Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Let's Talk About It

 Monday was a doozie for me. Well, for a lot of folks.

First, after spending Sunday practically hacking up a lung, my husband got up Monday morning to take one of those home Covid tests.

Yep, he is positive. 

Vaccinated, boosted, and all that, but one slip up in the gym and it got him, so he is quarantined in the basement and I sanitized my already clean house and gave him the death stare if he broached the threshold from the man cave to the main level.

Yes, I cared for him, fed him, gave him clean sheets for the rooms downstairs, clean towels for the bathroom that now only he can use, made tea, scheduled his cough medicine. He does not have a fever and so far, could still taste the food I made for him yesterday. He may get out of it relatively unscathed for a sixty-one year old man.

No, I don't have it.

I'm also vaccinated and boosted. 

But I am hyper vigilant about wearing a mask, like everywhere. I order them, I get on my family's nerves about it and except for dining, I'm always wearing it.

And I can get comfortable around folks or familiar places, also, or even momentarily succumb to the "no one is wearing a mask" culture.

I was at a sorority event and after a while of taking it off for pictures, just left it off, especially when we were outside. I was at church for Easter and kept my mask on and didn't partake of the coffee hour outside with folks eating, I kept my mask on for most of the time.

The thing about Covid and honestly, the last two years, is that it is sneaky, it is indiscriminate, and it is narcissistic. It want all our attention, all our energy, and is unrelenting in its demands. And it is exhausting.

A similar feeling also engulfed me yesterday when after I got him all settled in, I popped onto my social media for my usual exchange with fellow writers and thinkers. 

Instagram is for my pictures, mostly of the books I'm curating for the literary circle or what I've been reviewing and for the last few days, mugs of possible places my daughter will go to college. It is not my place for serious dialogue and I'm not a performer or content creator, so this sister is not paying my income on IG posts.

Facebook can be annoying but it is where I have my coffee chats and catch up on the stuff family and friends and sorority members are up to, especially in other states. It was a younger cousin who said, "Cousin Toni, you need to get on Facebook." "What is a Facebook?" "Awwww man, you don't know, well this is what you do..." And the rest, since 2009, has been history.  Facebook is where I did a lot of my political, social, and activist engagement, planning, and reporting. It was where we all met and then in 2014, Twitter became the hotspot because of how fast they were able to go live to a larger audience.

Twitter, as mentioned, was my spot for fellow writers and thinkers. Back when I first got on the site, it was all about my book reviews that I still do, and engaging with other Black women. I still value it for that and for my literary circle, it is where I have discovered new writers.

But then, after settling in for a second cup of coffee and some chill time while my husband rested, I learned that the Apartheid-minded yt South African rich man bullied his way through the Board of Directors and won his quest to buy it and turn it into a private oasis for hate mongering like the types that stormed the gates on January 6.

En masse, folks were sharing tips on downloading one's Twitter content.

Others posted, including me, their contacts in other sites, especially off Social Media.

Still others decided they were not leaving, they were going to stay and fight.

I began the process to download my content, but honestly, not really much I want to save.

The whole premise of Twitter was that it was short, I think 126 characters. A thought, not a full on dialogue. And you know I like to writer, so it was a skill builder for me to synthesize my thoughts. Then, in an effort to compete with Facebook, it started adding options for longer posts. I think that was a bad move on it's part.

I also liked Twitter because one of the founders was from my hometown. I thought that was pretty cool. 

But here we are now.

Well past the days of 1995 chat rooms on dial up internet (I was never in those, thought it was a waste of time) or MySpace, my older son had a spot on that one, dedicated to his music business. I was never there, thought it was for teens. I guess that is what Instagram was for before the Jones Gen and Baby Boomers entered the space. Tik Tok seems to be the Gen Z and Generation Alpha spot, now. 

What are we missing in real life that calls us to these semi-anonymous engagements?

Is it the option to free writer and say what we think that we are afraid to speak out loud? Or explore thoughts that friends and family may think is crazy? I know I had family members who somewhat castigated me for my political and social activism, pre Ferguson. They thought I was "too much" but it turned out my clarion call was right and now some of them are engaging in the things I was doing over a decade ago. 

There was something appealing about this chosen community of people who shared similar interests that was so appealing.

Maybe that was the original idea.

I think Facebook was supposed to be a rating site, originally, of kinqalike Incel college boys who couldn't get dates. Then it morphed and spread to other college campuses. I remember in 2004, when I first heard about it on the news, one had to have a .edu to even have an account.

