Ditching Facebook: Week 2

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During my first week of limiting my Facebook use (see the article here) I felt some urges to log in when I was transitioning between tasks or had a free moment. During my second week, I no longer had any of these ticks (this sounds harsh, but I believe it’s accurate), but found that I felt less frazzled and “busy”. Having moments without media gave me more perspective on which tasks were important. It also got me thinking about my own ideas about “busyness”, in particular why I feel a compulsion to fill up my free moments.

In Glimpse of the Day Sogyal Rinpoche discusses active laziness, which he describes as the Western form of laziness. It consists of It consists of “cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time left to confront the real issues.” We subconsciously ensure that we do not have time to deal with issues that actually matter. Rinpoche previously points out in  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Busyness’s laziness “lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy”.

The upshot of active laziness is that we avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror. It is the last, strongest and ultimate resort of the ego (Ego here refers to Maya or Ahmkara, as opposed to the Freudian Ego) which keeps us in the material “dream”, not allowing us to look into (or even acknowledge the existence) of our spiritual selves. While Facebook and other Social Networking Sites are tools that we can use positively to keep in touch with others but it seems that many are using Facebook improperly. Psychologist have also been studying the effects of social media use over the past decade. While some studies have found that some aspects of SNSs improve people’s lives (See the most recent PEW research here) that others are detrimental.

The way that we relate with others on social media can adversely affect the way we relate to ourselves. Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst and psychologist at MIT discusses the effects of technology use on human relationships in her TED talk Connected, but Alone. She explains that while there are good uses of technology, it is changing us socially as well as internally in negative ways. Her work, though hundreds of interviews over the past 15 years, has found:

  1. That we are depending on mere connection over conversations with each other and that we expect more from technology and less from each other;
  2. We’re lonely but at the same time we are afraid of intimacy with others, but also ourselves;
  3. That social media relationships and general use of once removed technology (like texts, or any device that lets us put a barrier between ourselves and others) gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

Besides these problematic findings, she says that technology use can be addictive because it seems to pacify our deepest fears: 1) It mitigates our feelings of being out of control of the world around us(boring meeting, no problem, just “tune in” for the parts that interest you), 2) It makes us feel that  we are always being heard and have a high level of control over what we are saying, 3) It acts as “company”: We will never have to be “alone” so long as we use technology. The ironic thing here is that we are feeling more and more isolated so much so that a loneliness epidemic has been recognized in the literature. I have heard the lament of “I have a career, friends, and activities, but I feel alone,” from many. However, I think the issue is not that we are physically alone, but that we have forgotten how to be alone.

With social media we have the constant option not to be alone with our thoughts even when we are physically alone; we can be actively lazy all the time, even in a boring lecture or meeting. When we are alone we can confront and work on our personal problems, we can decide what we like in our lives and plan how to have more or less of it. When we don’t actively spend time to understand, form and know who we are, we are going to have problems connecting with others. The great paradox here is that when we overuse social media, we don’t feel like ourselves without connection. The larger implication here is that we define ourselves by social media. Dr. Turkle aptly describes this issue as “I share therefore I am”. Instead of identifying ourselves by our core values (with all this active busyness, we can spend less time doing this important work) and by what we share with others.

Overusing sites like Facebook changes the way that we see our “friends”. As we are not spending time on our own and can’t stand being lonely, instead of connecting to others for conversation, we use them  as emotional spare parts because it is easier than being vulnerable. But it is only when we are vulnerable that we really reveal ourselves to each other and ourselves. Through vulnerability that we are able to achieve great things (See Dr. Brene Brown’s work) yet we are avoiding the situations that lead us to this doorway.

Worst of all, there are now reports  that social media overuse can cause mental illness.  Facebook Addiction Disorder is a newly recognized disorder  ( a specialized subset of Social Networking Addiction Disorder and Internet Addiction Disorder). There are studies that have found that quitting Facebook can be worse than quitting smoking or drinking (see an article about that here). While I didn’t find it too difficult (also, I made sure to plan out my time so that I was busy, just not on Facebook). I find that since I have significantly cut down my Facebook usage, I am more engaged in my offline life. During a dinner with my family this week, I didn’t check my phone once (in fact, I forgot it at my parents’ house and had to return to pick it up the next day). Usually not being able to find or use my phone would have caused a constant, gnawing panic. This time, I wasn’t bothered, I am starting to remember that silence is comfortable.

