Hav­ing delet­ed my Insta­gram account about a month ago, I am now essen­tial­ly sober from social media. I still have an emp­ty Face­book account to keep up with a few local event sched­ules and to facil­i­tate the use of Face­book Mar­ket­place, and still main­tain a LinkedIn pro­file, but nei­ther of those demand atten­tion unless I want to give it.

This exci­sion has result­ed in imme­di­ate ben­e­fits: most clear­ly hav­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly more time and capac­i­ty to engage with and enjoy real­i­ty. I went on vaca­tion and took maybe 3 pic­tures — I shared them via text with my mom and best friend, I know no one else gave a shit.

The insid­i­ous­ness of paraso­cial behav­ior online is the mas­quer­ade. It is sup­posed to feel like real social engage­ment — we think we’re doing a thing by post­ing all our shit online, but every bit of it is ersatz1.

Has this caused rela­tion­ships to suf­fer? Not at all. The peo­ple I no longer “engage with” are the ones who weren’t real rela­tion­ships, and the ones who want­ed my phone num­ber have kept in touch over the last month to alert me to things in their life worth know­ing about. The out­come is clar­i­ty. I have a bet­ter con­nec­tion with a chaos magi­cian I’ve nev­er met who lives in Cal­i­for­nia than I do with peo­ple I’ve been going to shows with for the past decade.

You can recov­er from being ter­mi­nal­ly online. I lis­ten to pod­casts, I spend time on Spo­ti­fy, I text, call, or make real world plans with peo­ple I want to spend time with. I don’t scroll for hours look­ing at con­tent, or feel oblig­at­ed to present a vision of myself, com­pete for atten­tion, or “cre­ate con­tent” of my own.

The lan­guage of online is the lan­guage of paraso­cial­i­ty. “Engage­ment” and “Con­tent Cre­ation” and “Influ­enc­ing” trans­ac­tion­al­ize (and mon­e­tize) the lived expe­ri­ence. It made me sick and I rid myself of it.

The Aris­totelian view of friend­ship laid out in the Nico­machean Ethics out­lines three dif­fer­ent con­cep­tions of why we like spe­cif­ic peo­ple:

  1. They are use­ful to us;
  2. They give us plea­sure;
  3. They are vir­tu­ous.

The goal for Aris­to­tle is that a real friend­ship is based on this good­ness or virtue; while the oth­er two cat­e­gories are based on self­ish use­ful­ness. Part of what changed about me dur­ing the pan­dem­ic is a focus on this virtue. I’ll try to talk about that more in anoth­er post, but for now, the result is that I waste a lot less time than I used to on peo­ple or things that are not good, even if they may be use­ful or plea­sur­able.

  1. I rec­og­nize the irony of that state­ment since this will be post­ed online, but this weblog is 22 years old and has always been more diary than any­thing else. ↩︎