Twitter is making us bitter.
YouTube’s killing the written word. Instagram is making the masses envious, vain and image-obsessed. Facebook is, uh, taking over the world?
That’s probably overstating things a bit. However, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the role social media plays in all our lives.
How much time do we spend on these sites? How many hours per week do we mindlessly scroll, searching for something—anything—to stimulate our addled minds? Why do we let the words of internet dingbats send us into a furious, tree-chopping rage?
This isn’t one of those “Old man yells at digital cloud” posts that encourages everyone to just log off forever. It is, however, a call for communicators to be more intentional, thoughtful and circumspect about the weight and mental freight these platforms put on our heads.
Keep an eye out for these four pitfalls in particular:
1. Comparing careers and life achievements
Do you spend an unreasonable amount of time following famous authors, industry “influencers” or colleagues whom you admire? Do they make you burn with jealousy or feel somehow less than? Go ahead and mash that “unfollow” button.
You’re doing just fine. It’s not a competition, and life is not a “He who dies with the most toys/keynotes/book deals/houses/followers wins” proposition.
Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself against others. Learn from those who’ve done well, but don’t feel compelled to keep up. You just do you.
2. Trying to be hilarious
Should you go for the borderline joke? Consider the risk/reward of that one-liner before publishing it. The best-case scenario is what, a flash of momentary internet fame? A bit of “brand awareness”?
It’s probably best to find another outlet for your humor. Is it worth the effort and energy? Social media is forever, and the condemnation for a tasteless gag can be swift and ruthless.
May the name “Justine Sacco” forever be in the front of our collective mind.
3. Stewing in the echo chamber
The content you consume and the people you follow profoundly shape your worldview—and the way you write. We tend to huddle with those who look and think like us, which can limit the ability to effectively communicate with a diverse audience.
Twitter, the great ideological wood splitter of our age, has especially become an echo chamber.
To become a more well-rounded and empathetic communicator, try listening outside your political camp. There are reasonable, rational and sane people on both sides. Seek out different perspectives and viewpoints. You won’t be convinced, but you’ll be more aware.
Don’t get caught up in an echo chamber that dehumanizes the other side. Seething hatred does not improve your ability to communicate.
4. Engaging with haters, instigators, trolls and pot stirrers
Of course, not everyone is worth engaging. Disregard, ignore, mute, block or unfollow trolls. Why waste a second of the precious little time we have on this earth arguing with online idiots and instigators?
Let it go, move on, and don’t expend an ounce of emotional energy trying to convince inconvincible people. Refuse to let fearmongering steal whatever small moments of joy you can grasp throughout the day.