Checking in with social media recently, specifically Facebook and Twitter, has made me feel like maybe everything really IS terrible. Maybe we really are only 20 years away from the sudden and inevitable collapse of the environment. Maybe we’re on the cusp of an imminent thermonuclear war. Maybe Jesus has spurned us for the second coming and we’re all just going straight to Hell for all eternity.
So I was thinking on the way home that I really miss the days growing up before social media, when we could choose to ignore the whackadoodle ravings on AM radio, where Neo-Nazis were just a group of weirdos largely relegated to a few rallies in rural areas and Jerry Springer episodes, and the only thing I worried about was whether or not I’d get to watch cartoons after school. (Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were life, y’all.) The 24-hour news cycle and the incessant coverage of every minor thing ruined me for current events. I loved reading books on political theory and history and culture, and I even blogged for the Houston Chronicle for a while as one of the only (or maybe the only) moderate bloggers – mine was the one that had a dozen or more footnotes and links to sources, because you can take the blogger out of academia but you can’t take the academics out of my blogging.
But as social media became more social, and we traded our MySpace pages for Facebook and then Twitter, every damn conspiracy theory and minute incident got hours and hours of coverage online. Most of it fizzles into nothing and we never hear about it, but the internet is forever and every now and then the dreaded Necrothread rears it’s ugly head to resurrect some old issue and it’s argued again like it happened yesterday. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because it means that when people claim they never had any dealings with a foreign government we can just pull up old Tweets or blog posts evidencing otherwise. (And man, some of those Tweets do NOT age well.) But most of the time it just leads to people arguing over and over again about the thing and it still never gets solved.
I try to cultivate my social media so that I keep in touch with friends and family, but also so that I’m not in a bubble where I miss out on things that are going on around me. I don’t like being blissfully unaware of current events, but the nature of social media means that between the sarcastic memes and dog pictures I’m getting inundated with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news, and being a concerned citizen I want to do all the things and solve all the problems and be involved in local politics so that I can prevent Armageddon. But being just one person I’m probably not going to do all the things – realistically there are probably one or two things I can do and I should work on those. And even though I’m a realist and I (mostly) know my limitations, I still feel powerless and overwhelmed. I feel like I’m not contributing meaningfully, that I’m not doing enough, that taking any kind of break is tantamount to failure because EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE!!!!
Except everything is probably not terrible. I can list several things right now that are not terrible: I have a good job with health insurance, my kiddo is in Girl Scouts and is super excited about doing outdoors stuff, I found a ton of cool new books to read, and I have a supportive group of friends and family. I’m doing pretty good at winning at life – probably don’t have the high score, but that’s okay. It’s probably also okay if I don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems, because a) I can’t, b) I shouldn’t try, and c) no, really, I can’t. It’s probably definitely also okay if I step back and do self care, like spending 2,000 hours playing Skyrim (haha, just kidding, that’s totally not a thing I did…), or reading my ever-growing To Be Read list or turning off notifications on my phone and stop reading social media for a few days.
It’s important to do things that bring joy to your life, to remind yourself that everything is NOT terrible, to lift yourself up. If you don’t, the crushing weight of the world’s problems will consume you and you’ll shrivel into a hollow shambling husk and honestly shambling husks do not enjoy life at all. It’s okay to do something fun once in a while and not spend all day worrying about terrible things. And it’s definitely okay to stop following every news organization and political figure on Facebook and Twitter and follow all the dog and otter and cat accounts instead. Dog Twitter is 100% more enjoyable anyway.