Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Social Media and the Sacred Web of Relationships

I had an epiphany in a ceremony this weekend. Social media is making me miserable. 

I was skeptical of social media and resistant to active use of it for years. It seemed like such a phony way of interacting and offered a seemingly dangerous illusion of community with few roots. My perspective shifted when Proposition 8 passed in 2008 and my rights as a queer person were voted away by my fellow Californians. I was outraged. So were a lot of other people and within a few days there was a group on Facebook, One Struggle, One Fight, which successfully organized several acts of civil disobedience and ongoing resistance to the injustice of this proposition. As I was arrested with clergy members and activists two weeks after voting day in 2008, I was sold on social media. There were a lot of new activists involved with this group—it seemed that Facebook was an extremely useful tool in organizing these new activists.

Fast forward several years to the explosion of the “Occupy” movement. Again, I saw networks like Twitter and Facebook serve as extremely useful tools in bringing people together. Personally, I decided to try my hand at online dating and fell in love with someone whom I would have never met outside of the internet. But the relationship didn't work out as they are apt to do (we really didn't have enough in common) and the energy around the “One Struggle, One Fight” began to wane as social justice groups are also apt to do. 

As the wheel of the year turns and the days grow shorter and the sun begins to shine with less intensity on this end of the earth, I have found myself struggling with more sadness than I normally live with. Part of me knows that it's normal to turn inward as the earth around me turns inward as well. And part of me has been struggling to find answers to the question of what in my life is calling in this sadness? As I prayed in ceremony this weekend, for release from the sadness, I had an epiphany.

It's the web that I am weaving through the strands of the internet that is causing me pain.  With facebook, we swim through images of the people we know and the people we love that reflect a slice of reality. We put our best face forward, sharing happy pictures of ourselves and our families. We comment on each others status, offering laughs, words of advice, and even support. And while this can be comforting, I feel like it can in the same moment be isolating. I find myself not reaching out to my community in the “real world” because I have the illusion of the web of the internet providing me comfort. Instead of calling a friend or cooking for a loved one, I comment on their status or like something they posted. I found myself spending more energy on my FB relationships that I have been on my live, in person, relationships.  The web created through facebook is sucking energy away from the sacred web that we spin when we hold each other, laugh together, and provide witness for one another in body and spirit.

As I reflected, I realized this pattern was true in my journey to find a partner to walk with on this life journey. Online dating is about connecting people and all that good stuff, but more than that it's about profit.  It's designed to keep you searching, keep you constantly wanting more.  Online dating is an industry and it's selling us the idea of love, true love. The perfect partner, parent of your child, superb lover who always wants more, totally hot, _________ (insert details of your dream partner here) is just a click away.  You can change the restrictions of your searches in an attempt to get more and more specific about your dream lover and we consumers are convinced that just one more click and we just might find true love.

And my anti-capitalist ass is eating it up like a pig in shit. Because, like so many in this increasingly isolated modern society, I am lonely. I log into Facebook and it's difficult not to compare my life with the lives of my peers and feel dissatisfied with where I am at. All the while, I'm being spoon fed advertisements selling me a illusion of what happiness is that cater to my exact dreams and desires because these online companies are collecting information about me and people who fit into my demographic categories with every click.  And with each dream filled click we provide them with data to increase the effectiveness of their advertising and their products. And their products are more effective if I feel dissatisfied with my life. As my friend said the other night, “You're being used”.

In ceremony, within the quiet space for reflection where spirit is so close, I realized life is good. I have so much to be grateful for. I am exactly where I need to be and I am on the right path. I've been sold the idea that just one more click will bring me happiness. I've been sold the hope that if I just keep searching I'll find my soul mate. And I've been eating that shit up. I don't know how it got me but it did. 

I got home that night and I deleted my online dating profile. I told my Facebook friends I'm taking a break. From here on out, I'm going to put my energy into relationships that are tangible. I'm going to call a friend and invite them over for dinner when I feel lonely rather than sitting down at the computer and scrolling through Facebook or searching through online profiles. I'm going to ask that cute guy at the cafe for his phone number or walk up to that hot gal after the organizing meeting and ask her to expand upon her ideas about the campaign. I'm not going to let these companies manage my relationships anymore.

I'm not saying there isn't good to come from social networking. I have seen the ways that Facebook can be a tool to bring people together to organize for change. I know people who have found their life partner through internet dating. I'm just saying that it's worth pausing to consider how much of your energy is spent on relationships in the here and now and how much is spent online. I'm saying it's worth thinking about who's profiting from our using the tools of social networking. 

Are we using these tools or are they using us?


  1. This is really insightful and has a lot of truth. I personally struggle some with facebook--partly because most of the time it does tend to depress me. Often (and I read an article by someone who studied this effect) we go on these social media sites and end up comparing our lives with our friends and end up feeling dissatisfied with our own situations. I have been struggling with my health for over a year now, and I found facebook to actually be both helpful and aggravating. In a lot of ways it helped me feel connected to a world I was isolated from--I couldn't leave the house for the better part of the year, and still have whole weeks where I can't get out of bed--so facebook was good for me in that regard. At the same time, when you are stuck in bed in physical pain, it can be really hard to see your friends posting pictures of themselves out having a great time. And of course, as you mentioned, facebook is only a slice of reality--the slice that we feel like sharing. Nobody posts pictures of themselves alone and sad (well, not most people). People don't usually put statuses reflecting on their loneliness. In the end, I think it's important to find a balance, and to know when to take those much-needed breaks! Thanks so much for sharing, I always love reading your blog Claire! xoxoxo

  2. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments Leah! I hear you in that Facebook can at times be supportive, especially when we are sick or a new parent and confined to life indoors. Thank you for sharing about your own journey and the ways that social media has been both helpful and challenging. It's a good reminder for me as someone who is able bodied to remember the ways in which social media can provide a network of support. I've been following your posts on fb about your health and want you to know that you continue to be in my heart and prayers for healing. Thanks for sharing some of the wisdom that your journey has brought!

  3. I've been horrified at the way I've been acting since I joined a dating website a couple of weeks ago. I organised dates with two women who I wouldn't have met otherwise, but I didn't half feel rough.

    A friend directed me to this blog post, and it's really been an eye opener. I'm still going to go on the first one, but only after I delete my profile.

    Thank you.

  4. Thanks for your comment C. Glad to hear my reflections have been helpful for you. And regardless of my feelings about online dating, I hope your date goes great! :)