In a prior life, I was a fact-checker. I researched articles to make sure the facts mentioned were true, to check numbers, dates, the spelling of names. It was before the internet, and it was hard work. I loved it.
It bothers me to see how easily we lost critical thinking and slid into bumper-sticker philosophy, particularly on social media. In the past week, I brought my annoying habit to Facebook. I could not skip a post in which someone said something amazingly thoughtless, something that showed a fear reaction instead of a considered reaction. I had to poke the bear. I left links, proof, and long thoughtful answers. No one thanked me. Largely because no one wanted my advice, they were just letting off steam. And my showing up with something for them to consider wasn’t encouraging them to think through their opinions. It made them send me angry private messages.
The question I had to answer is “why am I on Facebook?” and the answer was none of these:
- To fix all wrongdoing
- To change people’s minds about their deeply held opinion, just because I said so
- To spread Truth
- To fact check others’ opinions
I’m on Facebook to see what other people are doing, particularly their creative work. A lot of people post their medical problems, complete with X-rays or other diagnostic proof. A lot of people ask for help, prayers, or funding. I began to fear opening my news stream because a lot of it was beyond my ability to fix, help, solve, or even pray for.
The solution is not to ignore Facebook, because I love seeing what people are creating, how they are solving
problems, and what they are doing that is fun. The fix is to shrug off the requests I can’t or don’t want to handle, to skim past the health details, and to treat Facebook like I treat the grocery store: go in with a list and pick up what I need. Get out of the cookie aisle where I have a tendency to feel sorry for myself.
Yes, I can entertain snark on my side of the screen. I often want to force people to behave the way their wise, richly decorated self-improvement quotes claim is the rule of life. I occasionally want to beat people with their selfie-stick. I have a mild allergy to people showing their perfect life endlessly because I think it is unlikely. But I keep my fingers off the keyboard, and scroll to posts I want to see. Facebook is a buffet of ideas, emotions, and bits of the zeitgeist. I don’t have to gawk, comment, or get engaged. I can watch a pet video and laugh, see a clever quote and smile, and speed past the emotional traps that are so quick to snag me.
One mistake I make it to leave a lot of comments. There are days when I don’t post anything at all, but leave a lot of comments and “likes.” About 80 percent of those are non-useful and a sort of emotional going along to feel good.
I’m not giving up Facebook, but I need to use it more wisely. I have two accounts, a personal one and a professional one, and I need to contribute more real content and quit sailing along with the emotional breeze.
–Quinn McDonald is on Facebook as QuinnCreative, too.