OPINION

THE ABNORMAL PLACE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

June 5, 2020

There are many great benefits to social media sites. For me, I have always enjoyed being able to stay connected with friends and acquaintances, sharing life updates, and sharing experiences, such as travels and visits to places that others might find of interest. I also love sharing stories, including those of people I meet as well as book reviews and things of historical interest.

 

However, visiting my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram have become problematic as of late. 2020 has been about the craziest time we could have imagined between a public health pandemic, a total shutdown of the economy, an economic collapse, societal unrest, charges of systemic racism, riots, and looting. Throughout it all, social media has been a place where content has been censored, people have been socially shamed for their actions or inactions, and others participate with mass virtue signaling. The mob continues to lead the way. While there are many great benefits to social media, particularly in keeping people connected, I strongly believe it has greatly contributed to many of the problems our nation and world has seen this year. It is for this reason I am taking at least a one-month break from all social media.

 

Over two years ago, I got rid of cable altogether because I am tired of television generally, but also really not interested in the garbage that our "news" media perpetuates every 15 minutes. In 2020, it has been wild...to say the least. We are only given so much time on this earth and I would rather not waste it on trivial matters.

 

Cable news is on constantly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with news tickers running to increase the sense that everything is urgent. They seem to just run and repeat the same stories over and over and over again. With so much time to occupy the day, you would think they would find more interesting things to spend their time on. But they don’t. It’s simply for eyeballs and entertainment and ultimately ad revenue. The longer your eyeballs stay on it, the more their ratings go up, and the more they can charge advertisers. It’s a corporate machine. And the users are the ones whose lives are sucked into it – and out of it.

Information travels fast these days and misinformation travels just as fast. And then there are those who purposely spew disinformation – and it’s easy to be trapped by it on social media, especially when it is shared by a friend. Once again, we are in an election year, and disinformation is spewing faster than dysentery on the Oregon Trail. It seems that racism, as one example, all of a sudden becomes a pressing issue in an election year. And what, in many cases, should simply be a local story constantly “goes viral” with outrage and enraptures a nation. That should give us all pause. It should also make us each more sensitive to what happens locally in our own communities rather than constantly being outraged about what is happening somewhere else while things in our own communities fall to the wayside.

Even more so than cable news, social media is highly addicting. There is a reason these social media sites created the “like” button and all the other animating buttons of feelings. With so much happening on these sites constantly, users constantly feel like they have to "check in" on it every so often just to see what they might be missing – including checking to see how many likes their latest post did (or did not) get.

 

When we open up these social media sites, often with a positive intent, it is not long before we’re sucked into emotions ranging from hurt to anger; to experiencing social justice warriors going on a social media shaming fest when someone isn’t behaving or acting as they believe they should. 

 

There is so much good in this world. It's just the fact that because there’s so much good that good news isn't "news." I really appreciate the recent YouTube show created by actor John Krasinski called “SGN” which stands for “Some Good News.” When you watch this 15-minute weekly show you are just filled with such positivity, it warms your heart.

 

The actual "news" in a newspaper or on cable news or shared on social media is "new" because it's filled with things outside of the ordinary. That's why it's "news." And in a social media environment, we comment on it, we have varying viewpoints on it, and then we attack other people for having a different view. And in some cases, this is done on social media where people don't really know those other people personally – they are caught up in a conversation on a news feed and comments come from varying “friends” who don’t really know each other. This then forces the person whose page it is to take sides against different friends or even family members. And if you don’t comment on something, that apparently says something about you too – why don’t you care?

I remember when our parents told us not to bring up certain topics at the dinner table. Those were the hard topics. They should be brought up at the dinner table, in private, intimate conversations; they should not be spewed out publicly where people are not really interested in learning, but rather about being proven right or about making themselves look better than others. In some cases, this also produces envy in some who don’t feel like their life is as good as all the other supposedly glamorous lives they see in other people’s posts.

 

Every platform can be used for good or ill. But I have now found that social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram are distracting and mind-numbing.

 

This week, I saw a young woman who I know, but not very well, and asked how her day was going. She simply replied "ok" in a monotone voice. I said: "just ok?" She said, “well you know, there's just so much craziness going on in the world.” Yes, there is. If you watch the news or watch your social media news feed and see people you love and care about fighting with each other over news items very distant from their own lives and experiences. Otherwise, things are pretty normal with me, my friends, my family, my neighborhood, my gym, the people and places I visit, and those in the community organizations I interact with. The only abnormal place in the world is the news media. And social media has now become a part of that.

 

Social media platforms are no longer an inherent value-add. They are contributing to the destruction of people's mental health and capacity to think and learn and grow - not to mention the virtue signaling and social shaming if you don't get in line with the mob.

 

For the month of June, I am experimenting to see what life is like without social media. This is something I haven’t really experienced in over 15 years, when I first got on Facebook. Recently, I created an e-newsletter and have now told all family and friends that if they truly want to follow any of my life updates, they can subscribe to my e-newsletter. And they are welcome to send me email with their life updates. This is something close to what many of us originally did when many of us came fully online with the internet in the late 1990s. And now we have the capacity to do it so much easier and simpler and opt in and out as we please, without feeling like we have to check in every few hours or be bombarded with everything from negative posts to advertising that follows our every social media lifestyle move. It also prevents the news we share from being censored, monitored, and channeled, as they now are by the social media titans who are making billions off of us while we attack each other in “news” feeds.

 

When my one-month experiment is over, I may feel like I don’t need to use social media anymore. I will report my findings and my thoughts sometime in July. In the meantime, I am hopeful that this will present for me more quiet time; more silence; more prayer; more being alone with my thoughts and more spending time with my family and friends; more time in my neighborhood; more time with community organizations; I am sure it will find me less time reading news feeds and more time reading books - in whatever form possible. Perhaps it will also find me listening to more podcasts and engaging in more activities that contribute to true lifelong learning; and, of course, it should continue to stimulate my exercise routine and getting outdoors generally. I am hopeful. I need this social media break and perhaps even a break from the chaos it has contributed to in 2020.
 

 

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