Confessions of a Social Media Addict
When It's Time To Log Off
“I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.” Just kidding. Unless…
“I here present you, courteous reader, with the record of a remarkable period in my life: according to my application of it, I trust that it will prove not merely an interesting record, but in a considerable degree useful and instructive.” Ah, that’s more like it.
I recently “took a little break from social media” because things were getting unpleasant. I had complained about an article that was saying Substack was a scam. I actually think I made too much of a fuss about it, claiming the author was ‘hurting my business’ and so forth. Part of the big fuss was, because of a bit I had been doing about being a “small-holder”, a little peasant or artisan shopkeeper squeezed by the Big Estates (big name substackers) and establishment anti-Substack ideologues. I was in the process of inventing my own little politics around it, calling for a Republic of smallholding substackers and a Tribune of small-stacking plebs and so forth. I thought it was kinda funny and other people got that. I wasn’t really trying to start my own political movement, but it’s always a little unclear where jokes begin and end online. Another big part of this all was just because I was bored. I was in my apartment, all alone on a Thursday night, nothing was holding my interest, so I just started to spout nonsense to pass the time.
In fact, I did lose some followers the day that article came out, which would’ve added up to a few hundreds of dollars a year. (I also don’t know why they left, maybe they didn’t like my writing.) It was not a disaster, but some genuine worry crept in although I mostly just thought the thing was absurd. I went to sleep after my rant and woke up to find that the complaints had done the trick: I now had even more subscribers than before the article attempting to criticize and damage Substack had come out. In a way, this whole controversy did me a favor! I admitted with some embarrassment that I had actually gotten more followers after my little fit and noted the irony: it always pays to whine on social media. Then some people I have had a longstanding unpleasantness with—people who have sort of appointed themselves tribunes of a certain culture war position—began to attack my earlier tweets as evidence of my hypocrisy about cancel culture and wokeness and whatnot. I just want to say that I have absolutely earned the enmity of these people fair and square. I’m not sure who “started it,” (it was me) but I have definitely personally insulted them both on multiple occasions. I have also apologized to both and then, after some time, went and insulted them again. I have regretted the apologies in both cases, thinking later, “No, I shouldn’t have apologized. They are both really terrible scoundrels! I was weak and cowardly! They deserve everything they get!” Then I felt sorry again and wished to apologize again, but then reflected I always regretted doing that. So I don’t think this is really anything ideological: I was personally nasty to them and probably got some cheap laughs as a result, and they are justifiably angry with me.
Why am I like this? Well, because I really don’t like them. And also I am very unpleasant. That’s perhaps not right to say, because I don’t actually know them. I just don’t like the way they express themselves, it annoys me, and I’ve taken it upon myself, as a duly-self-appointed member of the public, to correct that mode of expression from time to time. Sometimes I legitimately disagree with the ideas involved, but I am honestly mostly irked by the way they say them—their style. It just seems sour and humorless and bad and clumsy to me, and I want them to stop it. They have returned the compliments in kind. Knowing myself, I think I probably started it. I have a tendency to be very aggressive, but I’m also oversensitive. Obviously, this is not a good combination. I start a lot of fights, but then don’t have the thick-skinnéd-ness to see them through. I want to call a truce quickly. Is this a sign of good character? Probably not. But I do also find grudges and anger to be personally oppressive and like to let them go easily. I sort of expect people will want to do the same, which is not a fair expectation.
Why not just ignore people who annoy you? That’s a good question. The problem is that I spend too much time on social media. It’s like being caged with other animals. I see them doing their thing, it starts to annoy me, I am bored and irritated, and then I begin to bite and scratch. Lately, I find this whole cycle exhausting and have tried to tamp down the aggression, because it upsets and tires me and I don’t think it makes me look great either. I also genuinely do not want to cause real, lasting injury to anyone. I think often we don’t quite know how wounding our words can be online: we think we are just being sporting, it’s actually a harmful blow. So with people that really annoy me and I end up fighting with often, I just have taken to just blocking them. This way they will leave me alone and I will leave them alone. I will not be tempted to bite and scratch, and hopefully neither will they. But some people have carried the vendettas through this attempted unilateral withdrawal. In a way, again, I can’t say this is unfair exactly: I have definitely done more than my part to earn these enmities. In both cases, I actually had some friendly or neutral interactions with these people and it was only after extended periods of bickering that it just clearly spilled over into open war.
One of them said I am, “unprincipled.” At first this offended me, but on reflection I have to plead guilty to this one. I am, in fact, unprincipled. I often joke online that I’m running a business and I’m only out for money, etc. Well, how much of that is a joke really? I do hope my writing is entertaining and interesting for people and I hope I can make a living off it. One friend recently said, “I don’t really retain what you write, but it’s really entertaining.” This is the best compliment anyone can ever pay me. Who doesn’t just want to be a fun person to spend a little time with? I regret often that my main subject matter, history and politics, is so serious and heavy, but I’m drawn to it. I think I would’ve liked to be a food writer better.
As I said, my dislike of the people in question was less political than about personal dislike, so less principled than aesthetic. I don’t think I have really carried a brief for any position in the culture war they think is so important. I have made fun of the partisans of these issues from time to time, but because I felt they were pretentious or melodramatic or canting; once again more about the way it was expressed. I never held a strong position on a lot of these issues, partly because I am still sorting my thoughts out about them. I admit this is self-interested, in two senses of the term: both because I want to alienate as few readers as possible and also because of out of a sheer sense of pride and self-regard I don’t want to consider myself any “sort” of writer, associated with this or that clique or faction or issue. I confess I think I’m sort of better than all of it. I also hope it’s possible to say something different or not repeat the exact same analysis or ideas that have been stated by others. I’m sure I fail of this effect and fall into hackishness, but it’s still a hope of mine. But don’t get me wrong: I am not copping to be totally venal and arrogant, just partially.
I do have politics. There are issues I think are important and ones I think are less important. But it’s true I don’t usually consult a set of principles, though. I’m not a philosopher or a theorist. I rely on my judgment: I try to sort out what irritates me, what offends me, what I find disgusting, and so forth. Like all writers, I do take my own judgments too seriously from time to time, and mistake my distastes for matters of principle, which helps to justify when I dislike people or things and want to attack them. I can’t systematically defend all my tastes and foibles, or even what I find morally objectionable, or what annoys me and what I think is noble and good. I sometimes try to give them principled or rational basis, but I think it’s a bit pretentious to insist too much on the utter rationality and objectivity of my own opinions. They come from a place that I don’t really have full access to, but I hope is at least interesting to explore. It’s certainly possible that that unknown place is totally self-serving, and just always leads me to perfectly serve fashion and the market, but I will say in my defense that, first of all, that would make me have the smartest Id of all time, and second, I think I’d be a lot richer already if that were true.
So, yes, I want to say I’m sorry now. Not to these people necessarily, because I always regret apologizing to them. As far as I’m concerned, they are still scoundrels and they will always be scoundrels. (See, I am sticking to my principles this time.) I’m sorry I ever encountered them and I’m sorry I spend so much time on social media where we found each other: We might have all had perfectly pleasant lives not having any idea the others existed. Anyway, I am going to try to enjoy living my life off twitter for the next little bit of time and focus on my book. I’m always most sorry to have ever taken myself so seriously. I’m also very sorry to ever have “met” many of you. I’m sorry we all live in this stupid context. And I’m sorry you all apparently have problems. Well, goodbye for now!