Things to Do During Social Isolation

My last article was about how to cope with working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. This article is about things you can do during social isolation. While work may keep you busy for most of the day (if you are working from home during this time), there’s a lot of time you’ll be spending alone outside of work hours. I live alone (and love it) so I naturally have spent a large amount of time by myself. In this article, I’ll share with you some things you can do to stay in your power, explore yourself, and keep away fearful thoughts.


I mentioned this in my previous article but journaling is invaluable and completely necessary when you live alone and you spend most of your time alone. Simply grab an old notebook, some printer paper, or even some old paper grocery bags and get writing. There’s something very relaxing about the tactical act of writing, but if you absolutely have nothing to write on, use your cell phone’s note software.

Write about anything, from the most mundane things you did that day to your plans for the future (and how you’re going to get there). If you get stuck with starting, try situating yourself. By that I mean, write down what day of the week it is, what you just did, what you just ate, where you’re sitting, what you’re glancing at when you’re not writing. Keep the pen moving and get out as much or as little as you want. Keep your journal out and in clear sight so you can pick it up throughout the day. Before long, you’ll find yourself itching to jot down your thoughts.

Read a Book

This one may seem obvious but it can be easy to forget how important, thought-provoking, and enthralling books are. You’re never lacking company when you’re reading a book. There’s sure to be at least one book laying around your house that you can pick up. If you have a hard time concentrating on reading, build up. Don’t try to force too hard. Read a page, then take a break, come back to it. Repeat until you’re able to build longer periods of time reading.

Go Out in Nature

While we are supposed to stay socially isolated, this does not mean that we can’t take a brief walk around the neighborhood or drive to a local park. Go out at any time of the day that you can and that benefits you the most. Try out different times. Since moving and living close to Griffith Park, I’ve been going out early in the morning before 8am and I love that time. It’s already light out and I get in a brief hike before work. If you don’t live in an area where there is much to do outdoors, simply go outside and find a tree or a bush or a small plant. Breathe the air. Look up at the sky.


There is no substitute for exercise. Walk, run, do yoga, lift one of the many bean cans you’ve stocked up on, jump, dance. Do anything to move your body a bit, no matter how small it is. Exercise is not about shame for what you cannot do or what you lack the ability to do; it is giving your body thanks and restoration for all that it does for you. Get creative about exercise during this time. Maybe going to the gym is not the best idea. So try making up a routine at home, follow a YouTube video, or have a dance party (by yourself).

Make Art

There’s probably a time when you got excited about a new art-related hobby. Do you have any art supplies laying around? Do you have a pen and paper? Draw, paint, make a collage, play an instrument, crochet, sew, design, record a podcast or video. Do something with your hands and/or voice. Engage your childlike wonder and creativity.

Play with Food

My brothers and I used to play “Iron Chef” when we were growing up. We didn’t have much food in the house, so one of the ways to distract ourselves from that was by being creative. We would pick a star ingredient and find some questionable ingredients in the fridge and at the back of the cupboards. Then it would be me against one of my brothers, and our other brother was the judge. Activities around food in a time like this spark creativity while being a productive distraction.

You can also play your own version of Iron Chef alone. Play some music in the background, narrate what you’re doing (if you want a laugh), or cook and eat alongside a YouTube video. There are loads of YouTube videos that can be comforting in this time in the following formats: What I Ate in a Day, mukbangs (these help a lot if you’re lonely over the holidays), and tutorials. My favorite vegan YouTube channels are Julien Solomita (tutorials, comedic cooking), Cheap Lazy Vegan (tutorials and mukbangs), It’s Liv B (tutorials, What I Ate in a Day), and Lauren Toyota (What I Ate in a Day).

Appreciate Your Pets/Plants/Things

My two cats are amazing companions for living alone and spending a lot of time alone. They are low maintenance, but they also love being pet and they love playing. Your pets are little buddies that are always there for you and with you. Life is so much more fun and lively with them around. If you don’t have a pet, appreciate your plants! They are beautiful, living organisms too! Or appreciate the sky outside of your window. Appreciate books; they came from living trees! Appreciate natural materials around your house; they help you live a more convenient life and they came from the environment. Appreciate momentos that you have from childhood, or an award you received a year ago, or the expert way that you put together your IKEA furniture.


Social isolation is a great time to reflect and get to know yourself a bit more and reconnect with the simple things in life.

