We Are Not All Journalists
Social media is work. So how about taking a day off?

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 24 November 2021

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I was at a convenience store the other night, and watched some kids come in who had just escaped from a party they didn’t really like. As soon as they were inside, though, they pulled out their phones and started watching social media reports from the kids who had stayed.

It wasn’t these kids’ FOMO that got my attention. I really don’t think they wanted to be back there at the party, anyway. If anything, they were looking at the photos to remind themselves they weren’t missing anything at all.

Indeed, the revelers dutifully posed with whatever they were drinking or whoever they were flirting with. They found the best angles to photograph the kid throwing up in a trashcan, as well as the best headlines for the image. Someone was chronicling the goings-on in text on WhatsApp, and someone was apparently live-streaming confessional interviews with kids too stoned to realize what they were sharing.

What struck me most was how much work everyone was doing. That’s likely a good part of why the party was so bad. Nobody was there in the room. What they were doing only mattered to them insofar as they could capture it. It was like a wedding where everyone was a wedding photographer, but no one was a guest. No one knew how to party for its own sake.

It reminded me of some neighbors of ours when I was growing up. The Gersh family. They’d take all these big trips to Europe, and then when they got back they’d make all the neighbors come over and watch a Kodak Carousel slideshow of all the photos they took of themselves at the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu. Narrating over the sound of the projector fan, as if their photos were interesting to us. (Don’t tell them, please. The onion dip was good and Mrs. Gersh was generous with the chips.)

But all I could think of as I sat through the endless travelogue was how the Gersh’s never really took a vacation. They traveled as if they were working photojournalists, more intent on capturing each moment than experiencing it — probably imagining how each photo they took would look on the projected screen at home. And then recalling what little they did experience on their trip through their photos rather than their sense memory.

Amazingly, after all that, I ended up becoming a professional writer, myself. And while I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to spend their time blogging and tweeting their lives, I want to suggest to anyone who will listen that this is not an appropriate way of going through life. I became a writer, in part, as a way of remaining just a bit removed from whatever I was doing. I could go to a wild rave or a psychically challenging LSD party always holding onto the idea that I was “just” a reporter. I could remain a participant-observer, with one part of my awareness always in journalist mode. My writing was a tether to safety, but it was also my obstacle to true immersion. Living with that tether is work. It’s a barrier to experience and intimacy, and something I’ve learned to let go of when I want to truly engage with a friend, family member, nature, or even my own mind.

There are real downsides to being on duty, 24/7. In some ways, it suggests that full participation just isn’t worth it if it’s not recorded somewhere. But that’s just not true. What you do matters. That’s not a reason to broadcast it, but to live it.

So this Thanksgiving, go play on social media, take pictures, stream videos, tweet your clever ideas, and write blogs if it makes you happy. Do a Zoom with your faraway relatives. But save some time for yourself and whoever you’re actually with.

You’re not on the job. Take the day off, and enjoy the party.