When Michael Cunningham calls a book a “riveting, haunting” read, you stand up and pay attention.
Kim Stolz’s debut, a memoir entitled Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I’ll Never Do, is an insightful read into how social media has shaped our behavioral psychology. Or, in other words, Unfriending My Ex is about how Kim—who captured our little lesbo hearts when she appeared as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model in Cycle 5—works through her tech addiction and how it’s played out, in sometimes uncomfortable ways, among her friends and lovers.
All of us understand that our virtual selves are not exact replications of our fleshy selves; they are highly-crafted, super-conscious fabrications in which the simulacra always is better than the real thing—don’t make me call y’all out on your dating profiles or Facebook pics!
But what Kim accomplishes in this memoir is going beyond this social fact. Through anecdotes, interspersed with statistical data supporting her observation, she unreservedly uncovers the dark, less-than-ethical, side of our social media addiction. In the book, she attempts a “digital detox” in which she, after taking the CAGE questionnaire about levels of addiction, cuts herself off from Facebook, Twitter et al, by hiding her digital devices—or having friends hide them for her.
While the detox was short lived, Stolz learned to adjust her social media habits. At 6 p.m daily, for instance, she puts away her phone until 730 p.m. She also puts her phone away when in the company of others, especially when she’s having dinner with friends.
I managed to grab Kim for a quick conversation about her book and her thoughts about social media prior to the 4th of July holiday weekend. Unfriending My Ex is available in stores and online, and, if you’re on the west coast, make sure to check her out on tour, locations listed below.
AfterEllen.com: What was your objective in writing this book? How was the objective realized in the form of memoir?
Kim Stolz: The objective of the book was to give something to people in my generation something to relate to. I’ve spent quite a few years in the company of friends and family who lamented their frustrations with Facebook and social media in general, especially impulsive text. A lot of writing about social media addiction has been done by people who are my parents’ age, with very didactic language. As someone who’s struggled with this kind of addiction, I wanted to start a conversation with my generation, through being anecdotal and being brutally honest, in order to reach people on a more personal level.
AE: Yes, I found you to be brutally honest in your book, and you come across—how can I say it— in a kind of unappealing way. Were you worried about this?
KS: I know I came across as a little crazy and probably a little disloyal. But I think when people continue to read the book they realize that these behaviors, and these experiences in general, are not unique to me. They realize that they have done the same as well. I know the book is not complimentary of myself; I had to be honest, and I think doing so will strike a chord with readers.
AE: In term of your methodology, or how you weaved together memoir with social scientific studies, how did you decide to tackle the behavioral psychology of social media?
KS: I went back and forth about whether to include a lot of statistics. While there aren’t a lot of articles written about this subject by people in my generation, I made sure to consult those in my generation, like Dr. Amy Wicker, who I know, and who have written about the psychology of social media. I didn’t use a lot of statistics, but only did so in order to show that my experiences were not unique to myself—that the loss of alone time or the ability to be introspective is endemic to the addiction.
AE: What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing the book?
KS: Before I started the book I felt tragic about the future of our society, because I felt that today’s “digital natives,” who have never lived outside the realm of social media, were missing out on important types of in-person, human relations. But after interviewing a bunch of them—from kids in college to kids in middle school—I found that they expressed and experienced the same frustrations and emotions and concerns that I have about social media. They want to quit Facebook too. They aren’t robots! That gave me a feeling of optimism about the future.
AE: And, what was your takeaway after writing the book?
KS: As I mention in the conclusion, I realized that we just can’t reject social media. If we do we won’t be productive members of society. We just need to find a way to use social media without letting it use and abuse us in turn. We have to learn to protect ourselves from our impulses, which rage when we’re connected to a mobile device!
AE: So, what did you learn about yourself?
KS: I would love to say that writing this book changed my life and that I’m no longer subject to social media addiction. When I first started the detox I was much better. But at least now I have rules for myself, like keeping my phone in my pocket when I’m out to dinner with friends.
What I learned was more about myself, about my vulnerabilities and my impulses, than ever before.
AE: What’s next for you—another book on social media?
KS: Right now I’m contemplating other topics, and I look forward to hearing what people take away from the book that they found most striking. I have a bunch of articles coming out in different magazines, and I’ve also just transitioned into a new day job.
AE: What do you think about the recent news about Facebook’s intentional manipulation of user emotions?
KS: I’m not really freaked out by it. Advertisers are going to pay a lot of money to make people products from these studies, and it’s not like anyone else doesn’t do it. Google does it; the government does it all the time! It’s the normal course of action. If you put stuff out there it’s going to be picked up and examined.
AE: Do you think lesbians engage with social media differently from their straight counterparts? If so, how and why?
KS: No, I don’t really. Maybe lesbians are more excited about dating apps, but I don’t see any difference among my friends, straight or gay.
AE: Finally, do you have any plans to reopen The Dalloway?
KS: Ah! Unfortunately, no. The restaurant industry is very time-consuming, and between my day job and my book it all became a little too much. Now, in the future, do I think I’ll open a gay bar? Maybe in four or five years I’ll think about a project like that again.
You can catch Kim on the west coast this coming week at the following locations: Wednesday 9 July, in San Francisco at Book Passage (1 Ferry Building) and Books Inc. (301 Castro Street); Thursday, 10 July, in Los Angeles at Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd).