I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. There is a lot of hype and pressure associated with them. “I resolve to…” is a powerful way to start a sentence…and a bit intimidating. Instead of resolutions let’s talk about small changes. Small changes are subtle, but they can lead to bigger things.
This is true as much for ourselves as it is for our broader community. Our national politics present seemingly intractable challenges which call for grand solutions and big changes. This is a false narrative. Big changes more often start with small actions, the actions of individuals.
So here are 3 small changes for your consideration:
Small Change #1: Show care in what you read
For 2018 I’m asking you to make a small change in your reading habits. Particularly your online reading habits. Look for diverse, quality content sources. Digital media makes it easy for anyone to publish, and quality varies. Learn how to vet content for facts and biases. Get out of your bubble and consider diverse opinions and points of view. Need help? Try my friends at CivikOwl.
What you read online has consequences. Not just for what it does to your brain (that’s a topic for another post) but because of what it means to content creators. The current model for monetization of content — how publishers get paid for what they produce — relies on popularity. They are paid based on clicks and views. And they will continue to produce the content that gets the most views. Now go back and read that last sentence again. If you just HAVE to see what Kim Kardashian has done now you are sending a message to content creators telling them THAT content is a money maker.
Bonus change: Turn off cable news
There is no value there. Everything they cover is also being covered somewhere else and someone else is definitely doing a better job with any given story.They are in a race to break news, a race they lost a long time ago to the Internet. Now they are just aggregators so they need to manufacture drama to draw in and keep viewers. Cable networks have long since sold out to the 24-hour news cycle and ratings. They are not news. They are entertainment and have abdicated their role as a check and balance for our government. With rare exceptions, their pundits are not pundits. They are entertainers.
I’d like to say there’s someone out there doing it really well, but I have yet to find one. In the meantime, do your best to get as close to the source on a given story and vet your experts carefully.
Small Change #2: Show care in what you share
While it’s important to show care in what you read, it’s even more vital to be careful with what you share. When you share content you, are doing two things:
- You are giving it a tacit endorsement (unless otherwise stated, see below), and;
- You are amplifying the power of the story by giving it a wider audience.
A cornerstone of the Russian fake news efforts during the 2016 election was that it relied on individuals to consume false news articles that supported deeply held opinions — and it got people to share them. Facebook estimates more than 150 million people were exposed to Russia-linked propaganda articles during the 2016 elections on their platform. The mechanisms that amplified the reach of 3000 or so Facebook accounts? Likes and sharing.
Also, don’t just share, give it context. When you share a piece of content be sure to add your thoughts and why it’s important, what makes it interesting or even why . Remember:
To share is human; to give context, divine.
Small Change #3: Act locally
With so many problems in the world — both real and what someone else would have you believe — there’s a temptation to outsource your activism to someone else who you think may be able to have a bigger impact. It could be an individual, a political party, a large charitable organization or a movement. I’m not saying don’t support them. The small change I’m asking for is for you to find a way to act locally. Get closer to the change you want to see happen. Find a local charity doing work you value or a local candidate to support who you think can work to make the changes you want to see.
I’m not calling out any organization in particular, but the further the leaders are from the people doing the work, the more likely those leaders’ agendas will be clouded by personal bias and politics. While many think the 2017 election results reflected a gain or loss in power of one of the two major political parties or the will billionaires and major corporations, in reality those wins reflected the impact of people acting locally. Act locally, and work in tandem with others who are acting locally.
The explosion of digital communications and ease with which anyone can express themselves to a potentially wide audience is powerful…and scary. I’m asking you to make some small changes to help tame the cacophony of voices. The little things you do on a daily basis have a broader impact.
- What you read impacts what others see, what you share impacts how others see the world.
- Being more selective about what you view just might gives you a better perspective on the world and being more discerning sends a message to content creators about what will sell.
- Taking local action can lead to broader global impact.
Thank you for reading this (#1). I hope you share this article, with context (#2). And then I hope you find a way to make a positive difference in your local community (#3). Here’s to a happier 2018. Happy New Year!