On Patton Oswalt’s Social Media-Free Summer

on Monday, Jun. 2nd

Every so often I find myself jealous of Patton Oswalt.

Sometimes it’s jealousy of his financial success, other times it’s of his status as a geek cultural icon. He’s made me laugh more times than I care to count, or admit, and underlying all that envy is a deep admiration–tinged with more than a little awe in the classical sense–of his wit.

I wasn’t following Patton–can I call him Patton?–on Twitter until the other day. That was how I dealt with the envy, by keeping him out of my feeds. Not that you can keep Patton Oswalt out of your social media if you tried. Friends are always retweeting him, and I’d usually find myself stumbling into his latest troll-baiting in media res. I finally caved and added him to my central Twitter list.

Just in time to see him take a break from social media for the summer:

I’ve become my own tyrant — Tweeting, and then responding to my own responses, and then fighting people who disagree with me. Constantly feeling like I have to have an instant take on things, instead of taking a breath, and getting as much information as I can about the world. Or simply listening to the people around me, and watching the world and picking up its hidden rhythms, which crouch underneath the micro and the macro. But I’ve lost sight of them. And it’s because of this — there’s a portal to a shadow planet in my right hand, the size of a deck of cards, and I can’t keep myself from peeling off one card after another, looking for a rare ace of sensation.

There it is: that fantastic, envy inducing, Patton Oswalt wit. “A portal to a shadow planet in my right hand, the size of a deck of cards?” Get out of here. Get. Out. That’s too beautiful for this crude medium of pixels.

In his stepping out for headspace Oswalt hits a raw nerve. I’ve been longing for a respite from Facebook, which once brought me joy and has instead become an endless parade of hatred and suffering. Yet I still feel compelled to check it like one of those laboratory mice whose pleasure centers are hooked up to a button. Every once in a while something delightful comes along, but the senses of powerlessness that comes from constant mediation has its own incessant gravity: which is why I deleted Facebook from my phone this weekend. I just couldn’t take any more.

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff wrote very eloquently about the problems of our “always on” society in last year’s Present Shock. I have yet to fully integrate the wisdom he put on display there into my own life. Part of that has to do with the outlines of my job description: you can’t cover the ever evolving tech landscape if you don’t keep at least one eye on the feeds all of the time.

Yet keeping one eye fixed on a screen shatters the potential for real perspective. No depth can be discerned that way, and the kinds of conversations that people are having online now are ill served by treating every exchange like a showdown at high noon. You might win the draw, but nine times out of ten it’s the whole darn town that gets shot to hell.

So I’m jealous of Patton Oswalt again; for being eloquent, and for taking a summer. I just hope when its over he comes back, and shares with us what he learned.



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