I would like to call this past year The Year of Awakening, and quite possibly it has been.
I might need an aggregator and a data-analysis machine to prove it. Or I might need only the talent of smart curation. I might need simply the power of being first. Or of putting the claim first in this post—before the one I am not so convinced of—because, as it turns out, what I say to you first is surely what you’ll remember.
So, before I go any further, let us call this past year The Year of Awakening. Or perhaps the Year of Beautiful Toast. And if you want to share links you know of that support it, we can make our happy case together.
Second in line, because I prefer it to have less power over your psyche, I will note that some journalist declared last year—rightly, or just as click-bait—to be the year of outrage. Maybe. Maybe not. I would like to see his data-analysis machine.
Before I heard the claim, and before I came up with my own (This is the Year of Awakening!) I already had a lot on my mind: Watching people take other people down on the Internet. Watching people be hurt in the process. Watching perfectly intelligent writers stoop to new lows to get page views. Watching observers become embroiled and then, eventually either get burned or burned out. I’d rather call this past year The Year of Awakening. Trouble is, the voices that yell the loudest or on the largest platforms often get to declare our reality for us, until, in the end, it truly becomes our reality.
So we have two possible realities before us: Awakening or Outrage, Life or Exhaustion. Here is a quote from one of our readers, that suggests the first option:
I walked away from both [articles here at Tweetspeak] with far more than I came to see, feeling I left with something both private and something shared. —Richard Maxson
And this, from a reader who feels she may have spent a little too much time taking in “attack journalism” elsewhere this past year:
Being hooked leaves me exhausted, tossed out of the boat, and panting through my gills on the side of the riverbank while the writer reaps monetary and ego rewards. —Donna Falcone
What is a Citizen for a Saner Internet—and Life?
We can let the Internet control us and serve up whatever it wishes, or we can take solid steps to claim a saner Internet experience—and life. It’s not easy. Social media sites, email, and news and blog sites are designed to distract and attract us, even despite our best wishes for our well-being and the well-being of others and society at large.
We can talk more about this in the coming year—how to skirt what amount to these “controls” on our lives and our communities, and how to replace them with new ways of being and doing. For now, we simply resolve to try out a few ways of being (see below, in “Ten Resolutions”).
It’s time to start leaving links OUT of my twitter feeds and Facebook posts. If a piece does not add to the conversation in meaningful, thoughtful way, I refuse to share it. Debate and dialogue are important. Opposing views are vital to growth and understanding, and anything that thoughtfully furthers a conversation is share-worthy. Attack journalism is not share worthy. It might make me feel better to share the dirt, and to shoot my comment off in a moment of passion and defense, but this only feeds the fisherman, encouraging him to increase his efforts to gain name recognition and/or money.
Why Bother? I Mean, What Are the Costs Anyway?
Take a moment to consider the costs. To you. To your life. To society. We can look to studies that discuss addiction, depression, irritability, lost productivity, even crimes, and those are important.
But simply begin with yourself. We know what some of the benefits of the Internet are (here at Tweetspeak, we avidly pursue those benefits for you and for our larger society), but right now we simply want you to think it through… what are the costs of an uncontrolled, angry or sensationalistic, attention-demanding Internet to you, and are you willing to bear those costs?
Psychologist Susan Weinschenk talks about the random reinforcement that comes with the arrival of an e-mail or a text message…and the dopamine the interruption releases into the brain…The effects start small, but frequent users know it’s almost impossible to ignore…Plenty of studies make this technology-addiction connection, but here’s a disturbing one…a study on infomania that found checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment ten points. That’s the equivalent of not sleeping for thirty-six hours…
—Sullivan and Thompson
Another study offers even bleaker results. It found that following an interruption, such as an e-mail or phone call, participants get so distracted that they simply move on to something else—40 percent of the time! Perhaps not coincidentally, they also waste about 40 percent of their time.