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Ditching Facebook: week 1

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897px-Facebook_like_thumbAfter spending years building up a “friends” network and feeling a significant amount of gratification from “likes” on posts that can take minimal effort, committing Facebook “suicide” may seem like a daunting proposition for many users. I enjoyed posting articles and calls to action for causes, seeing it as efficient activism. Staying in touch with friends that lived far away is also a great feature of Facebook. However, I began to feel that Facebook may have made my social life too easy: I was connected to all my “friends” all the time (even when I’m out with friends, family or at home in my sweats), and so I never had to make difficult decisions about my social life, not having to choose who to spend time with, as I am able to “spend time” with everyone at once. The other downside is that it is distracting when I actually am doing something that needs my attention.

I realized my use of Facebook was causing me to give away my most valuable commodity, time, without much reflection. Value can be calculated in many ways, and as time is our most valuable commodity (you can’t buy it and it literally makes up your life) I felt it was important that I used it in the most auspicious way possible. An hour on Facebook meant that I could make contact with many people at once, but the contact is, for the most part, trivial. Facebook messaging and posts are much less effective forms of communication than were written letters. This might be due to the amount of time and effort put into the communication: letters took time and focus to compose (the subject matter/topics had to be organized into a comfortable flow so that the reader could understand the message) and required resources to produce (paper, ink and stamps cost money). This meant that you could not send a letter to everyone you knew on a regular basis: you had to be selective, sending letters and maintaining relationships only with the people who were important to you. This made it a necessity to make decisions as to your social contacts and interactions: the person had to be worth your time and you had to be worth theirs if a relationship was going to continue and grow.

Frequently using Facebook can, to a large extent, eliminate this thoughtful socialization. You never loose contact with anyone (unless you have a falling out, in which case they (or you) can be “defriended”, blocked, or both) and yet have access to the minutia of their lives (you can see what they had for breakfast, read about their unfortunate car trouble and see their latest vacation pictures). This creates an false sense of connection: you know a lot about the person’s everyday life, but rarely or never, speak to them. It has been too easy to stay and make “friends”. I think the lack of effort which is involved with same may have a lot to do with the present “loneliness” crisis: we are all very connected without having much human contact or actual relationships.

I used to spend quite a bit of time of Facebook (it was a daily usage of at least an hour) reading and sharing articles from my favorite publications, having “discussions” with friends and looking at pictures (not all of them were cute animals, but that’s besides the point). I would also loose time on Facebook, looking up at the clock only to realize a half hour had passed when I only intended to spend 15 minutes when I clicked on the app.

After a “unconnected” vacation, where I did not check Facebook or other social media for about a week and a half, I had felt more rested than I had in a long time. I realized that I had sacrificed a lot of attention and energy to notifications and constant connection without generating a good return on the investment. I wanted to keep my “rested vacation” vibe going (well, as much as possible) when I got home. However, I also didn’t want to get rid of Facebook completely, as I have lived in several places over the past 10 years and did not want to completely sever contact with all those friends (hypocritical? Maybe. But, the human spirit is only rational to a point) with a click.

I decided to restrict my Facebook usage instead of eliminating it completely. I disabled all notifications (on devices and e-mail), deleted the apps from my phone and actually logged off (I was always logged on) committing to only log on on Sunday mornings for an hour. I chose an hour a week because if I were to attend a discussion group or other event, I would likely attend once a week for about that amount of time. If I missed Sunday (when I embarked on this I didn’t think that would be a possibility) I would have to wait till the next week. To keep myself accountable, I posted about my new commitment on my page, leaving my e-mail contact if anyone wanted to get in touch with me.

The first few days were odd and uncomfortable: anytime I had a break, I reflexively would pick up my phone or grab my laptop to log in. I decided instead to complete a small task with my 15 or 20 minutes (this usually meant doing a chore that I had been avoiding or going out for some exercise). Over the week, I realized how much time and how many opportunities I had lost by over-using Facebook: my usually messy house was strangely in order, I had several great bike rides and swims in place of “connecting” and I was much calmer than usual.

