Overwhelmed social-media users can take control of how much they do, and don’t, want to see and hear. Getty Images
I’ve toiled from home on and off throughout my work life, so I know the drill. I learned early on how to be productive without bosses or co-workers prodding me to do so. But filtering out distractions is more difficult these days, with the lure of the Internet and its disparate temptations, including the vast wasteland of social media.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being loosely connected to people from every facet of my life, from elementary school to today, as well as many “Facebook friends” — people with whom I share some affinity and established relationships despite scant (or no) contact in real life. And it’s great to see images and videos on Instagram, get links from people on Twitter and phase in and out of other social-media platforms.
It can be time consuming, confusing and all too easy to get sucked into the black hole of online effluvia and ephemera, but if one exerts a bit of judgment, it can be a fun diversion rather than an ongoing avocation or time-draining disruption.
And that’s the thing: We are in control. Facebook, in particular, has consistently veered toward the Dark Side of the Force in its avarice and booking ads, and its allowing posts from malevolent and dishonest groups and governments — even accepting payment for political ads in rubles at one point. But we can mostly sift out the noise and the bad stuff, assuming we bother to do so and know how to deploy their user-unfriendly and arcane “privacy” controls and filters. I advocate muting, unfollowing, unfriending and blocking (in that order) when folks complain about seeing other’s hare-brained conspiracy memes and dubious “expert” opinions.
Those of us wise enough — and, let’s face it, old enough — to read a daily newspaper in print and/or online may not absorb every word of every story, but we can pick and choose and skim, get a sense of things and take as deep a dive into the information and opinions as we like. As with social media, it is curated but affords a sense of control in that we select the source, then sort what we want, and don’t want, to see. Hate that columnist’s point of view? Skip it. Think a particular critic is a bozo? Move on to the next piece. No interest in that sports team? Turn the page.
With the ubiquity of TV news, it’s tempting to open the 24/7 audiovisual fire hose of talking heads, bloviators, politicians and experts (degreed or self-proclaimed) interspersed between actual news reports. It’s your choice but an hour a day is all I can take of the drama and hyperventilating, even though my preferred TV news host is a Ph.D. and author, not a college dropout with the credibility of a radio morning-zoo intern.
Facebook is a two-way street, mostly. If you are “friends“ with a person, they are “connected” with you and see your post, photos and comments — though you can “follow” a person or group, and it’s not necessarily reciprocal.
Twitter and Instagram are different. They are one-way streets; whoever you “follow” doesn’t have to follow back — or may not even be aware you follow them — though they can “block” you if they want. On Twitter, I follow a variety of people: journalists, academics, comedians, musicians, chefs, real-life friends, family members, athletes, politicians. Same thing on Instagram.
One local celebrity chef I followed for a while on Instagram recently posted a video of a pompous prime-time pontificator — whose mental acuity might’ve been adversely affected by years of wearing tight bow-ties — touting a video from a widely discredited pair of medical pros with fake coronavirus info, and the next day, a nutty meme promoting a crazy conspiracy theory involving Microsoft’s Bill Gates, of all people. I didn’t comment on either post. There was no need. I thought about why I was following him; the one time I tasted has famed meatballs, they hardly lived up to the hype, so Ciao, Cuz! Unfollowed.
Some people take breaks from social media because they are stressed, and that’s perfectly fine. And that’s the thing; you need not engage with anyone unless you want to. I’ve ignored friend requests from folks I knew would be upset by my posts and vice versa. And I choose not to correct or educate misguided souls who are either uninformed or wrongheaded in their beliefs — though ridicule can be fun!
But my bias is always toward facts, not opinions. Yours should be, too.
Writer Seth Godin posted this in his blog recently: “Most of the progress in our culture of the last 200 years has come from using truth as a force for forward motion. Centralized proclamations are not nearly as resilient or effective as the work of countless individuals, aligned in their intention, engaging with the world. One of the dangers of our wide-open media culture of the last 10 years has been that the signals aren’t getting through the noise. Loud voices are drowning out useful ones. It’s difficult to determine, sometimes, who is accurately collating and correlating experience and reality and who is simply making stuff up as a way to distract us, to cause confusion and to gain influence.”
It’s far too easy to get overwhelmed by “the media” and the dizzying stream of news, opinions, entertainment and nonsense. It will only get worse.
Control the flow and spare your sanity.
Richard Pachter, a writer in Boca Raton, was the Herald’s business books columnist from 2000 to 2011.
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