Clutter is everywhere in our lives, and getting rid of it increases our happiness. This is the third post in a loose collection of articles on decluttering. First I discussed my experiences with and benefits of what we all think of when we hear the word clutter: getting rid of actual physical possessions. Next I discussed non-physical clutter. Here we will address only one type of clutter and that is information, with specific attention to social media.
We are officially living in the information age. For all practical purposes there is infinite information available for consumption, and we don’t have the bandwidth to take it all in. Until we exit the information age and find ourselves squarely in the filtering revolution we have been tasked with the thankless job of deciding what and how much to consume.
There are really only two basic reasons to consume information; it either brings us joy or fulfills a useful function. Reading a beautiful poem brings us joy, whereas reading the instruction manual to your television teaches you how to use it.
Most information is joyless and serves no purpose. A massive amount of it is untrue and/or biased. Much of it is not relevant to our life in any way. In other words, it is clutter.
I have written at length about how news and advertising are essentially toxic steaming piles of infotainment clutter that serve no purpose in our life, and in fact make it much worse. I won’t rehash this argument here, so let’s move to something slightly different.
A week or so before the 2016 elections a friend of mine admitted she was completely depressed by the content of her Facebook feed and the political climate in general. Social media was amplifying hate and anger and it was causing her significant distress. She had to take a break for her sanity. Social media was cluttering her life unnecessarily to the point of distress and unhappiness. This made me sad because she is a very passionate and good-hearted person.
I know many others are in the same boat, mostly because they tell me, but also because occasionally I stumble into some idiotic thread that they are engaging in. Occasionally I even get temporarily drawn in if my defenses are low.
Social media is a subtler, slightly less awful form of information than mainstream news, but in some ways is actually worse because it is being fed to you by people you presumably like and respect.
This confuses our brain into accepting something we know to be meaningless, biased and untrue or against our values. It can be very persuasive. Alternately, it can make us angry or depressed when we realize our friends have beliefs that we consider crazy and irrational.
It is subversive. It causes cognitive dissonance and tends to bypass what I assume to be a robust bullshit filter.
Much of this information is like cat vomit, only wrapped up in some really nice paper. Maybe even a bow and fancy ribbon.
Now I will fully admit social media is one of my major forms of entertainment and I learn about some pretty cool stuff. I’m not telling you to give it up completely BUT…
Social media is a massive source of clutter and needs to be treated like the unhealthy river of cat-vomit-information-sewage that it is.
You should probably post that last sentence on social media somewhere.
Filter out the toxins
If you choose to consume any of this toxic waste, the most important thing you can do is become a better filter. If your social media feed was water, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t drink it most days. Start by making sure the stuff coming into your social media feeds has at least somewhat of a positive predictive value for being informative, useful or entertaining. This excludes most all political conversations.
This means getting rid of people that purposefully launch cat vomit into our lives and entice us to consume it.
The great thing is that by using the time-tested Pareto principal, we can safely assume 80% of cat vomit is projected by 20% of our social media ‘friends’. If we take that 20% and apply the principal once more, 4% of our social media contacts are responsible for 64% of said vomit. This means we only need to block/ignore/defriend 4% of our social media posse and we can eliminate about 2/3 of this garbage.
Sorting the vomit
In my experience there are two main types of cat vomit people we want to block/defriend/ignore on social media – Political ranters(PR) and social justice warriors(SJW).
First, some definitions that will either make you laugh or hate me (maybe both):
- Political ranter (PR): One who uses social media primarily to further their own political agenda and beliefs. They are not interested in learning, only giving their opinion. Grooms their social media feed to suggest their political party will save the world and the other party will lead to a civilization ending Mad Max like dystopian future. Usually implies right wing politics but not always. Typically older but not always. In the non-virtual world these people can usually be spotted by the political bumper stickers. Main weapons are the ad-homonym attack and the strawman argument. Tend to believe conspiracy theories and hate the Federal Reserve.
