Until 2011, I spent a total of about 4 minutes on social media like Facebook, MySpace, etc. I signed up for an account a couple of years ago, but then immediately forgot my password and, until very recently, never looked back. Like many others, I feel that social media is consuming an alarming amount of people’s time and energy, often in ways that seem rather wasteful and uninspired.
(Tweet: “I just scratched my leg.”)
At the end of the day, of course, people will choose to spend their time and energy as they think fit, and it can seem rather ‘highbrow’ to criticize current uses of social media as a waste of time. But when we discover, for example, that from April 2008 to April 2009 alone, total time spent on Facebook in the United States was 232 million hours (or 13.9 billion minutes), and total time spent on MySpace was 83 million hours (or 5 billion minutes), are we not entitled to ask: what activities are people substituting for these extra hours on Facebook, MySpace, etc.
Put otherwise, what would postmodern society be like if, in the United States, for example, those 232 million hours spent on Facebook and 83 million hours spent on MySpace were spent in real life conversation with friends and family, or spent being engaged in creative activity, or volunteering in some organization of interest, or reading, or having a cup of tea under a tree outside, etc.
Naturally, the same question applies to all those cultures in which social media has exploded in popularity, not just the United States. What would life be like – what could life be like – if the vast amounts of time dubiously dedicated to social media were directed elsewhere? It’s an interesting thought-experiment to take seriously. Life could be unrecognizably different, and perhaps, unrecognizably better.
Nevertheless, for all its many undeniable negative and debilitating features, there is something about social media that is quite exhilarating, which no doubt explains its popularity. Social media provides an extremely efficient and cheap medium through which people, at various levels and in various ways, can connect and communicate with each other. To point out the obvious, social media has changed the social world, perhaps forever.
Leaving to one side the widespread misuse to which this medium of connection and communication is currently put, the point I’d like to raise presently concerns the possibilities social media raises for grassroots activists. Just imagine, if you will, social media but with a social or political purpose? Just imagine social media being used as an oppositional or organisational tool by activists? Given that it is essentially free, campaigns can be launched online which would be simply prohibitively expensive if they relied on the distribution of printed literature or televised adverts, etc.
After thinking long and hard about it, I decided that 2011 would be the year I experimented with social media as a tool in service of the Voluntary Simplicity Movement. I recognize, at once, the apparent contradiction this presents. Isn’t voluntary simplicity about avoiding superfluous technology, for example, or spending time in nature rather than in front of a computer? I accept that there is certainly a tension here, one which those of us living simply (or anyone) ought to be very wary of.
But social media, I propose, like fire, can be both good or bad, depending on how much of it there is and how it is used. And if it is the case that social media is now the preferred medium of connection and communication, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to dismiss it solely as the cause of great problems when just perhaps, if used wisely, it could be a part of the solution? Indeed, could social media be a catalyst for the reinvigoration of grassroots, participatory democracy?
One of the most prominent criticisms levelled at the Voluntary Simplicity Movement is that it is an unorganized and disconnected constituency, lacking in political consciousness. Too many simple livers, it can be argued, spend their time and energy trying to escape consumerist society, when that time and energy is needed to help transform that society. My aim in creating a Facebook page for the Simplicity Collective, therefore, is too provide an oppositional and educational tool which I hope serves the purpose of organizing and mobilizing the Simplicity Movement. Facebook also provides a convenient Discussion page which I hope will come to be used as forum where participants in the Simplicity Movement can connect and communicate with each other, sharing information and insights.
So please take a moment to check out the Simplicity Collective Facebook Page by clicking the link below. (And if you like it, please tell your friends!)
It is time to unite under the banner of Simplicity.
 See ‘Inside Facebook’ at http://www.insidefacebook.com/2009/06/02/total-us-time-spent-on-facebook-up-700-in-the-last-year/.