January 23, 2017

Dealing with Media Pollution

Back in 1999, Kalle Lasn wrote about a kind of pollution in his book Culture Jam. He didn't write about environmental hazards or the disturbing noises in industrialized, urban areas. He wrote about media pollution. He wrote about an increase of messages of all kinds, from marketing, news and peer-to-peer communication. The Internet was just finding it's legs. He couldn't have known how much media pollution the Internet would make possible at that point. Yet, Lasn foresaw a saturation point. Too much information for our own good.

I'm increasingly troubled by the chatter. I don't like how my mood is altered by pixels on a screen. I've realized that, too often, I allow media to use me rather than the other way around. It's not as if I want to be uninformed. More than ever I feel compelled to be aware of what's going on and engaged. But I want to be generative not inflammatory, a friend not an antagonist. I'm not sure that the "always on" approach actually produces this.

Some have advocated social media fasts and these are often good. For some people. They do not, though, ensure that control is taken back. One can stay away from social media only to binge out on their return, offering control up to group think by clicks. For me, what I've realized I need is to establish self-control, not fast and binge. A wholesale abandonment of a platform isn't interesting to me. Yet, I need to own my social media engagement, ensure that it remains a tool for my usage. Not the other way around.

What follows are some of the steps I'm taking to curate my media input and deal with media pollution. My hope is by writing this out it will encourage me to stay the course and I hope it provides something helpful to you, the reader.

My phone
I've deleted most social media apps off my phone. I can still post when inspired to do so using the Buffer app. This way, I am free to create but am not subject to distractions I don't need. I left Instagram on my phone, but have turned off all notifications on this and almost all other apps (only text, voicemail and calendar notifications are left on). This way, I check in when I choose to. Not when my phone tells me to.

I've unfollowed nearly everything on Facebook. No, I have not unfriended you or un-liked anything. But I realized that following all these people on Facebook offered a false sense of connection. I even noticed in one situation that I didn't feel the need to be as attentive to a friend in person, because I was all caught up with them through social media. I find that, for me, problematic. It is genuinely because I want to be a better friend that I chose to unfollow. In it's place, I realize that I will need to do better about staying in touch with folks through email, text and letters. It also means I need to be more deliberate about spending time with those who are important to me. And from time to time, I will need to make an effort to go find their social media tools online. But I will be making that choice out of love for that person rather than Facebook telling me to.

Many of us get updates on news and information through Facebook or Twitter. Yet, like our interpersonal connectivity through social media, it often occurs by what we're told to pay attention to rather than seeking out factual information and news. I've decided that, in general, I want something more substantive than Twitter and to curate it myself, not Facebook. We don't have cable TV in our house and I do not subscribe to any newspapers or magazines. I don't plan on getting cable TV but I am considering subscribing to a newspaper. I also recommend Feedly, which I use to follow news websites, and other writers I enjoy reading. But, again, I am able to check in on these when I decide, not when I'm told to. Lastly, I listen to a few news podcasts offering different opinions.

Speaking of podcasts, I've unsubscribed from a number of them. In it's place, I'm finding the library audiobook app, OverDrive to be a fantastic tool for listening to more books on the long drives that are a regular part of my life now. I recently finished What If? written by Randall Munroe and read by Wil Wheaton. So funny!

I have decided not to check social media, even email, before I do a variety of others things each morning. I will look at my phone to review my schedule for the day, check the time and the weather but that's about it. When I do this, it improves my whole day. I've found myself putting my phone on the table at meetings and meals during the day. I'm going to work on leaving my phone at my desk or in my pocket so that I'm less distracted and able to be present to whomever I am with. I also tend not to check social media after 8 or 9pm. Reading before I go to bed seems to help me sleep better. Not on a screen. An old fashioned hardback or paperback. I just finished Destroyer of the Gods by Larry Hurtado and Paul Among the People by Sarah Ruden.

Creating Media
What about my own contribution to media pollution? Am I part of the problem? I've wrestled with this and while I may be wrong, I've decided this is up to you. I write my blog, send out a monthly newsletter and post these things to other social media outlets. I do so for those that have said "yes" to what I have to offer. I am not going to be concerned about those that do not want what I have to offer and I will trust that those that take in what I produce can do their own filtering, or will choose to allow something else do it for then. That's their choice.

This is how I'm taking back control. I'd love to know what you are doing and what you would recommend.