On my first Sunday, I got up, had my coffee (and cigarette, this will have to be the next to go) and relaxed with a book for about 45 minutes. I did some dishes, got laundry started, re-potted a plant and played with my dog. I didn’t realize until about 11:30 that I had not yet logged on. I opened the site to find 44 mostly useless notifications, 4 messages that I was able to respond to in under 5 minutes. I posted an article and logged off. I smiled; I had the whole day ahead of me.

Canada’s Imbalance of Power

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Over the past few months, the federal government has passed bills that attack Canadians’ human rights and freedoms; even those that are enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have cited Jihadist and extremist threats to the Canadian people as justification for striking such rights. Bill C-51 and C-24 significantly decrease the safety of Canadians by exposing them to punishment without due process for exercising among others, the right to free speech and association. C-24 and C-51 allow bureaucrats, not judges, to strip a Canadians’ human, legal, and now citizenship rights.

One of the procedural similarities of these 2 bills is that they both exclude the Courts from ruling where a Court conventionally has jurisdiction to rule. While Canada has a Senate, it does not balance political power as in the U.S. model. In Canada, the only balance of power is the Courts, which dialogues with Parliament to ensure that all laws passed are constitutionally valid and fairly applied. The main function of the Courts is to ensure that no individual becomes a victim of the “Tyranny of the Majority”.

Ironically, as we do not have a proportionally representative electoral system, and as the Conservatives only received about 40% of the popular vote, we are experiencing the tyranny of a group in power and the interests aligned with them. By writing the Courts out of these laws, the federal government thwarts the Rule of Law by not conforming to conventions of law, nor upholding in Canadians’ rights as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This lack of professionalism is appalling.

We are all human, and we all make mistakes, many times out of fear. I think that we are seeing a fearful reaction from our MPs and Executive, particularly in response to the tragic events of October 2014. While I sympathize with all those who had to endure such a harrowing experience, it does not excuse the current and blatant abuse of power. Every job comes with advantages and disadvantages. When I began to study law, I remember our professors warning us that while it is a great profession, it is a profession fraught with danger that we must accept at our own risk.

As a lawyer, I have been threatened with physical harm. It was disturbing, but I understood that for better or worse, it was part of what I signed up for when I took my oath. Politicians have higher risks that lawyers in this regard. These conditions are historic and current. It must be difficult for them and their families, but it’s what they signed up for when they took their oath. If politicians are willing to sacrifice Canadians’ rights for their own feelings of safety, they are obviously not up for the job and should consider a different line of work.

#armpithair

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I’ve noticed many articles, tweets and other posts lately battling out issues regarding women’s appearance. The most recent that comes to my mind is the issue of body hair (to shave, or not to shave), but there always seems to be a story about a female politician’s, business person’s or artist’s clothing, haircut or makeup. I question why we are paying any mind to any of it.

There is a billion dollar industry that only exists because offending marginalized groups of people gets them clicks. Publishers are paid by view of article and gain visibility (and value) any other proliferation of their work(s): Any publicity is “good” publicity. Even if one is angered or disagrees with an article, his or her click supports the publisher to create more of the same. The publisher does not know or care whether you like or dislike them, they just care that you read and will produce more of the same (this is simple logic from a business perspective, what made money before will make money again).

By engaging those who make a living criticizing artist’s, politician’s and business women’s appearance, we produce more work (and publicity, and money, a compounding effect) for them. While I am for the market place of ideas, I question if we are picking our battles wisely. Focusing on petty (and of course, cruel) comments, which are really tu quoque arguments, on appearance distracts us from issues such as slave labor, the gender pay gap, family violence and environmental destruction, all of which are urgent and important.

Imagine the results we would achieve regarding these issues if we focused intently (and organize, mobilized) on them as opposed to sharing pictures of our armpit hair. There is only so much time in a day, we need to use that time productively.

We should try to follow our mothers’ playground advice: ignore them, they just want your attention. When attention is a reward ( one connected to financial gains here), we have to be careful as to where we focus. Let’s focus on the issues that diminish justice, equality and fairness as opposed to petty red herrings that distract us from them.

As for those who produce this rubbish, I pity them: it must be a bleak existence to have to criticize small details in a woman’s appearance because you can’t understand what is coming out of her mouth. It’s not a living I would like to make.