Do you really need to care so much? Probably not.
We need to care about some things, obviously, and I’ll get to that, but what I’m talking about here are all the things you’re called to care about that under different circumstances you might not care that much about.
Fact: our faces are stuck to little computer screens all the time. For the great majority of us, we can’t put them down; they are the ultimate time filler. How much is hard to say, but according to the app I use for tracking my own phone screen time, I spend an average of 2.8 hours a day. That’s out of, what is generally for me, a 17 to 18 hour day, and scarily I think I’m pretty average.
Caveat: our phones, tablets, and computers do many things for us without which our lives would be far more complicated. In fact, our relationship with the internet has progressed to the point that it would be hard to participate in the world without it, so I don’t want to dismiss this. What I’m mostly talking about is social media.
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit – you name it.
Just like the internet, these social media platforms do many good things for us. They connect us to our families and friends that live hundreds of miles away (Hi Mom and Dad!), they help us promote our businesses and projects, and they provide large scale communication that otherwise would be painfully slow if not impossible. But they do something else too; they inundate us with opinions.
There is nothing wrong with opinions, of course, but when you are so engulfed in the opinions of others, perhaps hours a day, you begin to emotionally care about things that in your daily life really don’t matter so much, and at the worst, those opinions might eventually usurp your own.
I’m not saying that all the important things happening around us are not worthy of our attention, but with the constant exposure to other’s thoughts, we simply aren’t allowed to be passive or curious about issues. Brené Brown, in her most recent book Braving the Wilderness, states,
“We don’t even bother being curious anymore because somewhere, someone on ‘our side’ has a position. In a fitting-in culture — at home, at work, in our larger community–curiosity is seen as weakness and asking questions equate to antagonism rather than being valued as learning.”
Social media forces us to commit. It demands of us to have an opinion about all kinds of things, and to commit –
Gun control, race relations, abortion, Trump’s latest whatever, taxes, relationships, sexuality and gender identity, #metoo, Black/Blue/All Lives Matter, environmental concerns, teacher pay, basically ever injustice under the sun –
and this over hundreds of hours of exposure begins to alter our perception of issues as we begin to follow rather than think, letting our critical functions fall to the wayside because it’s easier to let others do it for us, and then like, share, and retweet.
Irish philosopher George Berkeley said,
Few men think, yet all have opinions.
Many of the social media opinions we’re exposed to does us little good since they aren’t subject to peer review, edited for content, checked for accuracy, curated and the many other things involved in traditional publishing. Not that everything on social media needs to go through this scrutiny; there’s nothing wrong with sharing our opinions. It’s the volume of opinion that is the difference maker. The danger comes when our society begins to value opinion more than it values knowledge.
The constant barrage of being called to have an opinion on everything emotionally exhausts us and drains the reserves we need for the interactions we have with the people in our lives, our actual, physical lives. It also might change how we ultimately interact with other people, which carries its own pros and cons.
This barrage not only comes to us from the people we follow on social media, but also the opinions of their likes, shares, and retweets which show up in our feed, so not only do we get their opinion, we get the opinions of those they follow. This is called the silo effect, meaning we only see what’s in our narrow, little cylinder, which is generally the same kind of stuff. More on this in another post.
Final point: it’s okay to not have an opinion, or a strong opinion, on everything. Before social media, our contact with the outside world came via a 30-minute news program on the local television station or the daily newspaper. Sure, maybe we knew less about the world and were less informed but we also didn’t have to care about so much, and there’s something to that. You can’t care passionately about everything; it’s an impossibility.
Choose a cause or two, pour yourself into it, and let someone else pick up the other causes. It’s okay. There’s plenty of causes and plenty of us to go around. And as for the rest of it, it’s okay to shrug your shoulders and say, “I’d don’t really have a strong opinion on ___________.” You fill in the blank. It will stun whoever it is you are talking to for a moment, after which they will likely continue telling why you should care about it, but that’s okay; just don’t care about that too.