Coping with WFH Isolation During COVID-19 Outbreak

Amid the warnings set out by government organizations over the Coronavirus, plenty of office workers have been required to work from home until further notice. My company is one of those enforcing this policy. So for the foreseeable future, I will be working from home. It can be a scary time for people, especially those who know or are members of more vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

I’ve spent a good amount of time alone, so I have some insights on coping in a time like this. Here are some positive takeaways from working and living in relative isolation.

Dealing with Anxiety Around COVID-19

While the majority of the population may not have the Coronavirus at this time, we are all affected to different extents by it. Our main preoccupations during this time are fear; a sense of instability, unknown, and lack of control; and a tapping into our survivalist mentality and tendencies. It is important that we remain committed to combating excessive fear. We can start to do this by preparing for isolation to the best of our abilities by purchasing the materials that will help to make us feel more secure in our home environment. But in addition to this, here are some useful thoughts to keep in mind.

Continue Life as Usual, but Modified

To alleviate some of our feelings of fear and instability, it is important that we continue to live out our daily lives with any accommodations we need to make. While the world has changed seemingly overnight, individuals can benefit greatly from keeping stable rooting. If you work out every morning and you no longer feel comfortable going to the gym, opt for a morning workout at home. You can bring out your old yoga mat and follow a guided session on YouTube. Modify but don’t entirely eliminate parts of your life that make you feel good, happy, and healthy.

If you need further help to remain calm during this time, you may want to pick up a new self-soothing habit like journaling. Find an old notebook or even printer paper, and start jotting down your thoughts. Listen to calming music and take some time to sit in the present. Continue to plan for the future.

Use This as a Time of Reflection and Change

If it doesn’t cause you additional anxiety, you may choose to see this time as one of deep reflection. For me, I have used the past week at home to evaluate the goals I have in life and to really ask myself why I don’t think I can achieve them. Because of my realizations, I’ve sought out individuals who can help me achieve my goals. For example, I really want to get great with money this year, so I found a financial advisor.

With the realization that the world can change at any moment, I have had to stop questioning whether or not I can do something. And instead of just talking about my goals, I’m giving myself a fair shot to achieve them. Part of coping with a scary time like this is understanding that there is life beyond it. While keeping a future-oriented view is not virus-proof, it can really instill some healthy, distracting ideas that can keep fear at bay, even if temporarily.

Look at the Larger Picture

When I get anxious, it really helps me to look at the larger picture. If we look at diseases like this, we start to see a pattern. COVID-19 started in a meat market, Swine Flu is from pigs, Bird Flu is from birds, MERS is from camels, Mad Cow Disease is from cows, and Sars is from bats. Now, we are listening to the World Health Organization during this critical time, but we chose to ignore them when they told us in 2015 that meat is a carcinogen.

It is important to examine our daily choices and understand that we are all part of a world in which every action has a consequence. We may decide to use this time to determine if it’s really in our best interest to continue ingesting foods that make us ill, cause deadly diseases, devastate the environment, and leave billions hungry. Some documentaries for learning more about our personal impact through our food choices are: What the Health, Game Changers, and Cowspiracy. They are all viewable on Netflix.

Put Emphasis on Your Environment

When we work from home, it’s important that we make it easy and comfortable for ourselves. This means limiting our distractions and giving ourselves the upper-hand to get things done. Is your work area optimized for the work that you need to do? Do you have clutter that distracts you? While our contemporary “LinkedIn gurus” tell us we’re lazy and uncommitted if we can’t work in the most distracting and ill-suited environments, it may well help to actually clear the clutter and set ourselves up for success. Let us not deny any longer that making a peaceful space for working will enable us to do better work.

In my last apartment, I never bothered to furnish my living room. And I also never spent time there. Of course I didn’t want to spend time there, it was sterile and uncomfortable. At my new apartment, I set up a workstation and here I am using it frequently. Spaces matter.

Spending a considerate amount of time alone can be an immense opportunity for growth and reflection on the self and the larger picture. While this virus may be spreading and encouraging a state of fear, we can do our part by taking care that we remain happy and healthy in whatever situation we are currently in. During this time, we can show ourselves just how strong and adaptable we are.

Why I Failed at Minimalism

I’ve struggled in my relationship with possessions for the majority of my life. I think it all started when I was ten. My mother told us we were going on a vacation to America. I packed up some of my things, and we left. I’m still on “vacation” 19 years later. That was the first time I lost a lot of my belongings. Then during my senior year in college, my roommate lit me, and consequently our entire apartment, on fire. A firefighter brought me some of the items he salvaged in a large trash bag.

