This week, it feels like the world attacked me. Or that everything awful that I’ve been actively dodging finally caught up and beat me down. Whatever the metaphor, this week has been tough. It started Monday, when, after reading too many awful comments re: Aziz Ansari, I lost my shit and went into full panic attack mode.
It’s been a struggle since, and I’m feeling particularly vulnerable and icky overall. Like, Monday wasn’t even all about Ansari stuff either. It was an assault on my senses via social media – awful tweets about women, stories on Facebook about horrible people doing racist things on MLK day. It was the aftermath of feeling small and overwhelmed in the tech world after attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. It was uncertainty about the future and my place in it. It was everything, all at once, coupled with the heightened sense of guilt and bewilderment about everything I’m not doing.
I recognize that I’m just at a place where I need to rethink my engagement online, and I need to figure out WTF I’m doing to contribute meaningfully to the world online and off. Fortunately, I have a fantastic writing group that I might’ve mentioned once or twice, and I turned to our Slack to vent. We had a generative conversation about how we’re handling what’s going on and what we are going to do about it (namely, volunteering, supporting each other, and so forth). That was the first big step (talking about it to people who understand) in my quest to kick this week’s ass (and make things better in the long run).
What I want to talk about today has to do with one of the first areas I’ve been trying to tackle this week: my social media usage.
I began making changes without really thinking about it on Instagram, which isn’t even a place that makes me feel bad. But I follow a lot of people and most of them I don’t even engage with. I unfollowed a ton of pages that I never interact with – influencers and feature pages with tens of thousands or millions of followers. I should still do some more clean up, and my goal with Instagram is to be less passive in my consumption of it. I’d rather follow smaller accounts that post real life things and say something rather than beautifully shot and edited and curated posts that are essentially without substance.
Twitter has been more of a struggle. I don’t tweet much, but I lurk a lot. And I follow a ton of intelligent activists and thinkers who provide me with perspective I don’t get anywhere else. I’m constantly having my assumptions challenged and my views altered by them. But it’s not really a healthy place for me because I have no control over what I’m seeing. When people I follow like or comment on a tweet or retweet something that’s difficult, I have a terrible habit of falling into the rabbit hole of reading all the conversations within it. And it’s so ugly, y’all.
I want my Twitter account to be for me as a writer, but I also want to be able to go on there without being inundated with ugliness that I’m not prepared for. Today I created a new Twitter account that I thought I’d use to follow the news and activists and whatnot and then I could unfollow everything not writing related on my main account. It felt gross, though. I keep feeling like it’s my position of privilege that allows me to decide to disengage and shelter myself. I can tell myself that my mental health needs should come first, but I don’t know anymore if that’s a cop out.
I didn’t change anything on my main Twitter account, and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what to do about Facebook either. In the past I’ve taken breaks and canceled my account for a few months at a time to get away from it. But I manage Facebook pages, and I belong to some groups and like some pages that I enjoy. Truthfully, I spend very little time on Facebook these days. I check it a few times a day but I always go straight to the pages I manage. I still see some stuff (and it seems to always be icky) as soon as I log on, but for the most part I’m very uninvolved with Facebook as a whole. I don’t know why I feel like I need to do something different, but I hate how I don’t feel like I can utilize the site in the way that I want to. I’d love to see more posts from friends and family and I’d like to see more from the pages I follow. But to get my feed to that stage I’d need to unlike pages, unfriend people, and generally spend a bunch of time fixing things. Even then I still don’t have much control (thanks algorithms).
I find a lot of value in social media, and I think it will be useful as I write and submit/publish more. The project my writing group is working on relies heavily on social media, and it’s something I’m super excited about and invested in. But I don’t know how to achieve the balance I need. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to engagement and ignorance.
My friend Emily made a brilliant point about getting the news. She has made it a point to go get the news rather than have it come to her. She doesn’t follow news sites or get notifications. She has to actively seek out the news. I follow a ton of news organizations and sites. I don’t get notifications from anything, but I still see everything via social media and the other websites I frequent. I’m not in control of my news consumption, and as such, it feels like everything is huge. I know, too, that this is a huge problem in our society because of the way urgency impacts our understanding and our accuracy. So, I need to make it a point to change up the way I get news. Just not sure how yet.
There’s plenty of information out there about using social media less and spending less time online, and plenty of arguments against social media in general. I get it. I know that everything is much simpler when social media and the news is less prominent and when I’m mindful and present in my actual life. That’s not my point here. What I’m interested in talking about and figuring out is how to combine social media with real civic engagement, how to hear the stories I need to hear and know what’s going on outside of my bubble without losing my mind, how to use social media for growth as a writer without getting sucked into the vortex of awfulness that seems to overwhelm everything online. I want to know what’s right and ethical when it comes to social media. I want to know what I can live with and live without, and how to find what matters without being dragged down by the hate.
I’d really love to hear your thoughts or talk about what you’re doing online. Leave me a comment or connect with me on social media (oh, the irony).