Social media is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, I’ve met a lot of incredible people on Twitter and other sites that I never would have otherwise crossed paths with. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make friends from so many different parts of the world. They’ve opened my eyes to everything from social customs to tasty snacks that I would have probably never heard of if I hadn’t decided to sign up for accounts on those sites.
However, there are times when I’ve grow tired of the argumentative and dramatic cultures that have arisen on these platforms. There’s something about typing words out on keyboard that removes some people’s filters. They have the urge to say things online that most folks would never say out loud in front of everyone.
Some of my friends who are also interested in mindfulness have reduced their time spent on social media because of this. Honestly, I don’t blame them. I’ve cut back certain aspects of my social media usage, too. The gap between what these sites could be and what they actually are is simply too big to ignore in certain cases.
With that being said, something interesting has been happening to me on the various social media sites I use now that I’ve been practicing mindfulness regularly for a while.
For one, I’ve started to become hyper-aware of how I feel before, during, and after I use each one of these sites. When a particular leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world goes off on yet another prejudiced, incoherent rant online, my timelines fill up with people arguing over, joking about, and attempting to decipher what that person was really trying to say.
It’s not my place to tell others how to react to the things he says, of course. That’s not what this post is about at all.
What I am talking about is focusing on that moment when my body and mind begin to react to what I’m seeing or hearing. I feel conflicting needs to always know what terrible thing he’s planning to do next while simultaneously wanting a long, quiet break from all of that foolishness. It’s difficult at times to know when to lean in for more information and when to pull back and watch cute animal videos or take a walk instead.
This isn’t even to mention all of the other destructive things happening on various social media sites: mass outrage over something someone said or did; harassment; bullying; doxxing; pictures and stories about things that either never actually happened or that are so heavily edited it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on in them.
The beautiful thing about mindfulness is that it doesn’t always have to be something that comes from within. There is definitely something to be said for learning how to focus in a noisy or distracting environment, of course, but there is also value in filtering out certain types of stimuli when such things are possible.
To give you another example of what I’m talking about, Ontario is having a provincial election today. (If you live here, go vote as soon as you finish reading this post!)
Many of my friends from this province have been talking about election issues and which party they think they’ll be supporting this time around.
I’ve been playing around with my filters during this election cycle. Sometimes I want to follow every hashtag and account related to the four major parties in Ontario. On other days, I only want the highlights or maybe even nothing at all. I decided who I’m voting for so long ago that there’s really no need for me to continue entertaining the various options.
Sometimes saying no to certain hashtags, websites, groups, or users is the best possible response to something that is such contradictory mixture of helpful and harmful content.
I used to have a harder time letting go of stuff that
One of the beautiful things I’ve learned through the practice of mindfulness is how to say “no, thanks” without making a value judgement on a particular thing.
I’m not saying that everyone should mute that hashtag or stop visiting that site. If others find them useful, good for them.
They’re simply not things that work for me right now, anymore, or ever again.
Trimming the Excess
Yes, this means that I’m visiting fewer social media sites than I used to.
I’m no Luddite, but I do see the value in trimming away the things in life that no longer bring you joy. Why balance four or five accounts if they pull you out of what is happening at this very moment and make you worry about what might happen in all of the moments to come?
This isn’t something that makes sense to me, especially for ordinary people who aren’t celebrities or public figures. Again, this isn’t a guide on how everyone should live. I don’t judge others for updating Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube, Google+, and a half-dozen other accounts every day.
Some people are content doing that.
It’s simply not something that brings peace to my life, however.
What have your experiences with the various social media sites been like? How do you remain mindful while using them?