“I’ve noticed the more reactive I feel, the more miserable I am. Social media is just jet fuel for reactivity.” – Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans)
That is me! That is exactly how I was feeling last summer when politics took over the news and social media. All opinions seemed to be polarized. While striving to be a thinking, rational adult, I was becoming a reactionary adolescent every time I listened to the morning news, and my Facebook newsfeed became my creeping -and sometimes creepy – antagonist.
Time for me to unplug. If I did not step back from the news and social media, I would become unhinged. I needed to stay sane.
There is an inherent quality in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that reminds me of high school. The cafeteria. The halls between classes. The bleachers during a basketball or football game. These were places where you wanted to be seen with the right people. It was an opportunity to be validated. You were in the in crowd.
Today social media feeds that same angst to not be left out. We keep adding “friends” and followers to our social media networks. The higher the number, the more secure we feel. The more in we are. If someone sends a Friend Request, we confirm without really looking at who the person is. Would we be friends in the analog world?
We tell our kids to be very careful about the photos and words that they post on social media, but too many adults do not heed those warnings. Social networks can be excellent resources of community information, job searches, friend and family connections. But those same social networks can be filled with quicksand that sucks us into dangerous holes before we are aware of what is happening.
This past year, much of what has come through our newsfeeds – determined by incredibly complex algorithms – is not thoughtful commentary or fact-checked information. It’s viral memes that respond to selective pressures and sound bites that inflame emotions.
And I was a ripe target for those triggers.
My blood pressure would soar and my fingers started pounding away before my brain engaged.
Fortunately, I have an over-stimulated-internal-editor who must rewrite everything that spews out of my fingertips. It slows down the writing process but effectively controls my reactionary impulsive Facebook posts. Stopping to proofread and maybe deciding not to hit send was not enough. I needed to reign in the reactionary adolescent and become a productive adult.
So, I imposed a news and social media Fast: No checking news, texts, email or social media sites until mid-morning.
My routine had been to let the dog out. Fix my first cup of coffee. Turn on the computer and settle in to read the newspapers, texts, emails, Facebook and every notification that had come in overnight.
I began my fast in May when political commentary seemed to be out of control. I turned off my radio – not even NPR’s Morning Edition was allowed. I stopped reading online newspapers with my first cup of coffee. And no morning checks-ins on Facebook or Instagram. I don’t have TV so that was not an issue.
The first few weeks I was still checking text messages and emails before I got out of bed.
I was also still receiving real time notifications of news headlines and social media posts. Not good. They would trigger the negative side of my brain.
By September I turned off all notifications on my electronics. If I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I had to take the responsibility to look for the news.
Like for any addict, the beginning was painful. Was this the behaviour of an engaged citizen? Was I abdicating my responsibilities as an informed voter? Was I apathetic?
I persevered. And it was not long before I realized that my days were much more productive and peaceful. I could focus on objectives that I had control over. The nagging voices in my head stopped their imaginary arguments about the fallacies of misguided commentary.
Today I maintain the fast. I read my newspapers online late in the day. I usually check in on my social networks in the evening. I may find some thought-provoking material that I want to share, but my presence on Facebook is low key. I can browse through a couple of days of notifications and not feel that burning need to set someone straight.
I have reclaimed about 10-15 hours a week and my blood pressure is at a consistently healthy number.
I take time to read and process news and decide where my words and actions will be most effective. My rational adult side is maturing. I am engaged in more productive activities.
Someone referred to social media as today’s virtual reality. I may have virtual communities through online networks. I may attend virtual classes through online classes. But I want my reality to be grounded and thoughtful, not virtual and reactionary.
Do you unplug from social media? Have you tried a fast for news? How do you maintain your balance in the face of today’s news? Please share your tips and thoughts in the comments.