Social Media, Psychopathy, and Time Management

In May 2009 I joined Twitter, two months later I deleted my account, and now twelve years after that I have rejoined the quagmire of Twitter for one single reason: it’s the only place where I can follow the vast majority of authors, scientists, philosophers, psychologists, etc., who discuss the intellectual and fascinating topics I enjoy, as very few are on Facebook or Instagram.

People like Sam Harris, David Frum, Andrew Hubberman, David Grinspoon, Yuval Noah Harari, Carolyn Porco, David Deutsch, Paul Bloom, Adam Grant, Max Tegmark, Brian Cox, Ethan Kross, Matt Haig, and the list goes on and on.

Though I’ve had an account on Facebook since 2006, I infrequently log in, thus people’s posts from a week ago show up at the top of my newsfeed when I do log in.  So, for most of my friends and family, I never hit the like button on their selfies, kid or dog photos, food photos, yard sale posts, or conspiracy posts. They probably think I’m ignoring them, but it’s really that I just never see the posts.

I once considered Instagram to be easier to interact with, and all the photos and videos were more interesting and engaging, but now days I find it to be so uncompelling that I don’t know why I still log in.  I just heart photos without even reading the captions anymore, most of the time just quickly scrolling while brain-dead and thumb-tapping.

I suspect my new experience with Twitter will not be anymore refreshing, but I will at least not be tweeting anything related to the humdrum that is my day-to-day life and unless a person tweets content related to science, history, physics, psychology, philosophy, economics/politics, or environmentalism, I honestly won’t be following them.

Beyond the scope of my social media ventures, these last 7 months of unemployment have been interesting.  I have come to a few self-realizations, as I have been reflecting and ruminating on many things.  Of particular note, I’ve come to realize that I’m far more apathetic and narcissistic than I had previously accepted myself to be.

I mean, I’ve never been particularly interested in the ongoings of other people’s monotonous daily lives and I’ve had an ever-growing ego since I was a teenager, but these past few years I have now seen that I have really pushed the limits of what is socially acceptable.  To a point where I have begun to evaluate whether or not I might have some degree of psychopathy.

Not to the point where I’m worried I may engage in criminal behavior, but just to the point that I don’t find myself interested in the stereotypical things that other people desire to spend their time doing or discussing, up-to-and-including seeing or hearing them discuss the on-goings of their own personal lives.

There have been moments, particularly this year, where people have come up or messaged me and started telling me about basic human experiences occurring in their lives, like relationship issues or recent purchases or something that happened at work, and within seconds my mind was flooded with thoughts of, “Sweet baby Buddha, I hope this woman stops talking soon,” or “This is painfully boring,” or “How can I end this conversation?”

At least before, I could still pretend to be interested or fake sympathy or empathy, but recently I can’t even do that and I can tell people notice as my facial expressions and other bodily nonverbal cues give me away by expressing what I’m thinking and feeling during conversation. It feels exhausting to pretend like I care.

It’s a rather jolting conclusion to have drawn about myself, that I somehow have this growing apathy towards other people and their lives. One would think that the past 7 months that I’ve spent hidden away from the world, avoiding socialization, would do the exact opposite – grow a yearning for socialization. But no, I’m more antisocial now than I’ve ever been.

The narcissistic behavior that I’ve noticed is one that I’ve been more aware of over the years. I’ve had an issue with my ego for many years as it spawned from my adolescent insecurities. A meager way of defending myself in the midst of an underdeveloped self-confidence. It also didn’t help that I have bipolar disorder which often gives rise to irrational self-importance, feeding the ego exactly what it craves.

Being unemployed has been humbling and through the process of humility, the layers of deceit that my ego has been hiding behind have been slowly peeling away. Making the dastardly creature far easier to spot as it constantly maneuvers to renounce any suggestion that I’m not a valuable and skilled employment candidate worthy of any employer. Every rejection letter exposes the truth it refuses to believe, that I am, in fact, rather ordinary and deserve no special attention.