Last year, I struggled in a job I didn’t enjoy and a relationship that sucked the life out of me. I took on a quest towards minimalism to feel some control over my day-to-day. I read a couple of books about it and watched Marie Kondo. I love the idea of minimalism. The main principle is that objects take space; not just headspace but physical space too. They require attention, upkeep, room.

That is all excellent, but when you come from a scarcity mindset like I do, minimalism was a necessity for me during at least two points in my life. So I got rid of far too many things – things that gave me basic human comfort (like a space heater) and a reusable water bottle. I sunk into survival mode. When I was able to detach from the idea that I had to be a minimalist – part of this idea coming from contemporary consumerist shaming (I can write a whole other blog post on this topic alone) – I found myself grabbing for things I needed that were no longer there.

I failed at minimalism because of my relationship with objects.

Me and objects have had a hard past. They’ve come in and out of my life. I developed an unhealthy obsession with purging my belongings. I remember telling myself in high school that I needed to get rid of everything that had sentimental value, because those things made me weak. I ruthlessly tossed out photos, art I’d created, handmade clothing I’d sewn, and gifts. There’s a lot more to unpack there, of course, but let’s stick to objects for now. My belongings were things I felt guilty, weak, or heavy owning.

Objects and guilt have had a tremendous chokehold in my life. In a recent relationship, my ex-partner degraded me for having a college degree. I subsequently tossed out all of my degrees and awards. I convinced myself that it was because they were holding me back and I couldn’t be defined by them. Possessions have power depending on the meaning and value that we assign to them.

How I’m recovering from my scarcity mindset.

Currently, I’m on a mission to maximalize my life. This means that I am not sorting through my objects other than to organize and use them more properly and frequently. I don’t own much, but the things that I do own are taking on a new life. I appreciate my belongings because they have beauty and functionality. I am still working on my consistent consumer guilt – or thinking that I should do without basic necessities and even small luxuries.

We definitely live in a time wherein we can feel immense pressure to be hyper-aware of our impact on earth. And I already do a measurable amount to lessen my footprint here. But I simply cannot create a constant mode of suffering in my life because I feel the guilt of a life with waste, excess, and comfort. My existence comes with those things. And being fortunate enough as I am, my scarcity mindset fails to give me the tools I need to care for myself properly.

Some ideas for overcoming a scarcity mindset. 


Whether you have an issue with food, objects, relationships, or anything else wherein you feel you don’t deserve something, it’s important to self-soothe. If someone gives you a present and you feel guilty, talk to yourself. You may say something like, “they wanted to do a nice thing for me, and that makes them feel good.” Or, “I am appreciative that they care to do this for me.” When it comes to food, self-sooth by saying, “it’s okay for me to have food now. I need to nourish my body and this is the way to do it.” This takes some work, but it’s necessary.

Organize rather than throw out

If you have a scarcity mindset, you may now believe that you don’t deserve to have objects. You may skip meals because you don’t believe you should eat when you are hungry. This mindset applies in many areas of our lives. Sometimes it’s induced by a traumatic event, or it can have grown from all the influx of minimalist bloggers, YouTubers, and other celebrities promoting the message.

If minimalism sounds discomforting to you, start with organization. We do not have to burden ourselves with continuous guilt because we receive messages about it on the media. You can look at your own spending habits and consumption, and generally have a good idea of what you can make improvements on. You don’t have to listen to influencers. Only you have the unique relationship you have with your objects.

Invest in basics, then in what you love

When we are afraid of losing everything or not having enough, we self-sabotage. We start to believe that maybe we’re not like everybody else, and we don’t need basic things like food and things that make our lives just a little bit easier or more bearable. In such, we deprive ourselves. Not just of the basics, but also of what comes after the basics. If we’re so focused on what we are lacking, we have hardly enough brain power left to focus on anything else.

You can make a list of things that will make you more comfortable. Then you can purchase those things. Having basic comfort will free you up to think about other things. Once you have your basics covered, you can blossom and begin investing in things you love.

I’m not a minimalist and that’s okay.

