I deleted all my social media last week. For anyone who knows how I’ve used Facebook and Instagram as my creative outlets over the last decade, you’ll understand this felt like a big deal. This is not a column on the evils of social media, though they are manifold: the vitriol, the bots, the perfectly posed photos masking all of our messy realities, the ease of communication that lures us into accepting substitutes for actual human interaction.
But I know I’ll likely be back; how else will I hear about events like Harry Potter Trivia at the Society Garden or free yoga in the park? So I will spare everyone some feigned moral superiority.
Even when I do come back, though, I want to be more intentional about a few things, and one of these is how I find, read and digest the news. One of the reasons why I had to step away from social media was that I had come to simply mindlessly scroll through my feed, even during short breaks. This sent me through photos of new babies, weddings and graduations to upsetting news about family separations and disturbing reports of national disasters, traumaand conflict. That’s not even counting the clickbait tailored just to my demographic (You Won’t Believe What is Causing Early Death Among Law Professors in their Early Forties!).
Instagram is far better than Facebook or Twitter for tone, to be sure. There are fewer screeds there, but there are still jarring photos of the Amazon burning tucked neatly between the flowers, babies, celebrities and memes.
I don’t mean to imply that we should hide from ugliness in the world just because we feel the bad news doesn’t affect us. I often get annoyed by the posts that urge, “To combat all the ugliness on social media … we are asking you to post three kittens and a baby turtle.” Injustice, hunger, disease and disaster impact others around us, and we have a moral obligation to stay informed and do what we can to promote change and progress. But scrolling past the horrors, I believe, can help to dull our outrage rather than to inform it.
Being more intentional about how I take in the news has helped me to be selective about my sources, to brace myself for what I’m about to read and to make sure I have the attention span and mental space to process what’s there. I’ve found that reading the news in print at a certain time of day is both more meaningful than scrolling online and has saved me untold hours of angst. Maintaining a subscription to print newspapers, magazines, news radio or the like all has the added benefit of supporting professional and reputable journalism.
I imagine this may not work for everyone — and I’m certainly not holding this out as the only way to face the dark cloud of depressing updates about the world — but it has helped me to be more systematic about forming opinions, responses and finding balance. One of my favorite lines from E.B. White is, “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Choosing authentic news sources over social media clickbait might just help us both improve and enjoy the world … that is, until we figure out how to save it.
Sarah Gerwig is a law professor and word enthusiast raising her two sons in Macon.