Civilization is Dead, and Social Media is the Killer

Returning to Twitter after taking a year off (14 months, to be precise) was an eye-opening experience. Within an hour of returning, I already felt the toxic cocktail mixture of malaise and fear and disgust that chased me away in the first place. Except this time it felt stronger, like its anger-laser had been more focused, more refined. Perhaps even turned into an orbital ion cannon of societal destruction.

I’m not sure if it actually got worse in the year I was gone, or if I’d just forgotten how awful it was when I left. But I stuck with it, to see if I could figure out why it bothered me so much, and in the ensuing two weeks I discovered something terrible:

Social media is killing us.

Not literally. At least not yet. But as a society, it is tearing us apart. It’s forcing us into ever more extreme viewpoints and dogmatic tribes, and I’m pretty sure we’re past the point of no return when it comes to reconciliation. Not everyone’s in one of these two tribes–there are a lot of micro tribes in the middle where I live, for example–but if you’re not in one of the two major ones you’ll absolutely feel the pressure to join one. “You will be made to care”, I quipped, in my “why I’m abandoning Twitter” post from last year. And it’s true–one way or another, you will be made to care. You will either be recruited into the ranks of one of the two megatribes, or you will be shamed by both of them for not joining either. An interesting side effect of tribalism is that one major tribe will assume you’re with the other if you’re not with them. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” How’d that go over the last time some major political leader of the United States blurted it out? Not so well. Because it’s a false dichotomy.

And false dichotomies are at the root of the terrible destructive power social media is unleashing on our society. I’m going to show two examples, one from each of the megatribes, to help illustrate. Both of these are from Twitter, and both are making the rounds garnering massive numbers of retweets within their respective corners. I’m not going to link to the tweets themselves, because I don’t want to shine a light on what I perceive is part of the problem, and I also don’t want to encourage any sort of witch hunts. But it wouldn’t take long for you to find them–you’ve probably seen them already and made snap judgments based on which megatribe you associate with.

Exhibit A:

“The same people who said it was okay for Roy Moore to date teenagers are now saying that teenagers shouldn’t have any say in gun laws.”

Exhibit B:

“The same people saying we are being ruled by a tyrannous dictator in DC and that we must resist at all costs are now saying we have to give up all of our guns.”

These are both false. I have never seen anyone make both assertions in either of these tweets. That doesn’t mean they don’t  exist, but if they do, they’re a very small minority.

But these tweets are going gangbusters on twitter because they confirm the existing bias that one megatribe has against the other. But it’s more harmful than that–it doesn’t just make the rounds as a sermon to the choir. It doesn’t just result in everyone in Megatribe One high fiving each other and smirking at how much better they are than Megatribe Two: it also widens the window of aspersions cast against their opposing tribe.

Because now, everyone in Megatribe One assumes everyone in Megatribe Two feels this way. And every time we retweet something like this, something that applies to only a fringe minority of some larger group, we widen the window of “insanity” through which we see that entire group. It’s not only perpetuating a faulty stereotype, it’s adding more baggage to it.

The speed at which social media enables this kind of runaway stereotyping to run rampant is nauseating.

As someone who grew up in Alabama, I’ve got a lot of friends there still. Family, too. I know and am in constant contact with lots of people back home. I’ve also lived on three continents, and in diverse areas of the US all the way from Florida to Utah to Washington State and a few places in-between. I don’t live in the same bubble most people in Seattle or Alabama live in. Maybe that lets me see the weirdness coming from both megatribes because I live outside of them. I don’t know.

I also don’t know what the solution is.

I *do* know that the 14 months I was away from Twitter were some of the happiest months in my life. I *do* know that the two weeks I’ve been back on Twitter were some of the unhappiest weeks of my life.

I *do* know that Facebook’s “see fewer posts like these” setting has worked wonders for my perspective on the good in humanity on that platform, though I mostly stuck with it because it’s how I share pictures of my kids with my family back home.

Why do we post things on social media? Why do some people spend what appears to be every waking hour complaining about things? Do they realize that’s how they appear to the rest of the world? We all know that our social media presence is not a full picture of our lives. It’s whatever small slice we allow people to see. If your timeline is filled with complaints about the president/the patriarchy/those damned feminists/everyone’s a nazi/everyone’s a socialist/dogs are superior/stfu cats rule then guess what? That’s all anyone thinks you are. That’s all anyone looking at just your social media profile think you are about.

I know many people just like that. Some I consider my best friends, and I know they’re so much more than an endless litany of complaints against the Other Megatribe. But since that’s all the less-informed people see, that’s what they think. And if they see that “Bob Loblaw” is that radical in his/her beliefs, then maybe they should be too.

So not only does social media perpetuate and radicalize stereotypes against other tribes, it also radicalizes us in ways we don’t even perceive at the time. It’s a slow burn, albeit one that’s speeding up.

I don’t have a solution. I hope you weren’t waiting for me to offer one. But I can say that turning off social media (which I’m doing for Lent, but may continue doing for much longer) has worked miracles for my outlook on society.

Give it a shot. Just one month. See how you feel.

I bet you’ll feel better, after the withdrawal jitters pass.

Much better.

Advertisements

Earthquakes

(No FCM this week. I wanted to finish up a post I started writing several years ago instead.)

Earthquakes are similar to first kisses in many ways. There’s that moment of uncertainty that starts it all off where you think something’s going to happen. Something exciting and frightening, but you’re not quite sure what. Nervousness works its way into your toes and slithers up your legs, sapping the strength from them. You’re afraid you’re going to fall.

Sometimes you do.

Continue reading

First Chapter Monday – A Trip Through Hell

malice_mizer_-_au_revoir_01Last time on FCM, we read about a girl made of living flame. This week there’s fire involved, as well, of a different sort. Fire in the form of fiery main character Hiruko Jones who’s having a really bad night watching her kid sister.

THE NINE SINS OF HIRUKO JONES is another one of those books that only has a single chapter in existence. I’ve got a pretty good idea of where this one is going and how it’s all going to end, but at the time I started writing it I’d also started work on SISTERS OF BLOOD AND SHADOW and the ninja girls won my heart. I may revisit this one later, though.

This book is a little bit Labyrinth, a little bit Dante’s Inferno. The titular character goes on a journey through a version of the afterlife that resembles Dante’s Hell mixed with the Japanese land of the dead to find her sister, and face nine of her own terrible sins along the way. Instead of Virgil, she’s escorted by the spirit of her favorite visual kei singer. Think David Bowie in epic makeup, with a wholly sarcastic, smart-ass attitude. See the above photo for a prime example.

Someday I’ll finish Hiruko’s story. It definitely still has its hooks in me, even rereading this sole chapter after a few years. Enjoy this peek into my tortured mind with the first chapter of THE NINE SINS OF HIRUKO JONES.

 

Continue reading

Be the Duck, or “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Ignore Social Media”

duckI had an epiphany last year while walking around the lake with my daughter before piano lessons. A couple of ducks with two baby ducklings were floating around, diving to dredge up the occasional worm. Aside from some Canada geese harassing them from time to time, the ducks carried on with life doing what they’ve done since the dawn of time.

The ducks don’t care who is president. The ducks don’t care about the latest outrage on social media. The ducks don’t care about which celebrity couple is adopting a new baby or getting a divorce. The ducks don’t get worked up at 24/7 news coverage of the atrocities of the world.

The ducks float around the pond and take care of their family. No matter how bad things get in the rest of the world, the ducks are going to do their thing and be all right.

I want to be the duck.

Continue reading

First Chapter Monday – A Song of Fire and More Fire

16903486_10155043093202486_8539248047290910644_o

Last week, FCM focused on water. This week, we turn to fire.

EVEREMBERED is a book that has sung its siren song to me for quite some time. It’s a fantasy about a girl made of living flame, the last of her kind in a world where the sun is rapidly dying out. I’ve outlined most of it–there’s still some connective tissue that’s unknown and I’ll figure out what it is when I get to it. I often find writing is more like archaeology than invention. An author doesn’t so much fabricate a story as uncover it. I often learn my characters aren’t exactly who I thought they were, and that sort of delightful surprise is what I live for as a writer.

Aside from that outline, there’s just this one chapter. It will change, as all first chapters do, but I think it’s worthy to stand beside the first chapters of more complete novels I’ve scribed. In fact, just rereading it tonight as I prepare to post it, I’m longing to revisit this world once more and unlock the rest of its secrets…

EVEREMBERED

Continue reading

First Chapter Monday, Round Two! This time, it’s a love story.

Boat-Floating-on-Debris-Ishinomaki-Higashi-Matsushima-Yamoto-Japan-Earthquake-Tsunami-Miyagi-2011It’s still Monday somewhere. I promise.

A grueling gauntlet of cross-country travel delayed this post a bit. Four flights in barely 48 hours takes a lot out of someone.

Last week was full of grit and darkness, and this week’s first chapter isn’t much brighter. But where last week was grimdark fantasy, this week is a contemporary love story. A PETAL OF CHRYSANTHEMUM (are you seeing a pattern with flowers?) is a novel I wrote quite a few years ago, when I first started kicking the dust off of the keyboard and diving back into this writing thing that I’d pursued with such reckless abandon while in college. It takes place amidst the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. With a wife hailing from Japan, I’ve got quite a few emotional connections to that country, and the tsunami really hit me hard. I clearly remember not being able to work for several days as I stared in awe at photograph after photograph of a land that nature had all but erased. A land that on multiple levels I’ve fallen in love with over the years.

I put this book aside for a while to pursue writing middle grade fantasy for kids (and there’s some of that coming in future weeks!) but recently I’ve returned to it and started making edits. As with the other entries in this series, this is not a fully polished novel yet. It’s just a snapshot of a book that’s been through several revision passes and is currently undergoing some subtle (and even not-so-subtle) edits to see if I can really make it sing.

I originally drafted this novel in 2011-2012, shortly after relocating to Seattle, when my family was temporarily living overseas. I think that feeling of isolation bled into this one somewhat subconsciously. It’s fun going back and reading all these things I wrote, and thinking through what I was feeling and doing at the time. Each novel I write is a mirror into the state of my soul at the time. I only hope the subsequent edits don’t tarnish the reflection.

Without further ado, the opening chapter of A PETAL OF CHRYSANTHEMUM.

Continue reading

First Chapter Monday

champ1Publishing is a long and winding road. It’s easy for me to get lost in the “find an agent–sell a book” loop and forget about the actual writing sometimes. Which is funny, because the writing–the storytelling–is the reason I’m doing all of this in the first place.

Over the years since I’ve been brandishing words, I’ve accumulated a significant chunk of first chapters. Many of them start books that make it all the way to “THE END,” while others never make it past “CHAPTER TWO.”

I thought it may be a fun idea–and honestly a bit of catharsis–to start digging through those old manuscripts and posting the first chapters. They’re not all nice and clean. They’re not all finished books. Not a one of them has been in a published tome to-date, and for some of them that may never change. But I think there’s some value in going back through the stratified layers of my writing archive and casting some of it out to the wild, unwashed masses. (I’m not judging–I didn’t shower until about noon today myself.)

I’m not really posting these in any order. And as you’ll discover soon enough I run the gamut from grimdark fantasy to contemporary love stories to adventure books for kids. It’s all a bit scattershot, but I think there’s something at the core of each of them that’s the type of story I like to tell.

I’m going to open up with the grittiest. Let’s just rip this bandage off so we can move on to brighter things next week, shall we?

A TALE OF JADE AND CHRYSANTHEMUM is a book that’s complete, and has gone through one revision pass. It could use a few line edits I’m sure. It’s a gritty fantasy about a teenage girl monster hunter in a barren kingdom where women–all women–are slaves. She’s heard rumors about an empire in the north that’s ruled by a woman, however, and as you can imagine eventually those two collide. It’s grim. It’s gruesome. It doesn’t really pull any punches and some of it can be hard to read. But this was me in the fall of 2013 and so here we go.

Continue reading