I had an epiphany last year while walking around the lake with my daughter before piano lessons. A couple of ducks with two baby ducklings were floating around, diving to dredge up the occasional worm. Aside from some Canada geese harassing them from time to time, the ducks carried on with life doing what they’ve done since the dawn of time.
The ducks don’t care who is president. The ducks don’t care about the latest outrage on social media. The ducks don’t care about which celebrity couple is adopting a new baby or getting a divorce. The ducks don’t get worked up at 24/7 news coverage of the atrocities of the world.
The ducks float around the pond and take care of their family. No matter how bad things get in the rest of the world, the ducks are going to do their thing and be all right.
I want to be the duck.
I’m not saying I want to bow out of the world. I’m not saying I don’t care about the problems we’re facing as a society. But I also don’t want to get overwrought about them. We have a tendency to exaggerate as a species. I see people who I know are good people get worked into a frenzy online. I see them react with anger, hate, and sometimes even violence toward others. There’s a sort of self-perpetuating rage machine out there in the form of social media.
There are some great benefits to social media. I met some of my closest writing friends on Twitter. I stay in touch with family and school friends I haven’t seen in decades via Facebook. We share silly stories, we share pictures of our lives as they are today, we reminisce about our lives as they once were. We share advice about life, about children, about writing. We especially love to share awful puns, dad jokes, and cat GIFs.
Last November, I left Twitter. I’m still not quite ready to talk about the specific incident that led to me turning my back, but it was merely one more incident in an ever-growing pile of incidents. Social media has its upsides, to be sure, but it’s also got a very dark underbelly. It is no longer the happy writing place it once was. It has become too toxic.
I’ve seen so many social media crusades get out of hand (though, by definition, maybe a crusade is already out of hand) and utterly destroy people for doing nothing more than wearing a shirt that someone else found offensive. For doing nothing more than wearing a hat expressing support for the man who currently sits in the Oval Office. For writing a book that someone thought perpetuated negative stereotypes. I’ve seen literary agents tell authors who voted for various political candidates to not bother querying them. I’ve seen professional editors spend more time shouting angry words into the social media echo chamber about the issue-of-the-day than actually editing books. I don’t want to know any of this about any of these people, because I believe deep down they’re all still good people and I don’t want my image of them to be tarnished by the momentary insanity that gets triggered whenever they log into Twitter.
We should be able to have positive, productive conversations about issues that concern us. We can talk to people about why we think they’re offending us, or why we have troubles with their politics, or why we think their choice of shirt discredits their entire career. But the Twitter hate trains go well beyond that. They dogpile on people, they incite bullying, they reduce people to tears, destroy careers, and threaten to continue doing this to anyone else who manages to catch the attention of one of the hate train engineers. And it’s not even possible to suggest to people that maaaaaaybe they’re getting a bit out of control. Because then they accuse you of not caring about what is, fundamentally, an important issue. When you do care, you just manage to keep it in perspective, and keep a cool head. Someone once coined the phrase “you will be made to care,” but I don’t think that’s quite strong enough. No, you will be made to rage feels more accurate. Or you will be crushed.
I suspect it would be a lot more difficult to talk to these people face to face in the abusive way that social media allows. At the end of the day, the person on the other end of that tweet is a human being with as complex a life and emotions as you. Twitter lets us dehumanize others, however. At least, I really hope it’s something about the impersonal distance between us on social media–because otherwise everyone really is a ball of anger all the time and there’s no hope except to move to a remote cabin in Montana and shut the rest of the world out entirely.
At the same time I left Twitter, I also stopped talking about anything outside of puns, fart jokes, photos of my kids doing silly things, tasty food, and cat GIFs on Facebook. You can probably still figure out my opinion on the topic of the day if you know me, and if you read between the lines of whatever juvenile joke I make about it, but I’m mostly done with trying to have a civil conversation on social media because I no longer think it’s possible. Disagreeing with anyone on social media can rouse the hate train, and once it sets its sights on you, may God have mercy on your soul. I know–I got sideswiped by an internet hate train last November and it was awful. Too many people out there are addicted to being angry. And I just can’t operate like that. I choose to not participate at all.
The duck doesn’t care what you post on Twitter.
I want the be the duck.
I want to focus on my pond, and on my family, and on doing the right thing to help those around me in need. I suspect if we all focused on doing what is right for our own and those around us, all the other atrocities of the world–perceived and actual–would disappear.
Be the duck.