Click. That’s all it takes.
One little tap of the finger on the mouse, and I can keep my life all cozy. I can live inside my own little cyberspace bubble of like-minded friends, rational bloggers and calm discussions of politics, religion and social issues. One little tap is all it takes to unfriend, unfollow, unsubscribe or un-anything else on most social media sites.
That one little tap, though, is the first step toward denial. Although I cringe when I see irrational vitriol spewing forth on Facebook, I also cringe when I consider the potential effect of tailoring my media consumption and my list of “friends” to fit my worldview.
More than once, I’ve booted someone off my Facebook list after seeing an outburst of bigoted stupidity. I’ll risk the wrath of my native region here and state that many people on my list live in the Ozarks, which is not, you may have noticed, widely recognized as a bastion of diversity and progressive thought. That’s why the portion of my list from my childhood and teen years tends to get whittled most often.
After I post this column, I’m sure it will shrink some more with no effort at all on my part. (I can almost hear those little taps right now.) That’s fine, because this is deer season, and the bloody carcass photos are frankly getting to be nauseating. Especially when they include small children holding rifles. But I digress.
I’m not prone to guilty feelings about cutting people out of my life, either digitally or otherwise, but over time, I’ve come to regret some of those deletions. Because regardless of how repulsive I find someone’s views, or how twisted that person’s logic is, seeing those posts gives me insight into how that person thinks (or doesn’t). It gives me an opportunity to correct misinformation and to show, by example, that it’s possible to discuss any topic with arguments that are calm and rational. And spelled correctly.
Those who say there’s no use in arguing when you’re not going to change anyone’s mind miss the point entirely. I don’t state my views in an attempt to change anyone’s mind. I state them simply to let people know where I draw the line.
Keeping all sorts of people on my Facebook list also reminds me that there’s a whole other way of thinking out there — a way of thinking that represents a large portion of the electorate. That’s a good thing to keep in mind for those of us who tend to get complacent when our side is in the winner’s circle.
When I woke up on the morning after the election, I naively hoped my social media feeds would have calmed down. After all, it was over. Time to move on. Cute kitten videos for all!
I was wrong, of course. The philosophical gaps had widened into the Grand Canyon, leaving me to wonder just how it is that we are all members of the same species. It made me regret every word I’ve ever written about the bland consistency of the suburbs — I can now state with confidence that pretty much every political philosophy you can name is held by at least one Johnson Countian on my Facebook list.
So, now that I’ve decided I won’t be eliminating anyone from my digital life, I’m moving forward with the optimism that I’d have even if the election hadn’t gone my way. I’m optimistic because every four years, when that maddeningly vague question comes up — Are you better off now than you were four years ago? — I have been able to answer yes.
Every. Single. Time.
I’m always better off, because I’m older, wiser and more knowledgeable. I’m better off because I’ve met new people, learned new skills and gained new perspectives. I’ve clarified my values and taken charge of more elements of my life. I’ve become more involved in causes I’m passionate about, and I’ve spent more time with my family. I’ve tickled my son more.
No, I haven’t always made more money. That seems to be what the politicians are getting at when they ask that question, which just goes to show how greatly they’ve misjudged my priorities. I’ve turned down promotions and their corresponding pay raises on several occasions at several jobs, and not once have I ever regretted it. I walked away from a long-held job in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression because I wanted a lifestyle that wasn’t possible with that job. I had nothing but some tenuous freelance assignments lined up and very little financial cushion in the bank.
And you know what? Everything worked out fine. Because the difference between where I was four years ago and where I am now was not up to the person in the White House. It was up to me, with the help of a good dose of plain old luck. That luck came in the form of finding a job thanks to a posting in a Facebook professional group — a group I was invited to join by an online acquaintance whose political views could not possibly be further from mine.
So before you burn digital bridges over political posts, give it some thought. You never know where those bridges might lead.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.