As a kid, I loved church potlucks. I always took my mom's food, because I knew I liked it (then again, so did everyone else). I remember learning early on that not all jello was created equal. Some people put really weird stuff in to make it a "salad." Carrots, celery, and cottage cheese do not belong in jello. Full stop.
Potlucks have changed over time. We've learned to label foods so that people with allergies and food sensitivities can pick wisely. Got a gluten sensitivity? This dish has wheat flour in it. Lactose intolerant? This dish has cheese. Nut allergy? The nut toppings are in a separate dish to the side. Avoiding foods that cause inflammatory responses in your body? This cake and those cookies were made with white flour and s.u.g.a.r!! I wish someone had invented labels 50 years ago so I could've avoided a few of those jello salads.
What does any of this have to do with social media? I'd better pivot to the metaphor, before I make myself hungry.
For me, logging into social media is like going to a potluck. Everyone brings what they want to share with others and puts it on the table. We can bring spicy food, comfort food, foods with gluten, dairy, nuts, or something vegan. We can bring a main dish or dessert. It's all fair game. Moreover (and this is the key) when we go through the line, each of us gets to choose what we want to eat or partake of ("partaking" fits better with the idea of social media engagement, I think). Lately I've realized that I don't like how I'm feeling after partaking in social media, so here's what I want to do differently.
1. I need better portion control. Most of us don't attend potlucks on a daily basis, but many of us attend the social media potluck multiple times a day. That's more than I need, and I need to cut back. It's hard to eat a balanced meal at a potluck, and it's hard to be balanced on social media. Too much is unhelpful to me. 2. I want to be more intentional about what I partake of and engage. The easiest decision is to avoid food and posts that I find distasteful. I don't like olives, so I don't eat them. I don't like hateful speech or crude content, so I block sources of ugly content, and I "snooze for 30 days" or "unfollow" people that post distasteful things consistently (and, yes, I've unfollowed people for being hateful). That's pretty simple. What about posts I agree with and like? In this case, I find myself asking if they are good for me. Let's go back to the food metaphor. I like dairy, breads, and sweets. I can eat them without any immediate physical difficulty or distress. I have learned, however, that there are foods that will inflame my body after the fact, causing my joints to ache and leaving me feeling pretty yucky. The same is true for social media I agree with/enjoy--it can have an inflammatory effect on my spirit. It can feed my anxiety, stir up deep disgust, and leave me depressed. When I'm stuck in those places, I'm unable help others or contribute positively in the world. Right now, it's easy to overindulge content that negatively impacts my emotional and spiritual health, and this in turn can impact my physical well-being. But what about content that genuinely does harm? That's a good question (I'm glad you/I asked it). It may be pushing the metaphor further than is wise, but let's think about this briefly. I would not allow someone to serve food with nuts to someone else who has a life-threatening nut allergy. If I knew there was danger to another person, I would speak to both the cook and the person with the allergy to ensure both understood the dangers. In the same way, there's a place for advocacy on behalf of others who are hurt by hateful speech and content that harms others. In these cases, I believe we who are healthy and less directly impacted must step up as advocates for what good and right for those who will be hurt. In this way, I'll stand up against racism, hate speech (in all directions), and for people who might not have a voice. I think that's the responsible thing to do, and I'll try to find the right way to respond so that I don't enflame a conversation. The potluck metaphor works for me. I'm going to let this metaphor guide my thoughts and actions on social media. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas or learn about metaphors you use to shape your social media use. Comment on this blog or reply in social media and let's make this a conversation.