My friends and I started an online literary magazine, weirderary. We are reading submissions until September 1st. We’ve received a lot of good poetry so far, but really want more flash fiction, short stories, and creative nonfiction. We also accept art and comics. If you write or draw or photograph or do something else that you think we might be interested in, please send it our way! Here are the official weirderary submission guidelines. Also, please follow us on twitter and instagram.
Along with much of the country, I’ve followed the aftermath of police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri for the past few months. Through this, I became more aware of institutionalized racism in the US, particularly where it overlaps with police brutality and the militarization of police forces. I was already aware of these issues to an extent, but really had no clue how often the injustices lead to death, specifically the death of Black men. The Guardian article comparing lynchings of years past to police killings today was one of many that opened my eyes.
As is usually true when I turn my attention toward death, I’ve felt helpless as I’ve watched the scene in Ferguson unfold and learned more about similar incidents happening all over the United States. I’ve wondered what I could do. Thanks to twitter, I found three concrete things:
1. Donate to the Ferguson Library.
I learned about the Ferguson Municipal Public Library fundraising effort via Ashley Ford. The Ferguson Library’s website has a donation button in the upper right corner of the front page. They received around $300,000 in donations last week, which exceeds their yearly budget. They might hire a second full-time librarian as a result. They stayed open when the local public schools closed as a result of unrest and they host many community events. Although I did not have very much money to give, I felt good supporting this community institution. I believe in the transformative power of reading and writing, and donating to a library is a way to translate that belief into action.
2. Talk about Ferguson in my classroom.
I learned about #FergusonSyllabus via David M. Perry, who wrote an article calling upon academics to use the lenses of their disciplines to analyze Ferguson-related texts such as Darren Wilson’s testimony in the classroom. Next semester I am teaching a composition course focused on rhetorical analysis of public campaigns so this will fit in perfectly. I originally wanted to use local social issues as examples in the class so I might choose a police brutality case from Florida to focus in on instead, but the conversation will be similar and I can easily relate it to the Mike Brown killing as well.
The challenge here will be approaching this as objectively as possible. Clearly I have strong opinions on police brutality in the US right now–I will not share them outright in the classroom and I don’t want them to become immediately obvious to my students through the structure of my lessons. The purpose will be for them to think critically about the rhetoric used by all of the involved parties, engage in dialogue about it, and draw their own conclusions, which could very well end up being different than my own. Maybe I will share what I come up with on this blog as I develop course objectives and create my lesson plans.
3. Start conversations with people. Write a blog post.
I follow many writers on twitter and several of them wrote about Ferguson. I am often awed by Roxane Gay’s writings on current events, and her response to Ferguson was no exception. She is consistently eloquent and moving, putting forth honest, raw emotion that only bolsters her often strong and logical arguments. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article on Obama’s official response to the Darren Wilson non-indictment is another one that got me thinking more deeply about the issue.
At first I hesitated to write about Ferguson. It’s a blatantly racially-charged situation and I’m White. Also, I don’t have a journalism background or regularly write about current events. I worried I’d mess it all up and look both racist and stupid (or, perhaps worse, faux-enlightened and arrogant). Then I realized that allowing my self-conscious fears to determine my action (or inaction) would be the ultimate selfish, ego-driven act. This tragic event–one of many in a nationwide pattern of similar events–is not about me.
We currently live in a society where White police kill Black citizens once every few days and face few or no repercussions. It isn’t okay. It is systemic, institutionalized violence and murder. To recognize that and remain silent is to assent to this system of injustice. Although my initial responses to Ferguson were sadness and helplessness, I will not allow those to lead to complacency or inaction. The three things I’m doing about this issue might be small, but they are the actions available to me.
About a year ago I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I have no regrets and am very glad I did it. Still, a full year later, I regularly have people acting like it’s strange I’m not on Facebook and asking why I quit. Here are my top ten reasons:
1. I felt addicted.
I checked Facebook every day, multiple times per day. As I began bringing more mindfulness into my day, I realized I was checking the phone app instinctively, without even realizing it, whenever I had the least bit of down time. I’d look at Facebook while sitting on the toilet or waiting in line at a store, for example. Of course this avoidance of the present moment can be achieved through other smart phone activities such as playing games, text messaging, or browsing online stores, but for whatever reason those do not hold the same pull for me.
Although I don’t think my frequent checking of Facebook qualified as a true “addiction” (it didn’t interfere with my work or social life), it bothered me to know I was engaging in an unconscious behavior so frequently. It bothered me even more to think that Facebook had probably spent several years and millions of dollars intentionally making their site more addictive and I had fallen right into their trap. It made me feel dumb, as if I lacked self-control, and as if I was being fooled.
2. It was a waste of my time.
As I became more aware of how often I checked Facebook, I realized what a waste that was. At first I tried to justify it since I usually wasn’t on Facebook for more than a few minutes at a time, but I realized even those short bursts had an attached opportunity cost. Minutes add up. Even if I spent only 10 minutes per day on Facebook (much less than I was spending), that is equivalent to 60 hours or 2.5 days over the course of a year. Thirty minutes a day is equivalent to 182.5 hours or 7.6 days per year. I wondered how different my life would be if I spent those minutes doing something of value, such as reading a book, silently meditating, or writing down short story ideas.
3. It negatively impacted my mood.
As I became more mindful, I noticed that my mood soured a bit any time I went on Facebook. I’m not sure why. Maybe it had to do with FOMO (fear of missing out) after seeing snippets of other people’s lives, or maybe my feelings were hurt because I didn’t get enough “likes.” Maybe I was just disappointed in myself for checking something I no longer wanted to check. Either way, I felt worse after looking at it and did not enjoy time spent on the site.
