Not long ago, before Big Brother fully ascended his throne behind the nanny cam that is the modern Internet, people wrote books in private for other people to read in private.
The process worked this way: Think, type, edit, sell and hope some bibliophiles liked your words well enough to cover the cost of your cab fare to the cocktail party. That was about as interactive, or ‘sharing,’ as an author’s public ever became.
Now, of course, we live in an age when everyone is everyone else’s public and privacy is as quaint as a wall safe.
That explains social media. What it doesn’t explain is why, suddenly, so many facebookers, tweeters and instagramaniacs have decided to give their thumbs a rest and, for a change, keep their thoughts to themselves.
“I’ve had it with you bums,” a Twitter acquaintance recently fired off to his motley collective of 1,500 followers. “This is the last time you’ll hear anything from me.”
The sentiment is even gaining a purchase in the minds of various celebrities (or their handlers), who have quit social media because they say, paradoxically, it doesn’t serve their interests.
According to an Edison Research report released in March, “the number of current users of Facebook continues to drop … (showing) 15 million fewer in 2018 than in 2017. The declines are heavily concentrated among younger people.”
That’s consistent with a Guardian piece two years ago that reported, “One study claims that more than 11 million teenagers left Facebook between 2011 and 2014. It’s been argued that they are swapping public platforms such as Twitter and Instagram for more private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.”
The data appears to track in Canada – which was one of the world’s earliest and most ardent adopters of social media. Here, the number of subscribers to almost every platform has plateaued in recent years.
Perhaps the trend isn’t surprising.
It’s entirely possible, for example, that the aforementioned acquaintance has simply become fed up with his smartphone – his blinking box the size of a dime-store novel from which the ‘real’ news of the world, the ‘true’ nature of reality, froths by the microsecond thanks entirely to social media.
It’s understandable if he’s grown weary of a society where fantasies increasingly supplant facts and rank opinions replace measured judgments – where the mechanics of our own tortured imaginations are more accessible (and immediately compelling) than the actual state of things.
Maybe he’s come to realize that our public institutions, economy and the democratic rule of law are at stake whenever an infantilizing meme merchant infects the body politic at the most basic level and in everyday ways with “coverage” of flat-earth rallies, UFO abductions and a real estate/realty show mogul who becomes president of the United States.
Or maybe he’s decided to pick up a book for the first time in a long while.
Maybe that book is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
Maybe the time-travelling adventures of Billy Pilgrim on the planet Tralfamadore delight him, move him and inspire him to share his thoughts with a loved one, a close friend, a neighbour.
Maybe he reconsiders his self-imposed exile from social media and tweets:
“You have to see what I just finished reading.”
Maybe someone retweets him, and so on and so on until someone else weighs in with:
“That piece of trash was paid for by communists, edited by fascists and distributed by eco-warriors, all of whom work for the worldwide cabal of military-industrial lizard overlords.”
To which the acquaintance rejoins:
“Again, I’ve had it with you bums. This is the last time you’ll hear anything from me. And I mean it.”
Until the next time he rattles Big Brother’s nanny cam.
Troy Media columnist Alec Bruce is a Halifax journalist who writes about business, politics and social issues.