The Internet wears me out. And yet I keep coming back, faithfully. If only I felt the same way about the gym (*ba-dum-tshh*). But seriously, I find the Internet most exhausting in the wake of a controversial current event. In these instances, it’s custom for a good percentage of your friends list to become experts, critics, conspiracy theorists, preachers, and comedians. Meanwhile, the other percentage remains dead silent on the issues, and you’re likely to feel a way about that too.
I realized that, lately, I’ve been falling into that silent category, not as a testament to how much or how little popular issues concern me, but to preserve my sanity. Conversations about social issues and controversial current events that take place on social networking platforms too often become competitions in which users aim to oneup each other with memes, abbreviated research, and provocative images. Not only does it make users dependent on biased and distorted artifacts of information, it promotes a type of dialogue that prioritizes landing a point as opposed to listening and engaging with another person. It removes any codes of productive communication and, I believe, hinders our ability to learn to disagree respectfully and to grapple with issues out loud without being demeaned or attacked.
So, what’s the solution? I say we should approach critical dialogues like we do online dating. Spark it online, build it offline.
1. Choose your battles like you choose your love interests.
You don’t click on every profile that pops up on your dating app. Why? Because you know almost immediately if you’re attracted to someone or not. Be selective. Every opinion on social media doesn’t warrant a response or a debate.
2. Don’t take everything at face value.
Thanks to Catfish and common sense, we know better than to take someone’s photos and self-summary at face value. Treat “facts” on the Internet the same way. These days, authoring content is just as easy as creating a fake or misleading profile. So do your own research before you react.
3. Beware of those who are in it for different reasons than you, and don’t waste your time.
Internet trolls and devil’s advocates will drain your energy and laugh at your fatigue. The fact is that some people, especially online, only say things to get reactions, just like some people on dating sites and apps aren’t necessarily looking for a serious connection. Be discerning, and don’t get caught up in a troll trap.
4. If you don’t intend to take it offline, why bother?
As author Demetria Lucas advises, you meet people online. You date them in real life. Expressing outrage about social ills online is fine. Leaving it there is incredibly unproductive and will get you, and the issues, nowhere. As you engage in conversations and debates, be thinking about pro-active solutions that you can incorporate into your own life and share with others.
5. Stay in touch with reality.
If you’ve ever been frustrated with an online dating experience, it can feel like none of the fish in the sea are right for you. But in reality, you’re dealing with a small pool of potential partners. Don’t let prevailing headlines and ideas in online media color your whole perception of what’s going on in the world or how people think. Keep a balance between Cyberspace and real space (or don’t deal in Cyberspace at all, on occasion) and you’ll likely be a happier, more well-rounded person.