You know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Our health is directly related to our diets. Of course you can be perfectly healthy and still eat junk food, but honestly — for how long? A year of fast food and high-sugar snacks, low on fresh anything, must lead to a host of problems. Social media is not all that different from our diets. What we consume has a direct impact on our lives. But instead of expanding waistlines and heart disease, social media’s impact is on our mental and spiritual states, rather than on our physical ones.
We even refer to social media in ways that are similar to how we refer to food. We “consume” social media. Our social media accounts have one or more “feeds.” Many people have written about going on a social media diet. What then is the social media version of obesity or of heart disease?
I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet, but at the end of 2014 I had the following social media presence:
Active Twitter account with 300+ followers;
A new Tumblr blog
Two WordPress blogs (of which I write one, and write and edit for another)
Facebook account including duties as an admin for a forum with 1700+ people
Two personal email accounts and responsibility for a third organizational one
An email marketing account for non-profit work
A LinkedIn account
It’s not all that much, really. If I were a full-time social media wonk doing this as a job, the duties would seem rather light. But this is something I brought on myself for good reasons, for the benefit of me and my community. There is no other way at the moment to reach people as effectively as using the tools that have transformed our lives, for the most part in ways that are very positive.
But those people writing about social media diets are right. Just like the obesity that results from too much sugar, fat, and carbs, we can become a product of our media exposure. My social media consumption is something I need to control or the reality is it may very well end up controlling me.
I did not intend for 2015 to be the year of paring down in this regard, but early in the year (this was not a resolution!) I began to see some harsh realities that I had created for myself. I saw my Twitter account devolve into an extremely negative echo chamber, where ‘followers’ reacted to dissenting views with harshness and anger. At the same time, the reason for the Twitter account to begin with (promoting my activism and writing) resulted in negligible engagement.
Facebook has increasingly become a place where complete strangers send friend requests to me at the same time they seek to join the public forum I created – no attempt to communicate, no hellos, or ‘thank you for accepting my friend request’ – just a new invisible person on my Facebook page and the plethora of memes and family photos that come along with them. I rationalized that as a public activist, such is the price I have to pay: I could limit my exposure to strangers by setting our friendship level to “Acquaintances.” But effectively, I told myself, I had to accept all friend requests for fear of offending anyone – that building community means not differentiating between friends and contacts.
My social media life began to seem like the worst part of my day. I dreaded opening my Facebook page in the morning.
So what have I done to remedy my social media malaise? First, I repeated what I first did three or four years ago: I deleted my Twitter account. I had good reasons to restart it and give it another try. But after a good run, the negatives far outweighed the positives, if there were any. I do continue to run a Twitter account for the non-profit organization I work with, but it is the voice of the organization only and will serve a very limited purpose.
I have begun limiting my ‘online time.’ I have started to close my laptop half an hour before bed, and begun waiting half an hour in the morning before opening it. I try to respond less on public forums, including my own. As a forum administrator, I am learning to recognize ‘trolls’ earlier and to remove them from my forum as needed. They can quickly turn a pleasant online forum into a battleground.
I added several links to non-news websites to my toolbar so I could more easily interrupt my ‘click-circuit’ of Facebook-Gmail-NYTimes-Twitter. I’m reading more about food and wine and DIY and gardening, and less about the urgencies of activist lives that never cease; more about faith and less about politics.
My best experiences with social media have been using it to connect with people offline. It has enabled me to meet cousins who are lovely and interesting people in person, not just figures on a page. Social media has exposed me to much good as well as bad. So my ‘social media diet’ is not just about paring down, but, like food and nutrition, it is also about healthy consumption.
In 2014 I consciously avoided buying myself anything new except for books. In 2015 I’ve decided to not take on any new social media activities, and will limit my exposure to the ones I have. These are tools that must remain tools for my own benefit and for the benefit of others. I’ve seen how quickly they become the center of attention, and they are designed to do just that. I’ll be much better off pushing them to the periphery and focusing on what brings me knowledge and joy instead of on the niggling and propaganda that defines far too much of our public discourse.