Don’t Drink From The Firehose: Staying Sane on Social Media

Back in the early days of Twitter, I used to follow BBC Breaking News, Reuters, and several other local and international accounts. It felt good to be connected to the world. I could follow issues, debates and events as they unfolded in real time. At any hour of the day or night, I knew what was going on in the world.

It made me feel wired and in control.

The trouble is, in the constant barrage of social media everything is going on all the time. There’s no let-up or chance to pause for breath. No time to digest and reflect, just the constant bam, bam, bam of headlines and opinions hitting you twenty-four hours a day.

In that hellish melange, things get confused. Categories break down. Third-rate celebrities become political pundits. Experts get ignored in favour of conspiracy theories. Individuals and organisations wilfully sow disinformation until it’s hard to tell what’s true anymore. But if we look away for even an instant, we might miss something important…

During this pandemic, the barrier between home and work has become permeable. Adding politics and current events into the mix means we’re spending every waking moment in a state of stress, with our attention being pulled in three directions at once, and our emotions in a confused mess.

It’s hard enough being powerless in the face of Covid, the constant reminder of a thousand other ire-inducing issues we’re powerless to change leaves us feeling angry and frustrated and no longer in control of our lives.

And that just isn’t sustainable over the long-term.

As well as causing mental health issues, sustained stress can lower your immune system, cause digestive problems, and even lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

So, I recently made the decision that I come to social media for the “social” part of that equation. If I want to watch the news, I will switch on the TV or visit a news website. I no longer need to be hit over the head with it every time I want to chat with my friends.

So, I’m turning off the firehose. I will check the news once or twice a day, and maybe catch the headlines when I’m in the car. But it will be on my terms. I can’t do everything at once. I will also have zero hesitation in blocking anyone who comes to me looking for an argument. Or anyone spouting hateful nonsense. I don’t owe them my attention. Their right to free speech doesn’t negate my right to not listen.

I need to separate time for work and time for home life, and maybe most importantly, time to relax and take care of my mental health.

To this end, I’ve created a variety of Twitter lists, so I get to see only the people I want to keep up with, and I ignore the rest. I barely use Facebook anymore. Instagram is more restful. After all, it’s my time and my experience. I should get to curate my feeds and choose what I want to see.

I’m not advocating living in a bubble, nor am I suggesting we should be passively uninformed about the important issues of the day. I’m just saying we don’t have to be constantly beaten over the head with anxiety inducing headlines, or have to listen to every troll or keyboard-happy jackass on the Internet.

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Author: Gareth L Powell


4 thoughts on “Don’t Drink From The Firehose: Staying Sane on Social Media”

  1. This is some seriously good advice. I know many people who could use a teaspoon of this.

  2. I have everyone in lists on twitter and have a list for news sites. I view it all on Tweetdeck and out of multiple lists, I can only have 4 main ones in view all the time, and that is not one of them. But I can go there if I want to check on something. I also now try and avoid the Trending stuff, so don’t do web twitter on my PC if I can help it.

    It’s good advice, and it is not a bubble, you are stepping out of the bubble to breathe.

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