Detroit, US 42 F

© Laurie Bartolo 2021-2023


Rabbit Holes Versus Real Life

This morning, I stood in the kitchen mindlessly scrolling through Instagram before realizing I had wasted several minutes looking at photos of dogs that aren’t mine, while Ringo quietly slipped away after trying to get my attention. I put my phone down and went to look for him. He welcomed me back to the real world, snuggled up next to me and placed a paw on my leg, as if to prevent me from leaving again.

We sat there together for some time and I thought about the important role my dogs play in keeping me grounded in the present moment. Without them, I may be hopelessly lost in my own daydreams and the distractions of daily life. As powerful as my daydreams are, a constant vision of the future and faraway places, this morning’s culprit was social media.

My love/hate relationship with social media alternates through phases of fasting and binging. While it can be extremely useful, I more often find it to be a frustrating waste of time, regularly landing in a rabbit hole in search of information.

There is just too much content, too many people vying for attention, and too much easy money to be made. The platforms that host these giant parties are designed to suck you into this endless, hungry sea and make sure you waste a lot of time there. Like casinos, the odds are stacked against you from the minute you walk your hopeful ass through the door. It’s no secret how all of this mind manipulation works but it’s a potent formula that works whether we are aware of the manipulation or not.

I like to think that I’m smart enough, or perhaps just mindful enough, to avoid being lured into the trap. But I’m not, as is evidenced by a recent binge I engaged in, that started as it always does – with a simple question – and found me on a quest for better and better answers. It’s astonishing how many YouTube videos exist for any query. More incredulous is how slick these videos have become. Clearly, there is serious money to be made creating elaborate content that answers very simple questions.

There is also the content that exists solely for entertainment and has so many people pimping out their pets for likes and followers. I liked one video of a pit bull in pajamas a few months ago, and now Instagram sends me a parade of pit bulls in pajamas any time I open the app. I actually don’t want to see more pit bulls in pajamas but this is what I get from Instagram’s algorithm. It’s astounding how many people are willing to take the time to put pajamas on their dog, stage elaborate videos of the dog, and spend quite a bit of time editing such videos. And even more surprising how many people hit the like button over and over again, myself included.

And then there is ugly side of social media: trolls, fake news, scammers, awful things I wish I never saw or knew about, and a lot of dumb people who will believe anything they see on the Internet.

Thinking about it rationally, it is really just a reflection of the external world which is full of nice people and shitty people, of possibilities and threats, of intelligence and stupidity, of creativity and mediocrity. It somehow seems easier to navigate this maze in the real world, and it probably is, largely because we aren’t up against the insatiable appetite of Big Tech as we are when traveling through virtual space. In the real world, street smarts go a long way. Online, you’re just another sucker walking into the casino.

My frustrations with social media aside, it can be an incredibly good thing. After all, it was the magic of social media that led me to both Rocky and Ringo. I wouldn’t have found either one without it. Looking at today’s photo, I can’t imagine my life without them. Because of the great things that can come from social media, I hang on to it and try my best to use it mindfully rather than falling victim to its time traps.

Ringo and I sat quietly together, only the two of us awake at this early hour. The birds began singing, calling us to our morning duty of hanging the bird feeders. I grabbed his leash and we headed out for a walk together as the sun came up, backlighting the trees with a soft orange glow. It was a perfect moment, one of many perfect moments that I share with my dogs each day. And I almost missed it for another pit bull in pajamas.