I’m thankful that I failed at minimalism because it forced me to look at the deep traumas I experienced in relation to owning objects. Had I not started to practice minimalism, I would not have come to my current state of mind. Minimalism is a great way for people to open themselves up to exploring their relationship with objects. For me, it opened wounds and left me feeling burdened with a sense of lack. That helped me immensely in my healing journey. And now I am comfortable with owning – and I’ll be able to spend more time doing the things I love without the burden of guilt that comes from having a scarcity mindset.

Claiming Space

I have often found myself subduing myself for the sake of others – at work and in my personal life – and in so, fail at claiming space. I used to barge and wrangle with others to try to get them to see my worth. I was very vocal and not often heard. Now, I stay quiet and go inward to evaluate my current situation. In this, I often find that I give too much space to others where I should take up some of my own space. By this I mean that I give them space in my mind enough to let it shrink me into obscurity when I interact with them. When I remain quiet, I claim my space. I do not let the actions and words of others disturb my current state of mind.

When we are put into situations where we have difficulty claiming space, we can suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of low self-worth, and disconnection from humanity. Even if we are subordinated to the point of being demeaned, we can claim space. This state is not dependent on others granting you space. It is all yours. The only challenge is that we’ve been taught by society to grant more and less space for certain people. Invariably, this leads to structures of hierarchy that promote ranking each human being’s worth on a given set of principles that benefit the top of the chain.

Claiming space is simply recognizing that I have a place in this world, whether others like it or not. Luckily for my sake and the sake of others around me, when I claim space, I come more into alignment with my power. With this power, I can make myself well enough to interact more consciously and purposefully in this world. When we focus on our wellbeing, we are able to do more in this world and for this world.

Clearing Out

After a rough and grounding week I decided that I needed to make some moves towards a minimalistic lifestyle. I’ve come back to minimalism again and again since I was a teenager. I would purge and then realize I needed something I gave away, get upset, and start gradually accumulating again.

Bringing new possessions into your home seems innocent enough, until they start to cloud your thinking and you realize you’re always misplacing things. I’ve also noticed that when I have more, I feel the need to get more. When I have less, I stop getting overwhelmed by my surroundings and remember that I enjoy to do things like write and read.

Today, I spent much of the day going through my closets. I have three – living room (for sports equipment), bedroom (for clothing and travel gear), and hallway (for household supplies). From my living room closet, I was able to reduce down a lot of my unnecessary paperwork. I condensed everything to one central binder that holds all of my important documents.

From my bedroom closet, I reduced my shoe collection by half (and plan to reduce more). I also went through all of my clothing and sold some items at Buffalo Exchange. I didn’t get much money for them, and it was another great reminder that it’s vital to make smart purchases because you won’t restore the money you spend by selling.

I gave away a lot hobby items – cross stitching and instruments. These are hobbies I wanted to take up but never got around to getting serious about. The objects were making me feel under pressure to enjoy the hobbies more when I did dabble. I had to make a decision as to whether these were hobbies I wanted to continue pursuing, or if I thought the items looked cool or made me falsely feel like I was engaging in those hobbies.

I also got rid of more books. I recently purged about half my collection but it was time again to revisit my book cart since there were a few stragglers. I’m still having a hard time letting go of a pile (probably 20-30) notebooks. I’ll come back to them at another time.

The kitchen is overwhelming so I held off on it. There are cups and pantry items and baking dishes. I plan on replacing my plates, mugs, and bowls with handmade ceramics though so the slow change is fine right now.

Even just today’s work has already alleviated some of my anxiety with my apartment and freed some room for me to think and write this blog post. I want my apartment to be a simple space where I can do yoga, meditate, and spend time writing and reading. With all of these possessions, I’d forgotten the important few things that bring me a lot of joy.

I look forward to getting to know my space again and making it more sacred. The past week has shown me that it is hard to process emotions and circumstances in the flow of daily life. We burden ourselves with so much when we get home from work. It is more critical now for me than ever to give myself room to breathe and grow and sit in silence with less things.