Maybe it was the appeal of making money through the new mediu,.

Whatever it was, it made that college boy a multi-millionaire and ultimate influencer, but still underneath it, the skinny yt boy who wasn't very attractive and wanted to belong. 

Twitter had a different sort of origin story with the biggest appeal being that it was a true connector, one didn't have to "friend" anyone to engage. You could just follow and honestly, didn't have to do much. Simple and quick.

Then came the Millennials and their content building aspirations to make money on these sites.

Their dances and videos made some influencers make more money than their parents, albeit there were some issues with stolen content and yt folk culture vultures, but it was very entrepreneurial.

Perhaps that is what had everyone scrambling yesterday with the news of this one man paying $44 Billion for the right to be the only one in control of what people shared, a man with a known and demonstrated disregard for Black people, they were looking for the escape hatch.  

Is it the pandemic effect? With all of us still captive audiences. Some who are immunocompromised, like me, who are still tip toeing around doing social events, relied on these virtual picket fence conversations to feel connected to a world that began to feel like exponential danger.

Is it the vacuum it will leave with many thinkers of many field no longer in an equal exchange of ideas without the promotion of known hate groups, like on another social media site?

Is it the fear of oligarchs truly taking over whatever sliver of democracy is left in this country, obliterating free press with propaganda and one-sided discussions? Already one of the nation's major newspapers was bought by a rich man as one more toy, already local newspapers have been consolidated and bought out. For a lot of folks, Twitter remained one of the last free spaces of exchange. Even Instagram was bought out by Facebook and is functioning as a pictorial extension of that site.

What is it about these sites that appealed to us and what will we do in their absence?

One influencer Tweeted yesterday that it was foolish to base everything on one site, then proceeded to list all her other locations in the cyber world. I smiled, remembering that this is how a lot of people found out about her in the first place. The same with so many others that set up a camera and went "live" to talk about their decorating, or pithy comments, or cooking, they have book deals and TV shows and lecture circuits now.

So was the appeal a way for them to quickly grow their brand on borrowed land? It didn't cost anything to join these sites. 

Did they just throw anything against the wall to see what would stick and when something took off - in cyber world, that meant likes and retweets and shares that alerted advertisers that this account was worthy of being a sponsored site - they kept doing it.

I saw a young couple post the other day that in sixteen months, they paid off close to $270,000 in debt, including the wife's student loans, all through their social media influencing. 

What was the magic potion?

Was there endless money and access out there in the cyber world that attracted all these grew-up-on-technology generations to see it as a gold mine?

Or is it just not my space?

A lot of these are questions I've been pondering, especially as my Gen Z daughters are really not on social media. One, like me, is a writer and an introvert. She prefers smaller gatherings of her friends in person and doesn't really see much value in people she doesn't even know or like knowing that much about her. The other one, the social butterfly, is really too busy to sit down to craft missives of her day. They each have an Instagram that they periodically keep up. For the older daughter, when she posts, truly a curated post, it is attention getting because she is pretty elusive. 

For some, like me, we have been pulling back.

Once I resigned from a position that was all consuming, social media was one of the things that I also began to re-evaluate. I was over the communications strategy and for many organizations, if one is not posting, one is not present. So I had to be on three different sites and toggle between them, watching metrics and creating content that my co-lead would turn into actionable graphics. It was a train.

So I started pulling away a little bit.

IG pictures and stories would turn up on Facebook, that is how folks saw me at the ocean or reading or whatever. It took me a minute to figure out that the two are connected now, so why even bother creating a post for FB?

I turned back to Twitter because my writing community was on there and I found it bite-sized enough for how I wanted to structure my day.

With it now on the brink of a big change, I'm not sure I will remain.

So I'm like many, thinking about our time and our place in the world if we disappear from places we were active in for a decade.

No one would really miss me, or any of us, honestly, if they don't really know us in real life. Would any of the followers be able to pick me out of a crowd? Would I know them? 

Will we get back to calling someone on the phone for a chat? Or meeting for coffee when we feel safe to unmask. Or writing letters, anyone remember the joy of an unexpected card or letter in the mail from a friend on the other side of the country? I kinda miss that.

Whatever we do in these next few days and weeks, I know a self-evaluation will be a big part of it. How much of my life and time do I want to spend telling people of what I'm doing? 

It is a question we will all ponder, in some ways.

For now, I will watch the ducks in my back yard, wonder where my daughter is going to college and go make my husband some tea.

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