Sometimes my apathy and narcissism are at odds because my apathy pushes people away in fear I will have to interact with them but my ego demands their attention, creating a bizarre dance of delusion. This very writing is one of those dances – my apathy refuses to engage and communicate with other people about my thoughts, but my ego presumes to believe that people will want to read about my thoughts if I post them publicly.

I’ve attempted to make my time away from the world as productive as I can, even in the midst of a pandemic.  I have been getting more reading done than I have in years, books that had been sitting around collecting dust. I’ve been writing a little too, giving this blog the attention it’s been lacking. I’ve even been sewing (no joke). But what I’ve been doing the most is consuming video-based media, truly an insane amount of streaming on Netflix and HBO Max, and even some films.  I’ve also been drowning myself in YouTube videos on topics ranging from science and history to comic books and film.

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about time spent on media like TV and video games and whether or not that time is a waste. When I was a teen and in my early-to-mid twenties, I easily played video games for 9 to 12 hours in a sitting.  One could easily suggest that playing video games for that many hours was a waste of my time and brain power.

It was just such a perspective that was ultimately what pulled me away from the activity in my late twenties, I couldn’t see beyond the fact that I wasn’t accomplishing anything meaningful while sitting there, hands glued to my controller and eyes glaring at my television screen.

When I gave up that addictive behavior several years ago, I replaced it with watching vast amounts of TV, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchy Roll.  Arguably it was worse than video games because with TV your brain is doing less work than when you’re interacting in games, and if you’re gaming with others in-person or online – you’re also socializing. TV only required me to assume a vegetative state on the couch.

One could reasonably argue I took a questionable waste of time and swapped it for an even greater waste of time. There are three arguments I could consider for continuing to watch TV: it provides an escape, it activates the analytical part of my brain, and that it mirrors elements of human behavior and society.

To elaborate a bit, the first potential positive is that it allows me to unplug from the world around me as a coping mechanism, a way to either channel or avoid the stress or anxiety caused by things happening in my life that I might not have the power or ability to change or address. The apparent negative to this would be if I’m using it to avoid responsibilities that I am capable of accomplishing.

The second positive is that it stimulates my brain in a different manner than a book because I visually and audibly learn about characters, their history, motives, the setting, anticipate future actions, and so on. While books require you to imagine the elements that are often described in the necessary detail, television and film require you to fill in the gaps created by the reduced textual elements.

In other words, books explain in detail what’s happening so that you can use your imagination to visualize how it’s happening, where as videos show you what’s happening in the absence of details so that you can analyze and decipher why it’s happening.

The third consideration is that our society molds itself from the stories we tell each other, including those stories told through the medium of television and film.  Perhaps TV shows and movies help make our society better by suggesting altered human behavior, normalizing things that might otherwise seem alien or taboo. A lot of social movements rely on the power of this medium to help people see and understand various topics. Of course the negative to this is if the theme of the content is criminal in nature, certainly not something that should be normalized.

It’s hard to stop binging on streaming services because it’s addictive, just like video games.  In the past year or two I’ve also taken up the habit of regularly watching the video uploads of my favorite YouTube channels. I could argue that the YouTube videos I watch are on history and science and are interesting and educational, therefore valuable, and one could argue that’s better than spending time watching fictional TV shows and movies. But in all honesty I also watch a lot of YouTube videos about comic books and movies.

I found out today that my favorite intellectual, Sam Harris, watched Game of Thrones and it surprised me because he’s so accomplished, hard working, and productive.  I couldn’t believe he had spent any amount of time on a medium like television, especially since he has stated he spends very little time listening to music because he considers it less valuable than listening to audiobooks and podcasts.  He went on to mention that he wasn’t the best at time management, which also shocked me.

Ultimately, if I question the time I spend doing things, I try to ask myself what I get out of it rather than what I’m losing or sacrificing because of it.  The value gained should be more than the value lost.  If it’s not, then I decide to agonize no longer and walk away knowing I’ve made a good decision.

%d bloggers like this: