At my daughters’ spring concert the other night, someone remarked that at least AI can’t touch music—can’t touch singing. And I smirked, recalling just that day the video I’d seen of someone programing AI to sing one musical artist’s song in the voice of another musical artist—and it worked. It was eerily accurate. With writers on strike and AI bots now authoring quippy social media captions for all the Gen Z copywriters out there who’d rather be paddleboarding, I’m starting to wonder how much longer I’ll sustain my career as a freelance writer. And I’m sure you’re laughing to yourself, “Oh, no-no, Sarah, a robot could never replace your utter wit and charm displayed in this column each month.” And, I know. But still, one must wonder. One must be of the age they are born into and they must be realistic about it.
But here’s the thing—I don’t want to. Only recently I reactivated my Instagram account. I had it back on my phone for approximately one month before deciding that I absolutely could not have it so closely within my reach at all times. It is maddening to be bombarded with both the significant and insignificant details of the lives of so many people, even if I love them. Every once in a while, I’ll download the app long enough to upload a photo I’d like to share. Or I’ll log in on my computer to peek at the news from a friend or two. But this is my limit.
It’s the reason behind my no Facebook policy—not just the inundation of information that I’m required to process on top of all the other pieces of daily adult living, but also some very noted perks. For instance, I’m sure every time I write this column, somewhere on the Facebooks, someone has something to say about it—and given the platform, I’m betting it’s not very nice. Oh, maybe that’s putting too much importance on my little column, so let me make it less personal.
I met someone new in town this week. They’re in the process of getting settled, and you know how that goes: lives in upheaval, everything a mess from front yard to bedroom, finding yourself almost split between two lives, traveling from the old into the new. You’ve got enough to manage in your own little universe, never mind taking on the opinions of the rest of the world. By force of habit or a desire to disassociate, this person found her way onto Facebook. And what did she see but a new neighbor discussing her in a public forum. She has yet to meet this neighbor, to nurture any sort of relationship—but the neighbor’s mind has been made up, based on what? I assume, borderline creepy observation and validation from the Facebook set.
It’s sort of like that time my cat went missing in the canyon. Someone found him, took him inside, and then posted on Facebook looking for the owner—looking for me. Well, no Facebook as I mentioned, but my kindly neighbor spotted the post and made three attempts to tell the cat-finder who I was and how to reach me. I never heard a word, so my neighbor kept sending me screenshots of the comment dialogue. Jim, you really wanted to know what people are thinking sending their cats outside? Well, I was thinking he was born and raised a barn cat and he was going to find a way out, one way or another. When I figured out who the cat-napper was and went to retrieve Pumpkin, there were scratches all over the inside door—that cat wanted out. But Jim, on Facebook, thinks I should be hogtied or whatever it was he said.
“On May 23, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning about the impact that social media is having on the mental health of young people. [He said], ‘I issued this advisory because this is an urgent crisis,’” TIME magazine wrote. The recommendation is now that youths delay social media use until high school or later to encourage healthy brain development.
What a relief that all the grown-ups on Facebook have fully-developed brains so they’re safe to navigate such a dangerous space. But I think, just to err on the side of caution, I won’t double-check any commentary on this month’s column, and I’ll just say hi to you in the grocery store aisle. I’ll take a plate of cookies to the new person settling in. I’ll do my best to understand that humans are fallible, and we find ways to make it work anyway, with kindness, compassion—and maybe a little rebellion against the times we’re born into. Maybe something a little more like the old days.