Living, Political Psychology

Declare Independence from Social Media. Do This Instead

The American Revolution started in a tavern.

Actually, it started in many taverns. But taverns they were.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hatched their greatest novels in The Eagle and Child tavern in Oxford.

If you want to be as great as the founding fathers or as prolific as Tolkien and Lewis, get off social media and get to a bar. I’m going to tell you why.

#1: Social Media Breed Depression and Anxiety

The more time you spend on Facebook, the more likely you are to suffer depression, attempt suicide, and feel overwhelmed by life. That’s according to numerous social psychology, sociology, and psychiatric studies conducted over the past four years.

A recent study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology goes a step further. It explains why Facebook makes you depressed: social comparison.

Social comparison is something we do all the time, online or off. Past studies of face-to-face interactions show that in human to human encounters, people feel better when talking to someone worse off than they are. But we feel a little less okay when interacting with someone better off than we are. That makes sense. It’s easy to see yourself feeling inadequate next to Donald Trump or a famous athlete.

But Facebook is different in a shocking way.

In the latest studies of online social comparison, subjects tend to feel worse whether they’re better off or worse off than the people writing the posts they’re reading.

In other words, everything you read on Facebook makes you feel worse about yourself.

The result: the more time you spend on Facebook, the less optimistic you become, the more inadequate you feel, the more depressed you’ll be, and the less active you’ll be. In other words, you’ll shrink from life.

# 2: Facebook Makes You Mean

You probably have many real-life friends, acquaintances, and co-workers whom you enjoy being around, don’t you? And many of these friends probably disagree with you on a wide variety of topics: politics, religion, music, law, entertainment, legalizing cannabis. Yet, somehow, you don’t let your disagreements interfere with your relationships.

Then, you fire up Facebook or Twitter and nit-pick every syllable posted by complete strangers. If someone says, “Washington was America’s greatest president,” you feel the need to point out that Jefferson was greater. Or Reagan. Or FDR. (Or, if you’re trolling here, Barack Obama.)

The reality is, Facebook (and Twitter) give you a chance to rip that someone a new one without immediate repercussions. And too many people take advantage of that situation.

From “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?” in Scientific American:

First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper), Markman said.

And because comment-section discourses don’t happen in real time, commenters can write lengthy monologues, which tend to entrench them in their extreme viewpoint. “When you’re having a conversation in person, who actually gets to deliver a monologue except people in the movies? Even if you get angry, people are talking back and forth and so eventually you have to calm down and listen so you can have a conversation,”

Look at all the vitriol stirred up over tweets and blog posts someone wrote eight years ago. Does it really matter? Whatever Joy Reid wrote in 2010, it didn’t hurt me then, so I doubt it will hurt me today. It seems important now because it makes her look hypocritical and we don’t like her. But people we like posted unfortunate tweets in 2009, too. Should we disown them?

Compare the outrage over Joy Reid’s old tweets to the treatment of the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Byrd was the leader of the KKK before going into politics. And, until social media came around, nobody really cared. Certainly, his fellow Democrats didn’t raise an eyebrow. But neither did most of his Republican colleagues. Why?

Time changes people, and humans love redemption stories. We are wired to hope that people who’ve fallen off the path of righteousness will return to kinder ways. Even strangers. Even people who’ve done really horrible things. We hope and pray that all souls go to heaven, not just the souls we like on earth.

The internet tends to reduce everyone to the worst moment of their lives. And our brains aren’t very good at recognizing our own weaknesses on Facebook. The only way to avoid being mean on the internet is to avoid social media.

#3: Social Media Put You Into an Affinity Bubble

You might be wrong. I’m probably wrong most of the time. If you or I interact only with people who share our wrongness, we will be wrong forever.

(Learn about affinity bubbles and being wrong.)

That’s okay if you’d rather believe yourself to be right than actually being right. But if you’d rather be right than wrong, you have to put your beliefs to the test. Again and again.

Plus, you have to test your beliefs against really smart, reasonable, decent people’s thoughts. Arguing with idiots will make you feel good for a moment, but it won’t provide a meaningful test of your hypothesis.

Avoiding challenges to your opinion is a form of confirmation bias. Once we latch onto an opinion (or a hypothesis), we tend to discount disconfirming information and overweight confirming data. We see this clearly in election years. In 2012, we discounted polls showing Barack Obama with a lead as biased and rigged. We looked at large, enthusiastic crowds at Romney rallies as proof that Romney would win. Even after Obama won the election handily, some of us blamed voter fraud. We couldn’t come to grips with the fact that we were wrong all along.

(Read my predictions of a Republican landslide and a Republican collapse before the 2012 election.)

The more time you spend online, the less you’re exposed to intelligent and rational positions that might inform you where you’re right and where you’re wrong. And save you from embarrassing predictions. And from Tweets and Facebook posts that come back to haunt you years from now.

Taverns Are Truly Social

Unlike social media, taverns are social places. From ancient mead halls to public houses to Irish pubs to the Fenton Bar and Grill, taverns expose us to real human beings who are unlikely to agree with us about everything.

I have several good friends at work. I know that we disagree politically and in other ways. I don’t let them see my political Facebook posts, and I don’t follow them on Twitter. And, I don’t actually look at Facebook, so I don’t see anything they might post.

Why?

Because we talk politics politely over drinks occasionally. And the rules for conversation among friends who disagree are completely different from the rules for venting one’s spleen on Facebook or Twitter. When I’m at a tavern with colleagues, there’s a lot of laughter even when we’re talking about subjects on which we disagree wholeheartedly. Like whether Trump’s literally Hitler or whether St. Louis has great weather.

When you’re sitting down talking to people you’ll see at work the next day, you impose certain rules of decorum on yourself. They do, too. You drink, you talk, you laugh. You shake hands or hug when someone gets up to leave. You buy each other drinks and appetizers. You end the evening closer to each other.

On the internet, these same people would work up a frothing hatred for each other. They would take sides. They would undermine each other’s work.

If you want to be happier, more productive, and have more friends, get off of social media and get to a tavern. Like the great writers and the founding fathers.

But, first, share this post on Facebook and Twitter, because I need the click traffic. ;-)

A joyous Independence Day to you and all.

Update: For scarier and more sinister view of social media, Ben Hunt, Ph.D. provides it: “We are being worked on, and our bottle is social media.

Read his entire post on Epsilon Theory: Clever Hans

Author: William Hennessy

Co-founder of St. Louis Tea Party Coalition and Nationwide Chicago Tea Party Persuasive design expertLatest book: Turning On Trump: An Evolution (2016)Author of The Conservative Manifest (1993), Zen Conservatism (2009), Weaving the Roots (2011), and Fight to Evolve (2016)I believe every person deserves the dignity of meaningful work as the only path to human flourishing.