Media frames much of how we see the world, so it matters what information we consume and how we consume it, as well as what we contribute.
I’m typing away on my computer at the office when bing! I get a phone alert. I silence it and turn back to my computer. Buzz! My phone vibrates. I ignore it. Buzz! I see in my peripheral vision that my phone display is lit up with a message. I keep working. Buzz! My phone lights up again. I give in and pick up my phone to look at the alerts. A friend updated her status on Facebook. Another friend shared a news article. I also have a CNN news alert…Gasp! The news alert is alarming. I unlock my phone, tap the alert, and being reading the latest news update. Questions and concerns begin popping up in my head and my heart rate increases. I look back at my computer screen and being feeling deflated. I’m now concerned with an array of happenings in the world, and I have lost the focus and motivation that I had just a few minutes ago.
I found myself playing out similar scenarios multiple times a day, maybe even ten or more. I was overwhelmed with information and in the struggle to process it all, I found myself focusing on the stories that stood out the most, which were usually the negative ones. We have so much knowledge in the palms of our hands now, so many tools and resources. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are the ones in control. We don’t work for the tools; we are supposed to make these tools work for us.
I’m in full support of being informed and feeling incited to act by things happening in the world, but I realized I had little control over my own exposure to news media. News alerts popped up on my phone automatically and I would read them with little delay. News media provides you with incomplete information and uses the powers of suggestion and implication to help you fill in the gaps on your own, all designed to incite fear and anger that lingers long after you are done reading or watching. Again, I want to be informed, but I wanted more control rather than seeing pop up headlines and getting upset of angry. I didn’t have anything close to a complete picture before plunging down an emotional rollercoaster without being ready for the ride to begin. It’s hard to remain optimistic and approach information clearly and logically when you are constantly bombarded with fearful and discouraging news.
I finally decided to delete news alerts from my phone. Rather than subjecting myself to the whimsy of the media and technology tools, I took back control of when I read the news. I now set aside time to consume the news when I am in a more resilient frame of mind. I also have full choice over what headlines to read and thus what details to pursue further rather than allowing news outlets to decide themselves what headlines they send me in the form of phone alerts. In the wake of that decision, I have been feeling substantially less frantic and overwhelmed.
Now I know that Facebook is not a news outlet, but it is a source through which users disseminate information, sometime in the form of new articles and videos. I struggled to control the news feed there as well. I wanted to see what friends and family were up to but could not avoid news from questionable sources and the spreading of messages of fear and hate. I found myself scrolling endlessly with no intention only to feel a sense of dejection and hopelessness after doing so. I knew this habit wasn’t doing me any good, but it wasn’t clear how much bad it was doing me.
It became too much and for the first time ever I deleted Facebook from my phone. I felt a momentary panic after the first moment of deletion. How would I know what everyone was up to? It was irrational, I know, which was further evidence of the issue. Ultimately, I wanted to see how much my perceptions and mood changed staying off of Facebook and taking back control of my exposure to news media. It definitely had an effect. I felt substantially less anxious from moment to moment. Stessors seemed more manageable. I improved my ability to focus on tasks in front of me given my phone alerts were less of a distraction.
During my Facebook break, I continued to reflect on where I had gone wrong and realized I was missing an opportunity. I didn’t jump from the social media ship all together but instead retreated to the happier world of Instagram where my feed is populated with happy and inspiring photographic moments of life. It’s generally a more creative and calming online space, and I felt inspired. I remembered that sometimes it’s not enough to simply avoid the negativity. That’s usually a losing battle. Instead I could inject a little positivity back into the social media atmosphere. After all, sharing meaningful moments of joy and love and gratitude are what launched the popularity of social media in the first place. It was simply a matter of returning to the roots of that online engagement and harnessing the tool for good.
So I returned to the Facebook community, but with some caveats in place for my own well-being. The app is no longer readily available on my home screen. I do not log on and scroll without intention. I actively reconfigured some aspects of my news feed so I have more control over what I see. Rather than being a passive observer, I’m making more of an effort to give out some good energy, to show more and kindness and support through positive engagement and share happy moments from my own life.
We struggle to connect to the world around us in a meaningful way rather than as passive observers that media pelts in the face whenever it wants. We become used to the drama of it all, even seeking it out, even though we know it has a negative effect on us. It becomes a toxic relationship. We have an incredible number of tools to reach out to each other and share and communicate. It’s important that we make those tools work for us in the ways that we want, that are beneficial to us. It’s crucial that we remember we have the choice to engage passively or actively or to engage at all. When we do choose to engage though, we’d do best to focus on the aspect that unites us all, our humanity.