Why I Quit Social Media
After Napoleon was finally defeated by the Sixth Coalition in 1813, a lot of the cultural purposes, that Paris had during the 18th century got reassigned to Vienna. The city started to blossom and took over as a social and political center for many of Europe’s elites.
During this time, a boy named Franz Sacher was born in a small Viennese suburb. At 16 years of age, this boy, not blessed with a noble descent or any other outstanding traits that history remembers, started working as an apprentice in the kitchen for Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, who was well on his way to becoming one of the most powerful people of his time. He was the initiator and opinion leader of the Congress of Vienna, which had no lesser goal than to reestablish structure and order on the continent after two wars and the French revolution left it in shambles. In the years after the Congress, Metternich imposed a series of harsh laws trying to suffocate any attempt of uprising or the spread of revolutionary thoughts. To this day, his name is closely associated with censorship an oppressive police state, often referenced in Austria’s public discussions.
All of this was probably of little concern for young Franz Sacher. He had no revolutionary thoughts. By the time he had reached adolescence the industrial revolution had generated enough wealth to create the white collar worker, effectively elevating more and more families to the middle class. This new middle class was busy enjoying their newfound wealth and social status and had little to no interest in revolutionary ideas against a man, whose core concern was stability. This sparked an interesting period in Viennese crafts and arts: that has come to known as “Biedermeier”.
With a new middle class that has completely retired itself from political ambitions and was fully committed to social endeavors, there were large new audiences for theaters, a new clientele for fine craftsmanship, new readers for idyllic literature and new palates, hungry for fine delicacies. During this time, Franz Sacher, who meanwhile became a very well trained chef and confectioner, opened his own wine store in the center of Vienna. Nevertheless it wasn’t the wine, that caught people’s attention, it was his self-made chocolate cake that would soon become his absolute bestseller. This very cake now enjoys world-wide fame as the Sachertorte (Sacher cake) and is being sold 360.000 times every year. Admittedly, as I grew up in Vienna I am somewhat biased, but I dare say it is the most iconic piece of cake in the world. Franz Sacher didn’t have social media. This wasn’t a conscious choice of course, since he lived two centuries before it became a thing, but in a strange way, his story combines two of the reasons why I quit social media.
Much like Franz Sacher’s contemporaries we too are reeking in the rewards of new technology being introduced into our work and personal lives, creating new jobs, new opportunities and new wealth. So much so, that the discussion about a universal basic income seems to be unavoidable in these days.
Quite clearly, this has not resulted in the same laissez-faire attitude towards politics as it did in 19th century Vienna, quite the contrary. Political discussions are many, heated, intense and ugly.
Let’s take a step back and take a look at what is actually happening. There are people on (usually) two sides of every argument. They are trying to persuade people from the other side, usually rather ineptly by insulting them. They are likely deeply invested in the topic and discussing it causes them emotional distress. To what end? Looking at it through the untainted eyes of a realist, none of this matters. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Your foes opinion doesn’t matter. You both are just irrelevant data points. It would be wiser to stay out of it. Even though I have very carefully considered opinions about most topics, considering risks and rewards of sharing them publicly, I have to conclude it isn’t worth it, even though I am tremedously tempted. My professional career and my personal relationships are just the two most obvious potential victims of taking a public stance.
If Franz Sacher would have shared the wrong article on Facebook, who knows if his shop and his cake would have survived the angry boycott campaign, that would have followed. Much like him, I rather concern myself with the beautiful things in life, with theaters, craftsmanship, literature and fine delicacies. In this analogy of course, that just means that I move away from toxic places like Facebook and use the internet to read about someone’s quest to bring Linux to the smartphone (again), or to learn more about Ada Lovelace.
Can you imagine, that someone who created one of the most famous desserts in the world, has never shared a picture of it on Instagram? I have to admit to myself, that at one point in my life, nothing that wasn’t posted on social media had value to me, not the memories and the success I had, not the food I ate, not the workouts I did. All of these was worthless per se, only as valuable as the Likes and Comments they gathered. The story of Franz Sacher reminds me that life is about the real things, not the social media posts. It’s the actual product, the actual cake that counts. I had forgotten that and it devastated my discipline and motivation to create and learn new things.
So I quit.