The Unpublished Persona

The Unpublished Persona is all that does not appear on the front of self-display. As the tree falls in the forest, neither does the completed life go unpublished. At least according to current trends in sharing worded and visual messages of the self. The Unpublished Persona splits the contemporary person from his life on display. The shadow has come full form and has simplistically been rendered into the solidification of nothing other than everything untethered to public display. Those who do not present published versions of themselves become the stuff of enigma. More so, they are sided as reluctant, and in so refusing, to participate in the act of individual branding. In effect, the individual seeking distinguishing identification in the social and professional realm relies on similar methods of information circulation as brands do. When individuals become brands, the Unpublished Persona can take a number of faces, and is not pre-supposed by the brand. Though, we may like to think that it is exactly correlative. That is, that the Unpublished Persona and the published persona on social media are the same.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt says in The Life of the Mind regarding the individual and his urge of self-display that “Nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator. In other words, nothing that is, insofar as it appears, exists in the singular; everything that is is meant to be perceived by somebody.” This ideology, as applicable to modern displays, intertwines with voyeurism. Spectatorship implies some degree of control that the displayer has over his performance. Whether he invites the public into his theatre or invites the public to stop on the side of the street to watch him, he controls the location, beginning, and ending of the happening of the display. Posting on social media takes some of these elements. It assumes a broad base of viewership, but the beginnings and endings of display are not clearly confined. Rather than give a performance which will expire, social media gives longevity to a parcel of information. Beyond choosing the content and publishing it, the displayer has a lesser degree of control over the interaction. His control is contained in curation of his brand.

mountain photo by mohammad alizade

This avenue of branding transforms elements previously attributed to corporate branding. The status update becomes a press release. The profile photo becomes an icon, a graphic for recognition, and in some functions, a logo. The personal description becomes a mission statement, and is even referred to as a tagline. Relationally though not accurately, the Unpublished Persona is everything that does not exist in this branding formulation. The Unpublished Persona is the one who determines what content will meet the brand message, and will establish how controlled the thematization is. Even the decision to have private social media accounts contributes to the curation, and serves as a formulation of content in itself. Redaction makes its own branding statement. Some individuals opt to make their social media profiles “private.” Even so, a synopsis of intent is viewable through the profile image, tagline, and any content made public. The Unpublished Persona is conscientious, calculating, and aware of his presence. There are inevitably some mistaken moves in the process of administering brand maintenance (depending on the conscientiousness of the brand manager), but social repercussion keeps his brand in bounds.

Many of those Unpublished Personas evolving the brand rely on external validation for brand refinement. When an article of published personal branding information is met with quantifiably positive interaction, the Unpublished Persona takes notes and can replicate some of the elements of that success for a later campaign of self-display. He is cognizant of information met with rigorous examination. His brand aggregates more content, more feedback, and more attentiveness as the social media account ages. The pool of content that fills his feeds reflect the self that cohesively brands his namesake. Social media savviness identifies him if he fulfills predominant categories of content. The whole of self-display rests in cooperative restraint and propelling of the individual social media appearance. He is restrained where his personal branding veers away from his core branding message. He is propelled where the content is safest for those engaging him to associate themselves with.

The Unpublished Persona works for the brand; he is the full-time brand manager. He corrects the content direction when he needs to and he may have internal conflicts about authenticity, proper representation, and alignment of his multi-dimension. The Unpublished Persona self-displays as an act of spontaneity, improvisation, and in semi-controlled extinction; the published self is tuned, whittled, and responsively conducted. The present Unpublished Persona perhaps fears his mortality more than any member of generations before him. For this fear, he leaves record of his persona in measurable narrative. It is not enough for him that he thinks and lives. He establishes his longevity in the pool of social history. As Arendt observes, “To appears always means to seem to others, and this seeming varies according to the standpoint and the perspective of the spectators. In other words, every appearing thing acquires, by virtue of its appearingness, a kind of disguise that may indeed – but does not have to – hide or disfigure it.”

mountain photo by Rohit Tandon

Displayed as the hero of his own story, the brand identifies the peaks and falls of the individual’s journey. Constructed narratives on social media highlight different foundational and universal elements of the human story. Some of the narratives focus on exceptional, politically-neutral, and resoundingly positive momentos of a rather muted, highly-polished existence. Others offer a more rounded view of a human life, including joyous, mundane, and down-trotted examinations with winded descriptions. Sentimentality and focus on outlook as directly correlative with a worldly success may decorate the former. While authenticity and philosophical musing may cower over the spectators of the latter. The curve of narration regards time, place, and experience in developmental, linear, and successive achievement.

Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty says, “No thing, no side of a thing, shows itself except by actively hiding the others.” A prime example of this saturated division of selfhood in literature lives in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll is the outer figure and the exemplary citizen who contributes his share to society. He presents well to the public and meets the requirements (at least at the beginning of the narrative) for presentation of his public self. In seeking a perfectly good version of himself to live in the world, the shadow figure Hyde is torn and manifested into a separate entity altogether. The Unpublished Persona, even if he does not meet this extreme dichotomy of personhood, lives as a different entity from the published self. The published individual brandished to his spectators expectantly trivializes and compounds the unpublished self. Depending on the caliber of social branding, the Unpublished Persona is even romanticized and insights into material, no matter how mundane, that is presented from a source other than firsthand gains traction. Herein, the “candid” personal information takes on a life tertiary to the published persona and the Unpublished Persona.

The Unpublished Persona is not the brand, but it is what the brand suggests of the individual’s life outside of the public narrative. Arendt poses a question in her 1978 book that is just as relevant today, “Since we live in an appearing world, is it not much more plausible that the relevant and meaningful in this world of ours should be located precisely on the surface?” Hannah Arendt goes on to suggest that “the inner, non-appearing organs exist only in order to bring forth and maintain the appearances.” Contemporary persons have added a new layer this meaning. There is now not just inner and outer personas, but also the published individual. The person displays himself to a live audience for in-person interactions, and displays himself to a fluid, voyeuristic audience on social media.

Self-display is an integral human quality, and is dimensionally staged on the front of social media. Through narrative feed, personhood is condensed, summarized, and uniquely posited as an act of recording. He chooses the story of his mortality. The Unpublished Persona lives his epitomized version through social media self-display. Not bound by expiration of information transmission, the brand can display continuity and lasting representation of the Unpublished Persona.

The Existence of the Social Media Non-User

The social media non-user exists. He doesn’t lurk in the shadows; he lives in the plain light of day. He goes to the grocery store, does his laundry, and even has hobbies. But in his face-to-face social interactions, he may have to explain himself. Facebook and other social media networks inevitably come up, and he admits that he’s not on there. Cory Bullinger and Stephanie Vie wrote an article titled “After a Decade of Social Media: Abstainers and Ex-Users, ” in which they examine how social media users view non-users; how non-users view themselves; and the stated reasons why non-users do not use social media. In this, they dissect the non-user as a part of the technological revolution. After all, he is part of it just as much as social media users are.

People who don’t use social media are rendered quite simplistically into oddities, remnants of an old age, and ill-adapted to contemporary society. Moreso, they are even regarded as dangerous and poorly socialized. Bullinger and Vie say that “The literature written by users about non-users (including non-adopters or ex-users) largely discussed the costs of non-use….non-users were framed as abnormal, suspicious, or deviant. ” Vogue even wrote an article on non-users, citing that “One of Slate’s digital advice columnists has said, ‘If you are going out with someone and they don’t have a Facebook profile, you should be suspicious.'” A news outlet even made a claim that abstaining from Facebook could be an indicator that you’re capable of horrendous acts like being a mass murderer, like James Holmes.

The social media non-user is placed in a critical position of needing to publicly defend himself.

Why do we feel an intense pull to have a presence on social media? Why do we regard those without it as suspicious? The social media non-user has become the pillar of oddity, instead of being just another participant in society who has his personal reasons not to engage. We have become socially self-policing in our suspicion of those without profiles on the primary social media networks. The trouble is that the grasp of social judgment has fallen to non-geographically specific levels. Rather than belonging to close-knit communities, we detach ourselves under the pretense of more connectivity. The more far-reaching we are in the social sphere, the more superficial our communications become and the more tailored they are for the broadest audience possible. Whereas in real life we separate our friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, with social media we communicate with all of these groups simultaneously.

photo by Irene Dávila

The trouble is that social control has reached such a serious level around social media that those without it are regarded as obtuse and even socially dangerous. Self-exclusion has been transformed into an imagined admittance of guilt. The assumption is that those without social media must be hiding something. The fact that an individual cannot be found in the Facebook search bar implicates him with serious reservation and suspicion. Part of the fear is in his invisibility. “As researchers like Cynthia L. Selfe (1999) and Dennis Baron (2009) have argued, the pervasiveness of technologies renders them invisible; we would argue here that the ubiquity of social media now renders non-users nearly invisible as well.”

