Originally written 11/20/16; edited 11/22/16
“People are turning off TVs (one even canceled her cable — mass media are not off the hook, either), deleting social apps from their phones, rationing time spent on Facebook and Twitter, and shrinking their digital friend lists.”
From “Post-Election, Overwhelmed Facebook Users Unfriend, Cut Back” – NPR, All Tech Considered – by Alina Selyukh
This article resonated deeply and my personal disaffection is described perfectly by one of the people interviewed. The first thing to go was cable. I’ve worked from home for a majority of the past 15 years. Over that time I have watched the selection of channels on cable explode with news channels. At first these channels offered different windows into the days events. Now the perspectives are roughly divided into Fox News, Business News, and Everything else. Next came the turn to focusing greatly on breaking events to the point where it honestly feels like news channels are both creating and ignoring events in a manner that can only be graciously described as inconsistent. It’s maddening, so I opted out, turning instead to curated RSS feeds within Feedly and tweaking my news channels to include more international news coverage.
The second was the “unfollowing”, admittedly still a work in progress. It is certainly a pain to go through your social media accounts and evaluate whether or not each person followed deserves placement on the list of voices that need to be heard, but even halfway through (twitter is done, facebook is just started) it’s already getting cleaner. Facebook by far is the harder of the two to fix. As a rule the platform rewards news that conforms to confirmation bias yet simultaneously downplays the negative of posts that are false. This exercise may actually involve literally unliking every page that I do not want calculated in my algorithm and unfollowing every user, then waiting for the algorithm to take those changes into account to clean up my feed. And it still might not fix anything. That would mean the only real solution is to create a new account and recommending to myself the friends and pages worth following to reset my algorithm. I’ll check back in on that effectiveness of that solution, but the point is the purge is broadly happening for platform users, and not just for me, which is a damning indictment of the usefulness of Facebook as a source of information.
The final breakpoint to my loop of information/misinformation is choosing to do something useful with my free time. I’ve stepped up the number of books I’m reading, increasing my community volunteering, signing up for a future-focused class within my career path, and made it a point to check-in more with family and friends. I’ve also allowed myself the reminder that social media is supposed to be the break from my offline life, not the other way around, even though I work in the field of technology. Its a challenge in this field in particular because of the amount of research needed to keep up with an emerging vertical like the two in which I work, cybersecurity and fintech, but that only means special focus is required to avoid the distractions along the side of the road. It’s a daily struggle, but it’s getting better.
For a person who applies logical analysis to most things and leaves emotion out until afterwards, the allure of all the different opinions on social media is like a bug–light in many ways. I’m drawn to correcting misinformation in equal parts as my desire to spread correct information. Therein lies the challenge. In the pursuit of shedding light on inaccuracies, the middle ground has become lost, with a majority of conversations centering around the extremes. I see people unable to equivocate that if there can be an “alt-right” than the members of that group would certainly have labeled (rightly or wrongly) the last 8 years the rise of the “alt-left”. Those people who have been driven underground are now they’re back in the foreground and they want to flourish. And this fight is going to last for a long time both on and offline, because for the good of society it has to in order to maintain the arc of improvement every forward. I will still participate in that fight, but in a more effective and mentally healthy manner.
Because more than being tired of participating in and watching these groups of people furiously fighting ideological wars, I can’t shake the feeling that neither side is actually as right as they think they are. History has shown balance should always be the goal for a collective society, but I can’t see how we will ever find the middle again, since all other voices are drowned out.
I’ll be back when I’ve figured out how to fix it…within my own bubble if nowhere else.