Friday, November 22, 2019

Bentley Little Was Right (Or, a Swan Song)

Bentley Little may be the smartest modern-day horror writer. When I interviewed him back in the early days of Dark Scribe Magazine, I was struck during my research that the guy had no official website, no social media presence, and did very little to no publicity or book signings when a new title was released. He’s written one book per year—on rough average—since his debut in 1990 with The Revelation. His latest, The Bank, releases in 2020 from Cemetery Dance.

One book per year over 30 years—give or take a year or two here and there.

No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram. No official author website. Hell, not even an email address.

Think about that for a minute: A working writer who maintains a substantial enough fan base to publish consistently for three decades (and counting). Anomaly? Most would argue yes. Yet Little’s conscious decision to eschew the conventional wisdom espoused by agents and publicists and publishers that a social media presence is necessary to peddle one’s wares warrants examination. And some degree of envy.

Imagine it: No emails to read and respond to. No time-wasting distractions on social media. No online persona to cultivate and maintain. No chance for misstep in the current era of cultural overcorrection. Imagine the hours given back to write. Or read. Or whatever creative endeavor eludes you because of the giant, time-sucking black hole of the Internet.  

Now some would argue—and they’d be correct in doing so—that life doesn’t have to be about extremes, that there are enough hours in the day to seek out and enjoy all that we desire, and that it’s really all about striking a balance. Finding one’s equilibrium sweet spot. Yin and yang.

True enough.

But I’d argue that the Internet—social media, in particular—isn’t like all the other boys and girls on the playground. No, its time-wasting properties are unique; it’s real-time, continuous and never-ending, with characters dropping in and out, and information flashing by at light speed. Miss a little, miss a lot. And therein lies its distinctively addictive appeal. I should know—I’ve been a social media addict for more than a decade now.

Like a functioning alcoholic, I’m a functioning social media addict. To the naked eye, I function just fine—I work, I socialize, I create, I eat and sleep. But over the years, I’ve noticed subtle changes as my social media presence and activity increased—from that first Myspace page in 2004 to joining Facebook in 2007, followed by Twitter and Instagram in the ensuing years. I’ve noticed that I live with a nagging sense of urgency to check social media, that I feel compelled to post about all manner of things that I do and opinions I hold. I’ve watched entire live concerts through my iPhone camera, obsessively needing to capture the experience instead of just living it. I realize, with a sickening sense that I’ve allowed myself to be swept up and away, that I’m often subconsciously trying to “keep up” with the Joneses, that I’m comparing myself (often unfavorably) with the social media personas of others. It’s brought a persistent rhythm of unease to my mind and spirit—unease that I’m a fraud, unease that I’m living life “wrong” or “not enough.” I feel like an imposter, that although I try to present myself and my accomplishments in a certain light that I know, deep down, that I’ve fallen short of my potential. Social media has become for me like a virtual game of fake it until you make it.

Mindless fun can be useful, therapeutic even. There is something restorative about letting go and indulging in something pointless and undemanding—the silliness of a slapstick comedy, revisiting an old cartoon or sitcom from childhood, flipping through home improvement magazines for inspiration, or rummaging through an old yearbook. But, truth be told, social media isn’t even fun anymore. Social media is full of extremes and extremists—people arguing with themselves and each other over everything from politics to social and cultural issues. There is very little in the way of substantive discussion to be found, with each party usually entering the fray with a predetermined and fixed mindset. Social media presents two choices in 2019: divisive and toxic or nonsensical and inane.  I’m guilty of contributing to both to varying degrees.

A steady diet of foolishness is not fun, and idiocy rules on social media. Yes, by all means, re-post that news story from six years ago and watch everyone else jump in with fury and righteous indignation until some poor sap actually opens the link and points out the date. Yes, please post about that celebrity’s death—you know, the one who died a decade ago. Yes, if you re-post this pretty picture of fuzzy bunnies frolicking beneath the American flag, Jesus himself will bless you with a lottery win. You bet me that the little girl with the cleft palette can’t get 100 likes on Facebook? Well, then, by all means—let’s share it even though your own page is private and that little girl (if she or anyone associated with her in real-life actually started the damn campaign) will never see your share, like, or comment. And despite the proliferation of information about fake news and clickbait and bad foreign actors infiltrating social media to sow discord, many continue to share this crap and engage with bots. Critical thinking is your friend, people—have it over for dinner sometime and get to know it.