It’s no secret that some potential employers are screening applicants by searching for them on social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Questions may fester in their minds if they can’t find someone. Are they using a different name? Did they deactivate their accounts before applying for new jobs? What are they hiding? Abstaining commands far more suspicion than having social media does in our current world. As a non-user myself, I have written in defense of my decision to abstain in the past. I felt propelled to explain myself, even though I was not explicitly prompted to do so. Even this action is somewhat demonstrative of a fear that I will be misunderstood and misconstrued. The act of explaining a decision publicly points to the obvious insecurity in the ability for others to understand why a decision was made.

The social media non-user exists, but he stands on uneven ground. At once, he retains the dignity assigned to making the personal choice to abstain. Concurrently, he finds himself in a socially precarious position, regarded in deviant terms and even being rejected from potential jobs and other opportunities.

The New Literacy

I recently went to two different trainings held by local small business development governmental agencies. In each of these, the speakers made similar statements regarding the future of communication. The first lecturer made several claims that people are no longer reading. She was referring to blogs and long articles published online. Instead, she proposed, people want to look at images. Her second statement was a prediction of the death of email. The second lecturer similarly alluded to the idea that individuals are no longer reading through stating that a blog post should take 15 minutes to write. Minimal effort, she pushed, is required for this task. Volume over quality. And they may well be right, the majority of their audiences may well not be interested in reading more than a few loosely structured sentences. Scaled in our micro-communities and extending out to celebrity networks, simplified, easily-digestible messages and pictorial representation have become the new literacy.

Part of this change in media, which I spoke about in Molding Mediums, shifts the type of content that we publish and consume. Beyond the concept of wide-spread literacy, the new focus is on literacy of “proper” social exposure. In this I mean that time-consuming intellectuality has been rejected in preference of playing the game of social media. Where literacy was once one of the ultimate determinants of cultural fluency, the turn has moved to social visibility, regardless of the morality and ethics attached to the communications. Entertainment trumps intellectualism. Followers trump thought-out arguments. The new literacy is social media prowess. Social media has changed the way that we communicate. On each platform, we abide by different regulations of the medium, whether these rules are strict or guidelines.

Marshall McCluhan, author of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, states that “‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” Social media literacy is ultimately controlled by the intent of the author. In contrast with theories on the intention of the author when it comes to works of literature (Intentional Fallacy), social media places closer authorship on the person posting. Despite the phrase seen on Twitter that “retweets and likes are not endorsements”, the phrase bears questioning the ability and willingness of the author to take responsibility for his spurts of communication, regardless of their origination.

Dry Deser Foliage photo by Olenka Kotyk

The new literacy has mapped humans for the current communication medium. Those who cannot abide by the disclosure “requirements” of society through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other accounts, fall into obscurity. Those who master the manipulative techniques of those mediums are rewarded with audiences who numbly self-inject, respond, and deflect the opinions of those who they follow. The new literacy has become so entrenched in our society that once in applying for a job, I was prompted for “LinkedIn, it’s 2017. Everyone has one right?” Similarly, I saw a new celebrity author respond to negative criticism on her new book with a remark about the criticizer’s minuscule amount of followers. Social affluence is indeed quantified by those in positions of wide-reaching virtual exposure.

Ironically, the transformation of reach from ability to read to abstracted numerical followers has happened in conjunction with “clumsy literature, without order or syntax, full of apocopes and jargon, sometimes undecipherable.” Vargas Llosa continues, explaining that this is the communication “that dominates the world of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other Internet-based communication systems, as if the authors, by using this simulacrum that is the digital order to express themselves, feel free from all formal requirements, authorized to ride roughshod over grammar, synderesis, and the most elementary principles of linguistic correctness.”

This attempt to unknowingly or knowingly restructure literacy gives more weight to audience size than it does to the sophistication, astuteness, or even relevance of the communication. This shift in literacy is moving in parallel with declined attention span and corroded ability to reason. Vargas Llosa points to a scholar studying “the effects of the Internet on our brains and on our behaviour” in his Notes on the Death of Culture. He says “Christof van Nimwegen, detected after one of his experiments: that to rely on computers for the solution to all cognitive problems reduces our brain’s ability ‘to build stable knowledge structures’.” The mediums of communication by which we now measure social worth encourage us to simplify, shorten, and disrupt with graphics information. We use the same mediums readily to share human tragedies and cat videos. We de-formalize even the most serious of communications, rendering mockery to weighty messages and teasing reactions from our acquired audiences. The new literacy disfigures rigorous study, impales us with superfluous images, and claims the new core of relational measurement of social affluent.