04. November 2019 · Comments Off on Bye, bye (mostly) social media · Categories: Olio

When I was fourteen, I figured out something about myself. It was not of any value for me to chase after the popular, the hip or anything the mass public viewed as desirable. I loved the obscure, the uncool, and the stuff that made you think hard. If I wanted to be happy (or at fourteen, not be unhappy, which is how most fourteen year olds are), I needed to ignore all the art and entertainment that the news and most of my peers told me was great. TV? Nothing on the glass box engaged me (although TV had been a great tool for me to learn English and understand American culture a bit as a kid). Best selling books? Forget them. Arena-filling  musicians? No way.

I needed to raise the bar. Mass art and entertainment was almost always at best mind-numbing for me. I needed art, entertainment and books of ideas that didn’t scream at you, but instead forced you to slow down and come to them. For most of my next fifty years, I happily followed the obscure. Obscure musicians. Obscure books. Obscure movies. If I entered an auditorium and it was half empty or pulled out a book that had been gathering dust on a shelf, I was in heaven.

My own art and work was happily obscure, too. I got a Ph.D. and taught in a subject area, geophysics, that most people had never heard of. I helped launch earth observing satellites that the public knows nothing about but have been used countless times in environmental assessments of our planet. My music charted in the low thirties of the top forty of a national chart. My novel was in the low thirties of the top forty of the American Booksellers Association bestsellers list. This Goldilocks-land was exactly where I wanted to be. I was not too hot, not too cold, I was just right.

My encounters with popular culture have been, at best, boring. I fell asleep at a Frank Zappa concert a friend dragged me to (his girlfriend, who didn’t want to go either, followed my lead; the girlfriend is long gone, but we’re still good friends). Two years ago, I desperately needed a nap before an evening event and I knew exactly what to do: I went to a movie theater, bought a ticket for a Marvel superhero movie and began to sleep like the dead two minutes after the opening credits.

There has been one major exception to my “if it’s popular, run away as fast as you can” rule: social media. About nine years ago, I was working on my first novel and I read an article by a novelist who praised Facebook for helping him make contacts essential for his career. I thought this praise was odd. I only knew Facebook (whose first office was just four blocks from my home) from its beginnings as a site for gossip and flirting for teens. But lo and behold, it had changed! It had real people on, real novelists and real readers of novels. I signed on and one of my first friends was the novelist who had written the Facebook-praising article.

Then about five years ago, my editor asked me to join Twitter. I barely knew what it was. She said it might help me sell a few books. Of course I wanted to sell books! I signed on.

Social media requires you to be or pretend to be an extrovert. I’m not. I’m a science/math geek who happens to love music and literature. In my crowd, I’m considered outrageous and wild, but that’s only on a science/math geek scale. In comparison to your average American, I’m a classic introvert. I don’t like loud parties. I love spending hours alone thinking about projects I’m working on or reading. I’m pretty damn good at performing in front of a crowd, but I’m absolutely happiest socially when I’m with four or fewer people. I am wholly unsuitable for social media.

Still, I did try. I made “friends” with one thousand or so people on Facebook. I’ll never meet the one hundred people I interacted with regularly, but they were perfectly nice and thoughtful. I posted regularly. So did they. It was almost all superficial stuff, but it wasn’t awful. I liked these people I’d never meet. Ultimately, though, it was a waste of time to be on Facebook. Then Mark Zuckerberg turned fully evil and let Russia and Cambridge Analytica screw up our 2016 election. Then he decided to let everyone screw up our upcoming 2020 election. Why was I helping Zuckerberg, a democracy destroying s.o.b., make money? I decided to get off Facebook.

This was a great decision. I was no longer wasting my time posting trivialities. I was no longer pretending to be an extrovert. I was happily following the rule of thumb I discovered when I was fourteen: if it’s popular, run!

From there, it was an easy step to walk away from Twitter, which is full of nasty people insulting everyone on the planet and not much else. Plus I’m certain Twitter doesn’t sell many books. Twitter is so filled with sourpusses that participation is a good way to kill your mood and faith in humanity. Plus it’s popular. I’m happy to avoid it now.

If I have a new book in the marketplace, I’ll of course go back onto Facebook and Twitter to tell a few hundred people that it’s coming out. It’s free (very minor) advertising. But I’m off the social media train. Social media is like Lady Gaga or Marvel movies or Las Vegas or the tipping point author. I understand that these products and destinations give many people joy. But they aren’t for me. As for promoting my work, I’ll stick with what I enjoy and do best: standing (or sitting during a Skype or Facebook session) in front of a group of 10-100, telling jokes, reading out loud and answering questions.



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