It is joyous on this New Year’s Eve morning to read my friends’ Facebook decade recaps. I love social media so much, and I can’t think of the decade past without it. This morning I’m enjoying my favorite aspect of it – hundreds of friends in my kitchen with me, sharing their highs and lows as we stand on the edge of another year. Yes, I know they’re not really here and that this connection is tenuous and incomplete. But I was well into adulthood when such a possibility didn’t exist. I’d rather have these hundreds of small threads than not.
Because when you pull on those small threads, enormous things can happen.
I have watched people mobilize in hours to help friends with medical emergencies, or in the aftermath of natural disasters, because of the connections and mechanisms of social media. Every day I see how people use these platforms to lift each other up, share news, bring a smile to another person’s day.
This decade has seen revolutionary things begin because of social media, specifically the ways in which it can connect people and amplify their voices. The murderer of young Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota came forward and confessed after more than twenty years after the “In The Dark” podcasters came to his town. The role of social media in amplifying the message of the Innocence Project has been substantial. Tarana Burke’s #metoo began to move institutional reflection and examination, even resulting in some slow policy change. These are just a few examples of work that lacked support or which was slowed by fear and complacency, which social media helped to give agency, voice, and power – and results.
I find myself repeating all of the above more and more often, as I see the real, frightening threats to our society which are equally fueled and amplified by social media. I so want there to be a way for me to enjoy all those good things listed above while not feeling responsible for the threats. The world’s not perfect, right? We’re all connected, but how much responsibility can you take for another person’s actions?
I sure don’t have an answer for that.
Another thing social media did was make me a writer. I messed around with a personal blog for years before I wrote a thing about being a women in the profession of opera. That got a lot of notice. Three years later, I find myself taken seriously as a writer and speaker on this subject. It’s a deeply humbling and gratifying development, and it would not have happened without social media. All those small threads made an enormous thing happen for me personally.
I have the solemn opportunity to write and speak on accountability in our industry. As I continue to examine my fear, complacency, and equivocation when facing gender-based or sexual harassment throughout my career, I experience a lot of different emotions. I feel anger still, grief and guilt often. And I always return to the great joy and accomplishment of everyone I worked with during those twenty-five opera house years.
None of the abusive culture takes away from those joys, those accomplishments. It was not wrong to love and celebrate them. But it was foolish to think that they were not connected. Of course they were. So that’s what I’m writing about, in opera. The theme transfers pretty easily to the platform that I’m sharing this blogpost on.
Oh the irony, right?
The millionaires who are profiting in the end from Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest don’t care whether the hundreds and thousands and billions of small threads are making me a writer, or celebrating your birthday, or delivering meals to the house of your friend with cancer, or spreading the president’s insults to his fellow politicians, or spreading anti-Semitic propaganda, or amplifying the story of an exonerated prisoner in Ohio, or amplifying and then destroying the story of a lying cop at a McDonald’s. Every click for every reason makes them more money, and at every step they show us that nothing else matters.
I don’t know what the right thing is to do. When I think about ditching these platforms, I feel sorrow at how much I’ll miss those hundreds of small threads. They are important in a daily, real way. I want their magic to be preserved somehow, apart from the great machinery of hate. I don’t imagine my absence will make a difference, except to me, and then mostly in a way that will cost me connection and presence.
What I do know is that enormous things are happening, for better and for worse, and the ones that are worse look so desperately familiar. What I do know is that I need some significant time to figure out what a good course of action might be.
I’m going to take the first half of 2020 to do just that.
I will miss Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so much, because I will miss you. I will keep writing on this blog. If you dig the writing, please link to it and check it out every now and then. This blog is part of my website, and my contact information is too. Be in touch if you wish. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. Tenuous connections are important in life. We will be able to find each other.
See you back on these big machines on June 1, 2020. I’ll let you know if I figured anything out or if I didn’t. In the meantime, Happy New Year. Health, prosperity, and peace to all.
Keep using this unimaginable power for good.