For the past few months, I’ve been engaged in a social media purge. I’ve removed the most intrusive apps from my phone — which now charges overnight downstairs on the counter, no longer within arms reach on my bed stand. I’ve read more books — the ones made of amazing musty-smelling paper — in the last two or three months than I did the entire previous year. I even scratch out a journal entry regularly. Yes, in ink.
I had a Twitter account. “Had” is such a beautiful word. Only logging in once every few weeks, I realized the hate-driven digital cesspool seemed more about inflicting pain on political and personal opponents than connecting people or having a constructive exchange of ideas. Ask me how big of a void not having Twitter has been in my life.
I highly recommend the purge.
I’m undergoing a significant change in perception, a Covey-esque paradigm shift, about how we relate to one another, speak to one another, treat one another. We are destroying each other. Increasingly I find myself just wanting to be somewhere else. At the risk of sounding like a sappy Hallmark card, I realized that I have a yearning to connect with others — maybe even especially with those who think and look differently. Because if I can connect with them, we’re still ok as human beings. That yearning remains unsatisfied most days and weeks.
Operating in a political environment, I am not innocent. I’m opinionated. I have a radio microphone and a newspaper quill and from those have come a fair share of bombast, sarcasm, and critique. It has rarely been in my nature to seek harm or inflict pain, but rather to convince and win minds and hearts, or to right wrongs. Is there a place in our discourse to agitate, even inflame, but not bludgeon and destroy?
Forgive me for playing a completely unqualified armchair psychologist, but I have a working theory about social media, particularly those platforms where human ugliness thrives. Technology now allows us — each individual one of us — to publish our impulsive thoughts instantly, and globally. Have you noticed the increasing frequency of messaging that is sexually-charged, hate-filled, crass, and base? We have given our most primal instincts a megaphone. You know, that part of our brain concerned mostly with sex and survival. Once the primeval brain’s message has been published, our advanced-brain pride compels us to defend it.
Sometimes our primitive brain needs to just shut the hell up, not be given a Twitter account.
I don’t know if there’s a specific identifiable moment that a civil war begins. The definition of the term is pretty simple — that citizens of a country war against each other. By some definitions, we’re already there. Thankfully there aren’t the bullets and bayonets that piled up mounds of bodies a century and a half ago, but similarities remain: wide disagreement over legal authority, the thorough hatred for others, and a bitter chasm of disagreement that could fracture our nation. I’m not saying we’re baking a cake, but all the ingredients are on the counter, the oven is preheating, and mom‘s wearing her apron.
In 1861, the civil war was largely binary: North vs South. Slave emancipation vs. states’ rights. One of the challenges posed by our social media today is that we fight over everything all at once: abortion, marijuana, a slew of gender issues, race relations, gender equity, the environment, education, and everything else. And behind each of those issues are overlapping constituencies and interest groups. It’s easy to determine who wins a binary civil war, but in a chaotic, multifaceted, asymmetrical civilizational struggle happening at light speed, how is victory defined?
Yes, I highly recommend the purge.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls writes at www.neallarson.com. He is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is email@example.com.