- Social justice warrior (SJW): One who takes up a social cause to the extreme. Grooms their social media feed to suggest fighting for their particular cause(s) is/are the most important thing(s) in the world and you are a terrible person if you have a dissenting opinion or don’t take up their cause. Usually implies left wing politics but not always. Often an idealistic millennial but not always. Main weapons are guilt and shame.
- Sociopath influencer (SI): These are the power brokers. Unlike the rest of us it actually makes sense for these people to post stuff to social media. They may make a difference because people actually listen to them. I use the term sociopath here a little differently here so read this to understand. The key point here is influence and persuasion; these people actually have it. Chances are you and I do not.
Alright, back to the rant
Now you will encounter people that post things about political and social issues and they are not necessarily a PR or SJW or even a SI for that matter. Sometimes articles can be mind-expanding and useful and lead to thoughtful discussion (usually not though). Let’s call these people the intellectually curious (IC). *
So how do you tell the difference between all these groups? It’s kinda like love or pornography; you just know it when you see it. Practice makes perfect. Once you start looking you will find patterns. Just start eliminating the most toxic social media contacts you have and you will figure this out quickly.
WARNING: If you find only one type of person in your social media feeds, there is a good chance that you are in fact one of them (PR or SJW). This is probably a good time to delete all your accounts and start meditating instead so you can recalibrate your brain. Be prepared for the inevitable happiness that will follow.
First rule in dealing with political ranters is to ignore them like you would a three year old child having a tantrum. You cannot win an argument with a PR so don’t try. They will bait you and push your emotional buttons. Ignoring them completely will take away their power. Do not get sucked into anyone else’s political beliefs because they are:
- Biased AF
- Just as stupid as anyone else’s (including mine and yours) and;
- Will either just piss you off or reinforce your already distorted cognitive biases.
Yeah I know it’s harsh and not really what you wanted to hear, but the truth is the truth around here. As a rule I don’t listen to anyone who parrots the party line of any political party regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them. I know they are not synthesizing the information, and I can learn nothing from them. They are not seeing truth; they are choosing what to believe so they fit into a tribe.
People that mostly agree with us are actually the most dangerous because they reinforce our existing beliefs. This leads to a perverse sort of confirmation bias. This will cause us to think less critically.
Side note: PRs are also the most susceptible to the sociopath influencers and make very good lieutenants.
Social Justice Warriors
Social justice warriors want to suck us into their causes and become as enraged as they are about…whatever. It really doesn’t matter what ‘whatever’ is because unless our life is optimized and awesome we are wasting our precious time and life energy. If you pay close attention you may also realize that a small percentage of SJWs don’t actually care about the issue they are fighting for, but more for acceptance into the group of people that are fighting the SJWs cause. A smaller subset, you may notice, will benefit economically or socially if their particular SJW cause is promoted which should make us a little suspicious.
SJWs are emotional vampires. They will drain us of energy and happiness.
If we could focus all the social rage stored up on Facebook and Twitter we could probably solve the world’s energy problem (or at least build a really cool weapon like the Death Star and blow up planets for fun). Don’t give in to the dark side young Jedi/sociopath-influencer-in-training.
I know this stuff seems harmless, like soft drinks, reality television and gas powered leaf blowers; but in fact none of these things are harmless. They have insidious negative effects on our quality of life. Sometimes we don’t see it because we become used to it, and humans are quite adaptable creatures.
You will be a much more effective person, and also have more social influence and power to promote your own ideas, if you work on yourself first. Engaging PRs and SJWs (or being one) is the opposite of doing anything meaningful. It is the opposite of taking action. It is engaging in production of mental and virtual clutter.
Instead of spending an hour arguing about wealth inequality and why we can’t get ahead in life spend that hour, you know, actually getting ahead in life or helping someone else you care about do it. Do something for yourself rather than express your frustration on social media. The return on investment will be infinitely higher.