4. I didn’t gain anything from it.
People have asked why I quit Facebook but not LinkedIn or twitter, as if that implies some inconsistency. I have recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn, and the service has helped me get jobs in the past. Some day I’d like to delete my LinkedIn account, but right now I’m still obtaining value from it. Twitter hasn’t provided me any tangible value like that, but I enjoy it, and enjoyment is valuable. People I follow on twitter regularly make me laugh or share articles that make me think. With Facebook, I couldn’t identify any positive value.
Full disclosure: Six months ago, I had to create a dummy Facebook account to manage my work’s company page. It isn’t a “real” account–it has no photos, information, or friends. I did use it a few months ago to join an MFA Creative Writing group, however. I wondered if Facebook groups like that would provide value, and if I’d deleted my old account too hastily. In the end, I left the group and reaffirmed that I am not missing anything valuable by being off of Facebook. For a couple of weeks the group became a thing to obsessively check as I waited to hear back from schools (with many others in the group saying they did the same), and I probably would’ve been better off without joining it.
5. It seemed boring and out of touch.
When I first joined Facebook I was in my early/mid-twenties. It was new(ish) and cool (or at least interesting in its novelty) and exclusive in the sense that you couldn’t join without a university email address. By the time I quit, my grandma was on there. So was my mom. So were a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins. So were people from work. Their updates bored me, and knowing they read mine made me paranoid that I was being judged for showing them parts of my personality I wouldn’t normally show to them.
The whole thing began to feel stupid and pointless, the same way myspace felt right before I stopped using that. I reached a point where I’d sign on and think, “Why do we all do this?” Once I’d hit my 30s, my Facebook feed became overrun with photos of weddings and babies. I have nothing against either–I love meeting my friends’ babies and cry at every wedding I attend–but if I’m not close enough with someone for them to personally tell me about their major life events, I don’t really care to know about them.
6. I resented the way it changed my relationships.
A close friend got engaged and I didn’t know about it because I was taking a Facebook break at the time. (If you doubt our closeness, know that I later stood in her wedding.) Same with another close friend who had her baby. When I expressed hurt at not being notified of these major events, the people who had them said they didn’t contact friends individually because they figured everyone would see the news on Facebook. I didn’t like that.
On my birthday, I received over 100 “Happy Birthday!” wall posts from people who I doubt would’ve showed up if I had thrown a party, and a few from people I consider close friends. The mix made me realize that Facebook was blurring the lines between close friend and casual acquaintance. I didn’t like that, either.
I decided if our society is moving toward more relationship exchanges happening via (quasi-) public broadcast rather than true interpersonal communication, I don’t want to be a part of it. Instead of the widespread broadcasting and reading of others’ broadcasts, I want my real relationships to be obviously maintained through actual personal intimacy. I decided I was okay with allowing any acquaintanceships that were purely Facebook-maintained to fade away.
7. I resented the way it changed words.
A friend said to me, “I think I’m friends with him, but I’m not sure.” When I asked if she was unsure if she liked him or not, she clarified no, she just couldn’t remember if she’d “sent him a request.” I’ve heard many people say they “like” something, when they mean they went on Facebook and clicked a button that says “like” in conjunction with that thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a reader and a writer and a respecter of language, but this irritates me and I don’t want to propagate it.
8. I resented its attempt to become a necessity.
There are many things I dislike about Google, but I’m not going to quit gmail because I want to be a member of the present day. Email is a necessity. A wireless phone (maybe even a smart phone, at this point) is also a necessity for the lifestyle I live. Facebook is optional. Of course the company would love people to believe otherwise–the more “normal” and ubiquitous it is to have a Facebook account, the more money Facebook shareholders make. I actively reject and resent this idea. I identify it as something strategically pushed on the general public so certain people can increase their profits. I don’t want to help them. (In August, when I quit my present job and start school, I will permanently delete my dummy Facebook account and be 100% Facebook-free.)
9. All of the reasons I could think of for staying on it were negative and fear-based.
I wanted to quit Facebook much earlier than I did, but I held on out of fear. The number one reason I could think of for staying active on Facebook was that something bad might happen if I didn’t. What bad thing, you ask? I don’t know. That’s the thing–I didn’t have anything specific I thought would happen, just a general feeling that Facebook wasn’t something I could live without. The few times I mentioned to others that I wanted to quit, they reacted as if I were talking about doing something insane, like choosing to live on the street. I don’t want to live a fear-based life.
10. I hated giving up that much personal information.
Privacy is one of the main reasons I quit Facebook. I list it last, however, because when I’ve named privacy as a reason for quitting Facebook, people have either acted like I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist or rushed to remind me that Apple, Google, Verizon, and every store that has a loyalty program is working hard to erode my privacy as well. The latter is true, but still a logical fallacy (called the nirvana fallacy) when used as a reason for me to stay on Facebook. Sure, my privacy isn’t being kept perfectly by everyone. That is no reason to go and voluntarily share even more private information with a company that I know will immediately give it to the government and sell it to advertisers and marketers.
Facebook’s invasion of privacy bothers me more than most others. They don’t just want your name, they want it all–birth date, phone number, current location, birth town, company, schools attended and degrees attained, sex, romantic relationship status. Years ago, I remember reading conspiracy theories about government plans to steal and stockpile citizens’ personal information. It turns out they didn’t have to steal it–we willingly typed it into Facebook ourselves.
To sum it up: I used to unconsciously check Facebook multiple times per day even though it was collecting and sharing my private information, wasting my time, providing me no value, negatively impacting the nature of my relationships, and putting me in a bad mood. I’ve never once regretted quitting Facebook, and the short time I joined a group using a dummy account just reaffirmed my decision to permanently delete my account. Although I won’t overstate it and try to pretend that quitting Facebook has completely changed my life, I will say I generally feel happier, healthier, and smarter without it.