—Sullivan and Thompson
And in the largest study of this phenomenon to date, a company named Basex found that its employees lose 2.1 hours per day to interruptions…It pegged the cost of interruptions to the US economy at a stunning $588 billion annually.
—Sullivan and Thompson
Distraction and interruption are the enemy of focus and concentration, and they attack with the force of addictive drugs, billions of dollars of new technology, biological rewiring of your brain, and seemingly inexhaustible resources….It’s no secret that distraction is the enemy of every successful venture.
—Sullivan and Thompson
The Internet’s best (and worst) tools, then, are alerts of all kinds, from technological to anger-inducing posts and headlines and conversations. What has the cost been to you and your community? Are you willing to bear those costs?
What Does it Really Mean to “Share”?
Social media sites and websites use the language of friendship and sharing. But what does it really mean to share? This is such an intriguing question. We’d love for you to answer it in the comments. Here are a few quotes to consider as you think about what it really means to share…
Study the stories at Digg or MSN and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people.
What thrives online is not the writing that reflects anything close to the reality in which you and I live. Nor does it allow for the kind of change that will create the world we wish to live in.
What keeps us mindful [in person] is often the reactions we SEE physically manifested in another’s face, eyes, body language when we speak – and we adjust what we say often times if we sense we are over sharing, dumping, or being aggressive.
10 Resolutions from Citizens for a Saner Internet—and Life
We resolve to:
1. Consider sharing three beautiful posts for every negative post we feel we must share
2. Share angry posts only if they significantly contribute to an important conversation
3. Understand anger as important, a red flag type emotion, that loses its strength if all we ever do is feel angry
4. Write headlines that are intelligent, witty, or intriguing without exhausting our readers by frequently playing the “outrage card” to get click-throughs
5. If we feel we want to listen to an angry Internet conversation for what it may be able to teach us about a subject, we resolve to do so silently for a “waiting period, ” in a stance of learning rather than one of defense and counterattack
6. We will not link to attack journalism from our websites, so as not to give more power to the writer or website of said journalism.
Related, we will not link to or re-share iterative journalism, which is a sloppy form of journalism designed to deliver a “scoop” that may have no foundation yet in truth.
(Insider tip: you know you are being “played” through iterative journalism when you see its typical words and phrases: “according to a tipster, hearing reports, escalating buzz, is reporting, likely, still a mystery, reports are”)
7. Consider ways to move beyond the “page view model” of Internet sustainability (which is one reason attack or sensationalist journalism is often pursued by individuals and websites, because it can result in high page views, which can translate into staying financially sustainable. Yes, it might be time to actually subscribe to The Guardian!)
8. Get offline for periods of rest—optimally, two offline days a week and getting offline by a certain cutoff time in the evenings—and use this time to cultivate face-to-face relationships, read, exercise, or otherwise interact with the world around us (we recommend cinnamon toast as part of the deal 😉 )
9. If we are unsure about our own angry or sensationalistic post on a subject, we will first pass the post by trusted friends who come from different viewpoints, in a more private setting, before deciding whether to hit the publish button
10. If we have been online for hours and are finally simply “surfing” because we feel lonely or unfocused, we will get offline and spend time with people face-to-face, read, exercise, play, or delve deeply into a new interest-area… one that will seriously challenge us and open up new avenues for our learning and our lives
11. Once a week and then, occasionally, for a whole week, consider adopting a taboo word approach. Don’t share or write anything with certain negative words in them. You could pair this with sharing and writing things that contain certain positive words you’ve identified. Such a practice can stir an awakening!
The Short Story of Our Resolve
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of (real) happiness.
Please Feel Free to Take This Post and Share
You don’t need to link to us. Feel free to take the 10 resolutions above and publish them on your blog. The resolutions are a community thing, and they belong to you if you want them to.
You can also take the visual below and use it in your post and on your sidebar. Link back to your own post on your blog with it, so you can return to the resolutions whenever you need them (and inspire others to join you).
Photo by Chris Potako, Creative Commons, via Flickr.