The Cost of Social Media – Part 1

I have not liked New Year’s since I was a child.  Watching Guy Lombardo with my parents, my innocence allowed me to believe that just as Santa came bearing gifts while I slept on Christmas Eve, New Year’s came bearing change when the ball hit the bottom of its slow trek to terra firma.  I had no clue how life would be different, only that it would somehow be better.  But when I reached eight or nine, Santa’s true identity had long been known to me and I began to have strong suspicions that New Year’s brought no change. 

In my teens and my twenties, the holiday brought just another reason to party.  But by my mid-thirties, I had burned out on the abundant drunken, horn blowing, pointy hat wearing, fall on your face free style dancing New Year’s affairs.  I had no desire to leave the house on Amateur Night.  I even began to feel what might be called resentful of the first day of the year.  Saint Nick may have been a benevolent white lie, but he remains a kindly spiritual truth.  Conversely, I felt duped by New Year’s and its useless, noisy, trashy vibe.  The Christmas tree still gives me an annual rush of bonhomie, security and hope.  But by New Year’s Eve the magical, angelic symbolism of the tree takes on the gaudy persona of an old bar whore.

Given my outlook, it’s no revelation the first day of the year finds me subdued, weary and vaguely depressed.  However, this year was particularly moldy, and I was at a loss for the reason.  Then I realized that for the first time since June, I had spent considerable time on Facebook. All became clear.

My relapse began when I read an eloquent post from a long-time offline friend.  This friend has apparently been cut off on Facebook by a family member he’s known all his life who took offense to a perceived personality flaw.  My heart went out to him.  Part of me winced at his choice to publicly post such a private matter.  There are so many things I want to warn him about.  But I can’t help him avoid the seduction and the hurt.  He’ll discover the scaly underbelly in his own way, in his own time.

Had I replied to my buddy’s post and stuck with my get in, get out routine, I would have been okay.  But no.  I spent over four hours scrolling.  I should have known why feelings of anger, dread and frustration colored my day.  By the time I realized the source of my dejection, there was a familiar knot of anxiety in my gut.  Damned Facebook and damn me!  I cursed Facebook for what it has become.  An insidious mind fuck, a dangerous neighborhood for those millions who are psychologically vulnerable.

In the 1990’s you could find me in the Arts and Writing chat room first on Prodigy and then on AOL.  For a few years, it was thoroughly enjoyable despite the headache of slow dial-up connections. I met many with jaw dropping amounts of talent.  When Prodigy sold out in the mid-1990’s we migrated to AOL.  But it wasn’t the same and we all went our separate ways.  It was sad, but there were no lasting emotional effects.  No harm, no foul.  It wasn’t until 2008-ish that I joined Facebook.  I met new people and connected or reconnected with many offline friends and family.  I discovered art groups.  I was enjoying the same thing I had on Prodigy.  I was in love.

But as Facebook grew, things began to morph.  For me it started in the Art groups.  To be sure, where visual art is concerned, the sky is wide open.  Creating can and should include all schools and styles and levels of experience.  But there are practices and procedures which will never sit well with me and others.  A couple of these are against copyright and intellectual property law.  There came a day when I noticed paintings that you could barely distinguish from a photograph.  They call it Photorealism.  The results are so perfect.  They use a projector to first trace, then paint the photographic image inch by inch onto a canvas.  Anyone who posted such a piece received hundreds, even thousands of the meaningless but coveted likes and comments.  When I learned about the process, I became extremely angry.  This wasn’t art!  This was glorified painting by number!  To an old school person like me, these people were cheaters, frauds of the lowest ilk.  I had no respect for these people.  I went on the attack against what I felt was a form of art that had no soul.  I was told this is the new wayScrew all that time learning your craft.  In fact, screw you lady.  Who are you to define what has soul and who has talent?    Along with others who strongly objected to Photorealism, I spent hours of wasted time and energy battling this travesty.  I was a naysaying dinosaur.  On Facebook, it doesn’t pay to speak out against the majority. I became a voice that would not back down.  In the end, all my angst was for naught.  I was eventually booted from several groups.  I do not regret it. 

Lest you wonder where I’m going with this post, I’ll get to the point.  I’ve never been one to suffer for my art.  Moreover, I had no reason to feel ashamed or dissatisfied with my own unique work.  I’ve won my share of art shows and sold my share of paintings across the country.  What’s disturbing to me now is that I didn’t even want to do this kind of work.  I’d allowed Facebook to be the judge and jury of my work.  But the seed of insecurity had been sown. I wanted to chuck out my small fortune in supplies.  I began to believe that people who said they liked or loved my painting were lying.  Just being nice.  All sorts of negativity invaded the priceless sanctuary of my studio, always my happiest of places.  My imagination went into a creative coma.  But by returning over and over to the Facebook vanity fair, I materially damaged my mojo for a long time.  The seduction with Facebook was over.  I developed an unhappy yet resolute truce.  I would not allow myself to be hurt by social media again. 

Then came 2016.

© 2020, MJ Ostrander

Up Next:  Part 2

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