? Is there a phobia attached to the contemporary—a kind of comprehension fatigue? Weather predictions are wrong all the time. […]

What I don’t know (a sample): How people are being marginalized in the context of unceasing pressure to speak. How to respond to these new, untheorized dynamics. Whether or not these dynamics are new. Whether or not they are untheorized. Whether or not you were right to leave social media. Whether or not I should leave social media. How to write code. How to build a website without a template. Whether, when I say something that’s not me, it’s the accidental slip that’s not me, or the effort to correct it. How to contribute. How to be real. The difference between a word cloud and a field of non-paradigmatic intensities. The precise amount of money a given Facebook executive will make from a photograph of someone’s baby. The precise amount of money social media executives, as a group, and tech industry leaders, and advertisers, have made from my impulses, organizing, sadness, and fears, and what they have done with it.

How to understand the present? Was I a parasite to you, or is this what it means to be a person?

The first time you responded to me, the first time we really talked, I turned silver all over the inside of my skin.

Something ghostly in the air. Clouds gather and dissolve. There’s a bitterness to them today, a faint stench of exhaust. The sky seems wasted, left behind. Once you said: “I think there’s a sense that if you are not online, you do not exist.”

What I know (a sample): Social media hold out the promise of authenticity, but never fulfill it. In this way, they reproduce the craving for authenticity. I’m caught up in this, like everyone else online, but still I want to say: To me you seemed like a person, a soul. I miss you.