Stop posting hundreds of comments on blogs about how something is broken and unfair. Spend that time learning about the issue. Figure out how to change your life situation so it doesn’t affect you to the degree it does now.
Are our taxes too high? Let’s learn the tax code and take advantage of it instead of crying about it on Twitter. I’m baffled by people who rant and complain about this stuff but cannot answer the most basic questions about tax optimization. Concerned about the environment? Let’s do everything we can to minimize our personal impact on it. Many ‘environmentalists’ I know still drive massive clown cars all over the place for no good reason, live in huge horrible McMansions, and eat pretty high up the food chain.
I know it’s cliché but actually be the change you want to see in the world. I think it was either Gandhi or Mike Tyson that said that.
No one made their life any better by engaging a PR or SJW on Facebook.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen instead, and turn your phone off while doing it.
Real power and influence
The most power and influence most of us have is how we spend our time and money – so learn how to make a lot of it and spend it in ways that align with your values. This is how we shape the world around us.
When enough people care about something and do this, the marketplace responds by giving us what we want. That is the beautiful thing about the free market, there are millions of people that want your money and will do what you want if you give them some of it.
Unless you are a SI you are probably wasting your time on social media. There is nothing inherently terrible about wasting time; in fact it is one of my favorite things to do. But unless it makes you happy or serves a useful purpose, it is clutter.You are not actually doing anything meaningful by consuming and spreading this garbage. In fact, you are probably doing less than nothing because it is taking the place of something more useful. If your life is not optimized get rid of social media. It is an alligator.
Now that I’ve just pissed of half all of my Facebook friends and twitter followers (except for the sociopaths who are laughing hysterically) let me take a step back and refine a little here. I think it is awesome you have something that you are passionate about and want to save the world. If your cause was the only one in my Twitter feed between the Rumi quotes and off color jokes maybe I would spend 5 minutes of my day learning about it – maybe. But here is the thing, there are a hundred other equally important and urgent (that was sarcasm) matters that everyone else wants me to care about too.
When we care about everything we care about nothing. This is 90% clutter. It distracts you from meaningful action. Read things that make you laugh, gives you interesting ideas or make you a better person. That’s it. Follow this rule and 90% of your social media feed will become useless.
After you purge this stuff from your life, take the time to appreciate the space and quiet. Reflect upon it and only then consider adding back what brings you joy. You will be shocked at how much better you feel. You will be amazed and how little of it added any value to your life or made a difference. As you float through your social media feeds you will have the power to completely ignoring the ridiculous political memes and articles that piss you off. You may even become the happiest person in the room.
Your power and energy will be focused. Your mind will be much more effective fighting for the things that actually matter to you. From this place you can start becoming the change you want to see in the world and become an influencer yourself.
*All SJWs and PRs will incorrectly label themselves IC.
**If you are a SJW or political ranter you are probably either in denial* or pissed off at me. Just remember, you are convincing exactly no one when you post this stuff. Not one person. Either you are reinforcing ideas in people’s minds that already think like you, or you are advertising the fact that your ideas are crazy to people who disagree with you, inadvertently spurring people that disagree with you into action. Either way you are accomplishing nothing but stroking your already oversized ego. Be like a Disney princess and let it go. Stick to funny cat pictures or ‘hey girl’ memes…at least these may bring a little laughter or joy to someone.
***Posting political rants or fighting injustice on social media is the illusion of actually doing something meaningful. If you really feel strongly about something do some research, write a book and get it published. Go run for political office or start a company. Start your own website, podcast or blog. This will actually be a real challenge, trying to get readers engaged that are not your self-selected group-think cluster of captive social media friends. I know those likes and retweets seem to validate us as the little bursts of dopamine are released, but they don’t actually do anything except pick the influencers. Change the world for real, not in the half-assed lazy way you think you are doing it now.
****If you still are not convinced and insist you are the next Donald Trump and will change the world through your Twitter feed, you will be most effective as a sociopath influencer. The thing is though, wasting your time on social media will take you away from the actual skills and influence you need to become one.