I am alarmed in daily conversations with the number of seemingly high-functioning adults that talk about social media exhaustion or bombardment and have made the decision to quit these platforms–even if only temporarily. My wife and I like to call them “the Facebook suicides.” How often do you see someone who posts that they’re taking a break from Facebook usually around a particularly contentious political campaign or a contentious post that leads to argument? Even in that “suicide note” there is either a play for attention or a feeling of obligation to others. Although, my reaction is sometimes “bye, Felicia” I think that it is a cry for help.
I have a few tips, personal rules, and advice to give on this subject to help protect ourselves not only from bad people and circumstances, but also to protect ourselves and not invest our emotional capital in too many stories.
Social media rule #1-You Are What You Eat. If you consume a steady diet of bad news, don’t be surprised if you don’t become cynical and depressed. Feed yourself inspiration and you will be inspired and inspire others. There is a cultural phenomenon I’ve noticed where people feel they are obligated to care for the world or for a certain caliber of literature or to care about all the terrible things happening in the world. It is the same with people that become trapped in the 24-hour cable news cycle. I don’t know where this obligation comes from, but I do know that escaping it can be difficult. Some do it for the schadenfreude, some to stay informed, but others increase their own suffering by reading about the suffering of others. It is one thing to stay informed about world events, but it is another to wallow in the rampant misery that can be found in the greater world. News media gravitates toward the most terrible events and sensationalizes them. There are 7.5 billion people on the planet and we cannot possibly hope to experience all their suffering to be informed about all their lives, nor can we have the empathic capacity to care for them all. Nor does it do us any good to hear about something we cannot have a reasonable impact on. The news tends to follow anything related to death, so if that is all we consume, we can quickly form a world view that does not acknowledge the good things that are happening all around us.
Conversely, some people worry that only focusing on good things means you are ignorant and unprepared for the real world. By my way of thinking, the world is what we make of it. If consuming good news gives me hope, optimism, and energy, these are things I think will help me make my bit of the world a better place.
The great thing about Social Media is that it is a tool. It is one way in which we can experience the world, and we can set our filters, use our privacy settings and be largely in control of what we see. We must remember that we have control. Facebook, for example has some amazing tools that let you see more of what you want, less of who you don’t, or let’s you begin and end friendships every day.
Social Media Rule #2: Friends. How many do you need? Let’s be honest that social media is a popularity contest. That is what drives you to have 500 friends on Facebook, 1000s on Twitter and Insta. We have an innate desire to be well-liked. Although social media can be a powerful tool to connect, there are few personal, intimate, and meaningful connections we actually make online. We certainly can’t be good friends to hundreds or thousands. I can sit on my feed and like posts all day long trying to honor every acquaintance I’ve ever made hoping that out of a hundred likes, they see mine, and that they appreciate how I’m cultivating that relationship, but it does nothing to strengthen the deep connections I have with my closest friends.
Don’t be friends on social media with people who upset you on a regular basis by what they post. Unfriend. It is simple. If this person a) notices and b) is offended enough to ask why, you can honestly say that your posts upset me and I found I was no longer enjoying my feed because of you. Sometimes it’s what someone needs to hear, and if they can’t accept the criticism and become abusive, it is time to cut that person from your life.
On the other end of this argument are the connections we choose to make online that are good for us. For example I have a friend I went to college with who lives far away. I don’t know if I will ever see him again or talk to him on the phone for that matter, but our beliefs and interests are such that we find a lot in common and online it is a wonderful friendship that I find worth cultivating. He also makes me laugh. Humor is an important component of my friendships and that’s what makes me want to get out of bed in the morning.
Social Media Rule #3: Comments. Nothing more than a few sentences at most. What an incredible tool we have to start conversations, but it is fairly easy to get drawn into arguments, name-calling, and again feeling terrible. I try to limit my comments to something brief, because it is really easy if you disagree with something to start typing a letter. The problem with this type of rant is that you aren’t composing an email to send, but are immediately responding to something usually from a very emotional place. So again, if I start to get a couple paragraphs deep, I know that it is something I’m passionate about and that I need to reconsider my response.
Often what I will do is copy and paste my comment into a blog post, and then if someone wants to read it later they can after the emotion of the moment is spent. The comment is usually for my benefit anyway. And sometimes writing it out in something I’m going to edit allows me to carefully think about what I want to say and sometimes I will delete, leave for later editing, or find a more succinct way to say what I want to say.
I still believe that conversations of a serious nature in order to be productive should be had in person, or on the phone at least. There is so much room to interpret tone and meaning in the written word. I break this rule from time to time and almost always regret it. If a long response starts a contentious conversation, you can always ignore additional responses. As tempting as it is to tell someone how wrong they are and point out their inconsistent arguments, it is almost always fruitless.
Social Media Rule #4: Post Frequency. Have you ever experienced the dreaded anxiety of wondering whether someone is reading your post? Did they click the video? Do they understand the essential you-ness of you? If you look to social media for all of your validation, it may be time to get out of the house a little.
I follow a rule of three most often. I can easily find more than 3 things I want to say or share in a row, but I know that frequent posting is a turn-off for many, so I try and distill my posting to once a day, two to three times if I can’t help myself. Now, if you are blogger or make your living by cultivating an online audience, you might follow different rules, but for most of us, this is a good rule not to turn off the people who already like you and appreciate your insights and informative posts, pictures of family and food, the memes, the humorous articles.
There is so much to consume, but it is good to stop and take stock from time to time about how beneficial it is to us and get back in control of our social media diet.