I’ve barely been off Facebook for 24 hours and it feels wonderful.
I first got a Facebook account maybe eight years ago when my book Sit Down and Shut Up came out. Up till then I’d resisted but my publicist said authors needed to be on Facebook to promote their work. So I bit the bullet and set up an account.
It’s mostly been OK. Sometimes not. But in the past year, Facebook has become even more of a steaming cesspool of vile smelling shit than it was in the past. In my humble opinion. Every once in a while someone I know posts a cute cat video or a song I’d never heard of. But otherwise very little appears there that I find in any way useful or even entertaining.
Yet I would still find myself distractedly scrolling down, down, down, hoping maybe something worth looking at might pop up. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, down and down and down… Reading trivia, mania, paranoia, stupidity, and, yeah, maybe every once in a while a funny joke or something that opens my eyes to an aspect of life I hadn’t noticed before. But those moments were rare. Maybe a half a dozen in the entire time I’ve had a Facebook account.
Facebook is still useful to my work in a business sense. So I’ll maintain my account. But yesterday I decided I needed a complete break. So I logged off and put a note on my calendar that I could log back on in a week, but no sooner than that.
Within ten minutes of making that decision I already felt much better. I’m sure I’m missing out on hundreds of arguments about Trump or about how Sanders would have won or whether it’s acceptable to eat Thanksgiving dinner or which sports teams have offensive logos. But somehow I’m not very sad that I don’t get to read those arguments anymore.
It’s weird how Facebook has taken on this air of enormous importance when it’s really nothing more than an electronic wall for people to write graffiti on. After I logged off yesterday, one of the people who’d been commenting on the thread I deleted in disgust just before I went away started texting me. It felt like the equivalent of leaving a party because you were sick of the drunks and the noise, and then having someone follow you out with a beer in hand, belching and shouting, “Hey! Why are you leaving? Get back in there!” So I shut off my phone too for a few hours.
I’m about halfway through Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem. It’s a science fiction novel whose main character is part of a cloister who wall themselves off from the outside world for ten years at a time so they can work on scientific and philosophical matters without interference. Other cloisters shut themselves off for different lengths of time. Their planet is a few thousand years more scientifically and socially advanced than ours and cloisters like this are a well-established part of their society. They are scrupulous about making sure no outside influences penetrate into their cloisters during their chosen periods of seclusion.
This is, of course, what real religious communities in our world have done for centuries. The most highly developed cloisters are those associated with certain forms of Christianity and Buddhism.
Zen Buddhist cloisters are not permanently closed off to the world like some Christian cloisters. There’s a thing called an ango in Japanese, which is sometimes translated as a “training period” or “practice period.” During these times, people in the cloisters have minimal contact with the outside world. There are also shorter periods of seclusion called sesshin, which are often just called “retreats” in English. Whereas an ango often lasts for a few months, sesshins are limited to a few days or a week. I was just at a three-day sesshin last weekend and have spent much of the past two months in other sesshins.
We live in a world these days that practically demands that we stay in touch with whatever the society deems as important nearly 24 hours a day. The head’s down generation is constantly looking at their social media feeds and missing the real world all around them. That’s not healthy.
But you can disconnect from media and cloister yourself. When you do so, you don’t really disconnect. You reconnect with the real world. And that feels real good.
In the very short time I’ve cloistered myself away from Facebook, I’m already reading more real books and seeing more real faces.
I can feel my blood pressure going down. I’m able to smile more. I’m able to think more clearly. I don’t feel like I’m being bludgeoned by the combined idiocy of a thousand faceless phonies who just want everyone else to feel as shitty as they do.
Am I missing anything important? I doubt it.
And, frankly, I don’t really care.
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