We all bemoan the outrage cycle of social media. It’s become a constant drone in the background of our daily lives. Every day we’re mad about something. Conservatives and liberals take their turns, atheists and Christians, and people of every other belief and demographic.
What can we do about it? I think we can start by being a lot more selective about the fights we take up.
Just last week, a Twitter user shared a video of Maya Angelou correcting a young person for addressing her simply as “Maya.” In response, a few people tweeted about how disrespectful Angelou had been. Once those tweets got found, the floodgates opened. Countless people jumped on Twitter to off
But that’s not how the story got reported. Most people think it went down like Yashar Ali described:
Please know that Maya Angelou is trending nationally because there are some young folks who are offended that she directed a young woman to call her Ms. Angelou instead of Maya in a 20-year-old clip. We are doomed.
The problem is, that just isn’t true. She wasn’t trending nationally because people were offended that she demanded respect. She was trending nationally because people were offended that a tiny group of people were offended that she demanded respect.
With characterizations like Ali’s (and his “We are doomed” commentary), one would be led to believe that this is a widespread issue. It feeds into the outrage culture, the divisiveness, and the fearmongering by adding yet another thing that people think divides them from their fellow humans. “Can you believe this???” “People are so awful these days!” “I’m on team
And we fall for it over and over and over.
A preemptive version of it even happened with the recent mosque shooting, with dozens of prominent Christian accounts tweeting and Facebook posting to make the point that Christians shouldn’t rejoice but rather mourn for the fallen muslim people, leaving the implication that there are countless vocal Christians who need to be told not to celebrate.
Remember the Starbucks Christmas cups fiasco of 2015? One or two loud “Christian voices” expressed outrage that Starbucks had released cups without the words “Merry Christmas” on them. Outsiders still derisively refer to the over-sensitivity of Christians by claiming that we got offended by Starbucks cups… and nobody would’ve ever known about it if we didn’t feel the need to respond.
The same thing happened with the supposed boycott of Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it included a black character, a boycott so large that it held the release to a paltry $2 billion gross.
And the same thing happened with the Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez “dancing scandal.” I never saw a single tweet, FB post, or article criticizing her (though I’m sure there were a few), yet the occurrence will now enter the internet lexicon as an example for the conservative right’s “snowflake-ishness.”
The opposing viewpoints people are posting in these cases are often true and right and good… and totally unnecessary. Almost every time something like this goes viral and becomes a trending topic, it trends because all of the people criticizing it, not because of the people promoting it. 500 people making it an issue can’t make something a worldwide trending topic… but a million people snapping back at them can. These social media virtue signaling campaigns take small, fringe groups that don’t deserve any kind of platform and give them headline status.
So, you want to quell the outrage machine that is social media? Don’t join in the outrage mob.
Unplug the outrage culture. Take a few minutes to research and see if there are actually any advocates for the thing you’re wanting to speak out against. Don’t help make problems bigger, more outrageous, and more scandalous than they really are. Let ignorant, obnoxious people on the fringes of society be ignorant, obnoxious people on the fringes of society. Don’t feed the trolls.
I’ve found that the best way to decide how to use a new year is to look back at the previous year and consider what I would have done differently if I could do it over. As I look back in order to look forward, it hits me just how much time I wasted over the last year, and really over almost the entirety of my adult life. I actually accomplished as much or more than I ever have in a year, but there’s still plenty of room for growth in the way I spend my time.
These memes all highlight the problem I (and many in my generation) struggle with pretty well:
They’re true, and they’re relatable, and the point is kinda funny when you meme it that way. I get it, but… rather than joking about all the time I waste, shouldn’t I be embarrassed about it? Time is the most valuable commodity we have, and we throw more of it away than perhaps any people group in history. Isn’t that more sad than funny? Rather than chuckling and saying “That’s so me,” shouldn’t images like this serve as motivation?
Why not just be great? Why not strive to do as much with our potential as possible? With such little time, why am I throwing so much of it away on the internet on so many nights? Why not use that time to grow? The people we all admire and read about and watch movies about aren’t the ones who let their lives slide by. It’s not only a God-given duty we have to be good stewards of the time, abilities, and opportunities we’ve been given (see Matthew 25), but it should be a joy to realize what we can be. Why revel in mediocrity when the power to be something more is in our hands? Isn’t that cool? Isn’t it exciting?
I’ve got some weight to lose. I’ve got a massive stack of books to read, and I’m hoping to get through at least 40 of them this year. For years I’ve been needing to re-start my learning in New Testament Greek. I’ve gotta stop chewing my fingernails. I want to fix my sleep habits to I go to bed on time and wake up early to have time to spend with God and work out. I need to do a lot better job of keeping up with friends and responding to emails, tweets, and Facebook messages. I have a number of ways I want to improve my ministry and my personal walk with God.
When I write out the whole list of things I want to get done, it starts to look daunting. Yours probably does, too. But when I realize how much I time I unknowingly throw away on Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc., it’s pretty clear I have all the time I need to do the things I want to accomplish.
The key, of course, is making the decision (and regularly reminding myself) that I want to grow more than I want to throw away the time by sleeping in in the morning or browsing the internet all night. If I don’t regularly, actively make that decision, I’ll involuntarily slide into a pattern of aimlessly spending my 24 hour allotments again, and another year will be wasted. So, I have to decide what I want more. And as an added benefit, when I take control of my time, even the time I do set aside for Netflix, Xbox, Facebook, or whatever else is more enjoyable.
But once that decision is made, the next step is to go about finding ways to motivate ourselves. Some people post their weight loss goals on Facebook and share regular updates so they can stay accountable to their group of friends. You could download a browser extension that limits your time on certain sites. My brother and I had a challenge that whoever hit the snooze button the most mornings would have to buy the other a movie ticket when we saw each other. (To my great shame, I lost – but my morning routine has been almost completely transformed in the process.) Whatever it takes, the important thing is to find a way to remind ourselves of what we really want – to grow rather than to stagnate.
I can look back on 2018 and be proud of a number of things, and I can look back with plenty of regrets. The things I’m proud of give me building blocks, the good habits formed that I can continue using into the future. The regrets give me plenty of room for growth. Lord willing, if I’m still around on January 1, 2020, I’ll have turned 2018’s regrets into 2019’s building blocks. If I stick with those changes day by day, and keep growing year after year, the person I’ll be 30 years from now will be someone who has something to show for all the time, opportunities, and abilities God gave me. Rather than reveling in mediocrity, let’s find ways to grow and be better this year.