Social Media Warning Labels

Hey y’all.

This is Hugh, and this is another not-quite-perfect installment of Life Is So Beautiful. The discombobulation on my end continues apace, which means that last link may or may bot be working when you read this. Thanks for hanging in there – I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the weekend, we made a short trip for the memorial service of one of my wife’s aunts, who died as the result of a year-long struggle with the after-effects of COVID. She was one of those who “recovered”, but not really. Her lungs never got the memo that the rest of her body did.

Many of us know the story of distant family, that we share only bonds of blood and not affinity or even proximity, and thus form the basis of the most unlikely of relationships. A friend who lived on the East Coast once went back to Kansas to bury his mother, his last remaining close family member. He told me that, as he was leaving to come back to his life in North Carolina, it occurred to him that he had seen many of the people in the church for the last time.

“They were related to me, but with whom I had nothing in common other than blood. And I saw them only at weddings and funerals, and this was the last time, the last funeral I would see them.”

The rise of social media has changed this dynamic somewhat. There were cousins (I guess, for me, they were cousins-in-law) I knew only by their Facebook posts, but who I looked forward to seeing for the first time this weekend. I knew their stories, recognized their wives from the pictures, and knew about the new house and also the car trouble that plagued them.

There were children I had seen as toddlers at the last funeral who were now tweens, but rather than amazement at their growth, I had followed along and seen the birthdays, the video of the first bike ride, the check-in at the ER when they broke their arm.

A thing that social media is good at is the strengthening of weak ties. It allows us to put meat on the sinews that form face to face, and allow us to dive deeper over time than is permitted at three funerals and two weddings over 20 years’ time.  

But it also lets us behind the curtain. I was talking to a guy this weekend – a wonderful conversation about a subject we both have an interest in. But I also know him via social media, and the whole time we are talking, in the back of my mind is that I know he voted for people who would pass laws that harm people I love; that he is politically against the rights of my immigrant friends, that he has bragged publicly about his disbelief in environmental crisis.

Would I be happier not knowing this about him? Or is it better to know?

The ways social media both gives and takes in seemingly equal amounts is a thing that plagues me. I struggle with its role in my life, and so seek decentralized ways (like, ahem, newsletters) to remain connected in ways that make sense. It sure was fun to see those kids, though.

Like so many tools, social media requires us to be careful and diligent in its use. However, when one picks up a box cutter, one is aware of the chance of being cut with it. Facebook carries no such warning label.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” – Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum

Five Beautiful Things

  • This article about the LA home of Anais Nin (and the eye candy pictures) was everything. Those plywood walls! That pool! The bookshelves!
  • Spring! Flowers! Cherry blossoms! This video tour of the Japanese Garden at the amazing Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is from two years ago, about this time. It’s long – about 18 minutes – but no soundtrack, just the sounds of nature and wildlife while you quietly “walk” around the lake. I recommend you watch it full screen on the biggest screen you can.
  • There is a sort of Internet writing for which I am an absolute sucker, and I don’t really have a name for it. The basic premise is that it is a list – always a list- of things the author has learned or believes. I always read these – not because I always agree, but because deep inside I want to believe that wisdom can be boiled down to a list of 100 ways to slightly improve your life or that there really are 100 tips for a better life or to learn what 68 bits of advice Kevin Kelly believes are worth sharing on his 68th birthday.
  • Following Jason Kottke, I added the MOMA browser tab extension to my Chrome browser. Now every time I open a new browser window, I get another piece of art from the Museum Of Modern Art collection. What a lovely way to add art throughout my day.
  • The Remembered project by photographer Gregg Segal is 12 photos of the elderly, sharing space with images of the younger version of themselves. This is haunting and beautiful.

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 Take care of yourself. And each other. 

Hugh Hollowell Jr