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On (Almost) Unplugging

In the middle of January, I took two weeks off from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It’s a tricky experiment when one of your jobs is managing social media, but setting all my apps to work accounts and actively avoiding Facebook’s Home button when I dropped in to schedule updates was enough to hold me back from unintentional journeys down the Internet rabbit hole. Though I missed the voices of my wise and funny friends, there were plenty of things I was grateful to leave behind — illogical bickering among strangers, comment thread rage, dramatic clickbait “news,” and incessant ads, to name a few.

If I had to describe those two almost-unplugged weeks, I’d say it felt like a fog lifting, like the voices screaming about everything wrong with the world quieted until I could hear something true again. Sometimes, I wish I could make the break permanent. Hey, I can’t fix the world, so why should I let arguing and opinions drag me down?

Today, I present two ideas I’ve held in tension since returning to the social media machine, two ideas I’m not sure how to reconcile. Perhaps you’ve struggled here too, or have some insights on surviving this constantly connected culture.

Idea One: I don’t want to be totally uninformed or let compassion fatigue set in. On one of my first days back, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed wishing everything wasn’t deadly serious, Matt Conner posted something that shifted my perspective:

“It’s one thing to need an escapist moment in the middle of a bad day — to go see a movie or binge watch a few episodes of The Office after a long week at your own place of work. It’s another entirely to wish away something deemed negative or divisive because you’re uncomfortable. Those with the most rights are the ones who are tired talking about them.”

Or in other words, to say “I can’t take any more negativity” is a luxury statement. My “negativity” is another’s everyday struggle. How can I turn away from the real hurting human behind the scared or angry tweet?

“We’re living in a society in which facts are thrown away, yet somehow we’re already growing “tired” of being informed?”

Idea Two: How much information is too much? When do the voices grow so loud I can barely form a thought for myself? Some, like writer Alan Jacobs, suggest massively scaling back on the quick bursts of information and hot takes to take a long view:

“On social media today everyone is in a state of high alarm all the time. Which leads me to something I didn’t mention explicitly in my year in technology post: my efforts to get onto a longer news frequency… I have come to believe that it is impossible for anyone who is regularly on social media to have a balanced and accurate understanding of what is happening in the world. To follow a minute-by-minute cycle of news is to be constantly threatened by illusion.”

All this leaves me wondering if our breakdown in honest dialogue and simple civility might be born in that constant “high alarm,” this stream of panicked noise all around us. It’s one thing to be informed, but now it seems we have to be informed AND have an opinion five minutes after anything happens—be first to speak, make some noise, amplify. And before you know it, it’s hard to tell which voice is yours and which is the sum of the rumblings all around.

I am grateful for the space and community we’ve cultivated here, for slow takes and careful thought, for Civil Language and the via media. And now I’m wondering, how can we successfully live in this tension?  How can we keep informed about the harm done to our neighbors, stay humble and alert, but take in the flood of information without drowning? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


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