Sunday, February 08, 2015

Why I'm Walking Away From Blogging and Facebook... At Least For Now

I started this blog almost exactly 10 years ago. By almost any measure, I've been at it longer, and have kept posting more consistently (at least for most of that time) than most others who have taken up blogging, either as a hobby or as a means of income. After a lengthy period of introspection, I believe that the time has come for me to officially give the blog a rest. This entry is my attempt to explain why.

When I started blogging, I actually tried to post something new, however insignificant, every single day. As I gained more experience, I eventually moved toward posting only about three days a week, but worked to ensure that each post had something fairly meaningful to it (at least to me). In those early years, I tried to balance my output between posts about serious topics -- such as Christianity and politics (and, often, the intersection of the two) -- and more arguably "frivolous" concerns, such as my love of Transformers. Although I've often complained about the lack of civility and reason in online discourse, I felt that the best response was to model something better.

That's not to say I always succeeded at my own goals. Indeed, I occasionally had harsh words for my "opponents," especially in those early years. But, even then, I pressed on in the belief that it was better to counter mis-information and mis-interpretations with something more reliable. I've never claimed to be without bias. Indeed, I still maintain that it is impossible to be fully without bias, although I nonetheless still believe that attempts to eliminate bias from one's discourse are worthwhile and helpful (if admittedly limited). It has always been my hope that, by admitting my bias when I've been aware of it, I have been able to demonstrate some reasonable counter-points to some very unreasonable positions, and thus to bring clarity to the issues at hand.

Throughout these attempts, I held the opinion that the main problem in online media's ever-growing inability to engage in reasoned dialogue was not so much the fact of differing opinions, but rather the method that the loudest voices consistently seemed to use in arguing for those positions. While I still believe that people, as a whole, need to reconsider the ways in which we argue for our positions (online and elsewhere), I no longer think that such "unreasonable methods" are the main problem.

Perhaps ironically, I think that part of the problem is the sheer ubiquity of sources of information. Not just sources of opinion or commentary, but sources of facts (or, at least, purported facts, as opposed to opinions that are at least self-aware about being opinions). Facts, in and of themselves, are value-neutral. Facts only attain meaning through interpretation. We look at the fact in its context, alongside other facts, and we come to our positions. We now have such a glut of factual information at our disposal that it become even easier to pick the items that support our own values and biases than it has ever been before, and thus the gulf between opposing opinions widens.

This is part of why I more or less stopped writing about political and religious issues altogether a year or so ago, and my output dropped to the infrequent rate of the past year-and-a-half. I found that I simply didn't want to deal with the anger. Even seemingly-innocuous posts got comments (more often on Facebook than here in the comments section of the blog itself) made in anger, often looking to pick a fight. I'm not interested in fighting with anyone. While I certainly want to dialogue with those whose views are not my own, it too often became a matter of self-aggrandizement (perhaps on both sides).

Which brings me to the issue of Facebook itself. I generally enjoy Facebook. It has become my primary way of getting information about the world outside of my immediate sphere, both in terms of what's going on with family members who live far away and in terms of the greater world in which we live. But it has also been the venue for some extremely painful interchanges, which have only seemed to increase in volume over the past two years. Some of these, I could have predicted. People I've always known to be strident have posted strident arguments against their boogeyman of choice. But, increasingly, the vitriol hasn't been limited to such strident voices. People who I had always understood as having irenic personalities, even when we've disagreed, have posted diatribes that I simply cannot justify as having any basis in fact. It has become increasingly clear that these arguments cannot be reasoned against. They come from places too deeply ingrained in people's values and biases. Posting opposing viewpoints, no matter how peacefully-intended or well-reasoned, will only serve to inflame the arguments.

So, for the time being (I'm setting a personal goal of the rest of February), I'm going to limit my Facebook access. After the month is over, I will reconsider both my Facebook and blog updating. If you've been following the blog, and have found it hard to keep up precisely because I haven't updated as much lately, please consider signing up for either the e-mail list or the RSS feed. Links to both can be found at the bottom of this blog post. You will be notified whenever a new post appears.

A quick word about what I am not doing. Over the past few years, it has become a trend for well-meaning people of faith to "give up Facebook for Lent." I have always opposed this trend, and this is part of why I'm trying to "beat the Ash Wednesday rush" in starting my Facebook fast now. In general, people who do this justify their positions in terms that make Facebook appear to be a negative force and that, by giving it up, suggest they can refocus on their spiritual lives. But that's not what a Lenten fast is about. A Lenten fast is about sacrifice. Giving up something good for a time, to remind one's self that God is sufficient. By contrast, I actually do think that Facebook, in its current form, is contributing to the wider problem. It is not a problem I can fix, but I hope that, by removing myself from it for a time, I can at least stop contributing to the problem myself. I expect that, after a while, I'll come back. As I suggested earlier, I still think that Facebook is, more often than not, a good thing, and I remain thankful for the re-connections with family and friends far away that would not otherwise have taken place.

Hopefully, this isn't a permanent "good-bye," but more of a "see you later." If and I when I do return, I hope that it will be to a more healthy online environment.

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