Last week an Australian model quit social media, saying it was suffocating her and making her miserable. Granted, most of this said misery came from the gorgeous gal having to take more than 100 photos to make her perfectly flat stomach look even more perfect to her thousands of Instagram subscribers. Though I’m sure that was just awful for her, I don’t think I would mind being that kind of “miserable” — at least for a day or two.
But I do agree social media can be overwhelming and even depressing.
Back when we started this paper — a little over 13 years ago — the web existed but it wasn’t the dominant force it is today. We were still primarily out on the streets cultivating story ideas. While our reporters still pound the pavements and sift through court documents the good, old-fashioned way, an equally important tool in finding out the latest breaking news, controversy or human interest story consuming our community is by paying attention to social media.
So I spend a decent part of each day looking to make sure we aren’t missing anything or to see if someone is complaining about something — other than lousy service at whatever restaurant they had lunch at — that could turn into a bigger story.
I’m not going to blame it all on work, though, as I do like seeing what my “friends” are up to as well, especially the ones I’m actually friends with, but overall I’m starting to feel miserable and suffocated by social media as well.
Just in the last few days, tragic stories have come across my feed about a 6-year-old being shot by police in Louisiana and a young country star from Tennessee saying goodbye to her 1-year-old daughter as she loses her battle with cervical cancer.
Both of these stories made national news and perhaps would have come across our collective radar even before the dawn of social media, but there are so many other gut-wrenching stories that never would have crept their way into our consciousness without it — children being left brain dead by some horrible accident or born with some rare disease or killed in some preventable way, all with pages with names like “Hope for (insert name)” or “Prayers for (insert name)” or “Memories of (insert name).”
The family will post heartbreaking updates for their friends and family, but with the nature of social media, these things go “viral” and people from around the country — total strangers — become active on these pages. The family always seems grateful for the outpouring of support not only from friends and family but also from these people they have never met and probably never will. It almost seems like a form of therapy for some of these poor families, and God bless them, whatever gets them through these dark periods of their lives, then let them do whatever they need to do.
But I wonder just how healthy or even appropriate it is for strangers to be “liking” and participating or even just acting as voyeurs on pages like this. I’m sure they would argue they only do it to offer support or gain awareness. But in many cases, it just seems like morbid fascination.
I find myself trying to turn away from these pages unless I have a personal connection because I really just don’t want to be so hyperaware of every tragedy from Mobile to Missoula anymore.
I just can’t take it. It’s too much. We aren’t supposed to know all of this. There has to be a line drawn somewhere for the sake of sanity.
Another area of our lives where lines seem to be getting drawn in the sands of social media is race relations. As I watched what was happening at the University of Missouri on Monday (yes, via breaking news updates on social media), I witnessed the conversation devolve before I think anyone in this country actually knew what had happened in Columbia, Missouri, except for maybe, I don’t know, the folks in Columbia, Missouri. People were already offended or not offended or offended by people being offended or not being offended and name calling before having any context whatsoever.
How can this possibly be constructive?
Every individual community has such a complicated past — and present, for that matter — in regards to race. But now whenever something happens anywhere in this country, a local conversation becomes a national one, with people who know absolutely nothing about the situation weighing in on it, which just makes the dialog escalate out of control, with hate being spewed across the web in every community from to sea to shining sea. I saw many a Mobilian arguing online about an issue that was occurring on a campus almost 800 miles away. Why?
I know some people will say, “Well, this is great because these issues should be part of the public debate. We need to be talking about these things.” And yes, we should. But is social media the best forum? And is arguing about another community’s problems going to solve our own?
When I was younger, I actually believed by the time I reached 40 (and I am getting close) no one would even still be talking about race because we would have figured this all out by now.
But now I am more hopeless than ever. Because in the midst of all this cyber-shouting I rarely — if ever — see any resolution to these problems — only resignation that the problem is just too big and we may never move past this as a nation.
And that’s a sad and, yes, miserable and suffocating place to be.