Reflecting, I realize that I don’t even enjoy my own participation on social media much anymore. Post about a TV show or film you enjoyed and, within seconds, some armchair quarterback shows up to offer their unsolicited expertise as to why the opposite is true. When people aren’t giving in to their compulsion to crap on the parades of others, they’re posting graphic photos of animal abuse (you know, to bring attention to it) or taking a victory lap for their “brave” stand against this social evil or that from behind their keyboards and the comfort of their suburban sofas. The social justice warriors of social media have deluded themselves into thinking that they make an actual difference because they had the “courage” to pile-on in a thread already 300 comments long with people largely agreeing anyway. Social justice in an echo chamber; yeah, that’s effective. Social media has been permeated by a vitriolic hivemind that demands nothing but complete submission to the will of the masses, with swift and total annihilation to anyone who dares question, suggest, or temper such contentious debate with anything resembling nuance, a sense of pragmatism, or (the unholiest of crimes) the application of critical thinking skills. Motives will be ascribed, malfeasance charged. Those accused (of anything) are guilty until proven innocent on the words of the accuser alone, with the idea of supporting someone now conflated with a mandatory belief in what they’ve alleged. Proof? Proof is for pussies in the age of social media. Personal evolution? Nope—not allowed. You’re either “woke” or you’re not. Personal growth would just detract from the moral wrath —and then what would we be angry about?   

As many of you know, I’ve had something similar happen to me recently. It was an eye-opener, the proverbial slap to the face this social media addict needed to begin his recovery. I wouldn’t have wished the experience on my worst enemy. It was sobering—to see those “friends” who immediately bailed before I even issued the first rebuttal. There were those friends who offered words of support privately, less who went on the record publicly or defended me outright. There were those who stayed silent the entire time. I noticed and made mental note of who spoke up, who spoke out, who said nothing, and who jumped ship. Lesson learned, painful as it was.

Honestly, it’s all too tiring. I’m worn out, drained, and weary of it all.

To circle back, Bentley Little has now inspired me to rip a page out of his playbook and to log off. Time to drown out the buzzing rancor of social media. Instagram is gone, to be followed shortly by Twitter. Deactivating Facebook is in the cards, too—with the jury still out on it being a permanent versus temporary move. I may keep it after an extended break through the holidays to cross-post reviews from Dark Scribe Magazine and op-eds from my blog, which I’ll fire up again in earnest, old-school style. If I return to the land of Zuckerberg, it’ll be after a sharp culling of friends and followers. What Facebook was, it will never be again. At least not for me after recent events. I’ve given too much of my time and energy and attention to the white noise of social media—primarily to the detriment of my creative pursuits. Time to focus on getting back to my real life—viewing it through my own eyes instead of through an iPhone lens—and rediscovering my authentic self. 


Pax Romano said...

You do what you have to do, friend. I'll keep that stash of cash for you in case you get in trouble again for stalking a certain actress we all know and love. ;) xoxo

Joy said...

I didn't share my reasoning when I reduced Facebook to checking one closed group where I post my art homework, but I've hauled myself out of social media for the reasons you list. It's toxic, full of bots, dodo birds, and performance politics that would give Caligula a hard on. I too am addicted. I too am greatly reducing my participation in the nonsense. I do
worry that as a consequence I'll lose friends. It's a testament to the power of FOMO that I think all 350 of my Facebook friends are my actual friends, though. But teal friends will continue to reach out, if they have alternate contact info, so please, Vince, do share your contact information somewhere, so people who want to know how you're doing can contact you. I send you my best regards, and hope that pulling back from social media will lead to more peace, more creativity, and more balance to your life.

Vince Liaguno said...

Thanks, Joy. I've logged off through the holidays and will then re-assess when I'm feeling fresh and decompressed. Deleting Instagram was easy, and Twitter has never been a big draw for me so I'm ignoring that for now. There are aspects of FB and connecting with people I genuinely enjoy and admire (present company included!) so I'm hoping that after some time away I could re-approach it with a different mindset. I'd have to jettison quite a few people I'm connected with there but have little or no interaction with to make it work.

Please, let's stay connected. I'll be posting a bit more to this blog and my author website is always a good way to keep up with what I'm doing on the writing front ( My email is Anxious to see all of your stunning collage creations upon my (hopeful, eventual) return. xo