Social media is poisoning your soul. Universal Human Goods are the antidote.
I recently deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. That likely seems an odd thing to do for someone like me who writes and speaks publicly, but after some reflection I realized those two apps were stealing happiness out of my life. I didn’t completely leave the platforms, mind you, just removed the apps from my phone to prevent the “bored scroll through the feed.” Removing the apps also tames the impulse to overshare that’s inherent in social media. Does anyone really care what I had for lunch today? The links that appeared in my feed on – you name the topic – were most often sensational headlines designed for maximum emotional response. Frankly, though, most of those were eye rollers to me because I rarely take headlines at face value anymore. It is the comments that really get to me.
Honestly, and this is not news to anyone, the things people “say” to each other on social media we’d likely never say in person. I’m not claiming the high ground here – I’m painfully aware of times I have written things I wish I’d written differently. The flaming insults people who are ostensibly “friends” hurl at each other is truly disturbing, and to be honest, mostly recycled talking points from their political point of view. Very few discussions in the comment section cite actual facts; rather, people just fling sound bytes pulled from the “source du jour” without even trying to understand the motives or position of the other. What’s even more disturbing is the trend of truncating or eliminating facts that don’t comport with our positions, not to mention outright lies and setups.
Twitter is even worse, and a word has been coined to describe it: “TwitterMob.” Metaphorical pitchforks raised, the TwitterMob lurches from outrage to outrage in a 240-character attempt to shame, ridicule, and emotionally harm “the other.” Of course there is all sorts of things happening on Twitter and other social media sites, but on balance, I’ve concluded it’s not a productive use of my time and energy.
It’s not to say there’s not good in any social media – clearly it can be inspiring and informative – but the current state of affairs is not good. As an early adopter of social media, I’m saddened that it’s become a virtual town square where friendships end and mud gets spattered.
The Easy Button
When trying to move people to action, we try to elicit an emotion. Paraphrasing Chris Stirewalt, “rage is the easiest button.” It takes a lot less work to generate rage than compassion or happiness or gentleness, so that’s where many content outlets have descended. Everyone says they want to hear “just the facts,” but that’s not the behavior the content-consuming public reinforces with our clicks. In politics, the easiest way to get people motivated is to assert the “other guys” are evil or depraved. Pop culture is not better. Take a look at those magazines at the supermarket check out: feuds between celebs, fights between celeb spouses, or whatever the outrage du jour happens to be apparently sells magazines. Who buys those things anyway?
Universal Human Goods
In The Five Be’s I write very briefly about St Thomas Aquinas’ concept of Universal Human Goods. While there’s no definitive list in Aquinas’ Summa, any list of Human Goods has to include Beauty, Truth, Kindness, and Love. We are finite humans, so when we fill ourselves up on social media outrage and tabloid gossip, we have little room for anything else. It’s no wonder we’re not happy even though we live in the freest, safest, most prosperous time since the beginning of human history.
Imagine how better we’d sleep if we cared a lot less about celeb gossip or our friends voted, and more about being generous and seeking beauty? Wouldn’t our lives be better if we quit comparing ourselves to the latest Instagram model and more seeking Truth and Love? Shouldn’t a relationship with the Divine be life-changing and free us from trashy TV and internet browsing?
I submit we can do better. We shouldn’t do better so we can boast on Facebook about how successful we are – we should do better because it makes us and the world around us happier.
Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with