The Infocrush is negative

This is from my series on the Infocrush, my name for our modern information-overloaded lifestyle and all the negative aspects that can result.

Based on my entirely non-scientific research, 95% of Tweets are deeply negative.

This is an exaggeration, of course, but it certainly feels that way when one surfs through Twitter.

On Twitter — and indeed, online in general — everything sucks, and there are a lot of people determine to let you hear about it.

Humans complaining is nothing new. But, as in real life, there’s a difference between the occasional grousing and a diet of non-stop, unrelenting negativity. And as we all know, Tweets, comments, blogs aren’t single serving. They’re meant to be consumed by the handful. It’s a negativity buffet. We’re primed to gorge.

To be clear: constructive criticism is fine. The world is far from perfect. We’d be in bad shape if everybody just tuned out the things that needed fixing, and nobody ever got angry.

But a vast gulf separates constructive criticism and negativity. Constructive criticism is ultimately optimism in disguise. It’s offered to make the target better.

Complaining, vitriol, snark, cruelty etc. — the de facto currency of online exchange — are put forth to demean the target. Tearing other people apart isn’t nice, but it’s a great ego boost.

The Infocrush is negative because we demand negativity

The truth of it: the online media echosystem is overwhelmingly negative because we demand and celebrate negativity.

The media is shaped by its consumers. It adjusts itself to match the demands of its audience, like any other product. The better it is at matching those demands, the more successful it is as a company. The executives, and the board, are happier.

We like negativity because:

  • Negativity offers safety. Negativity allows us to hide behind cynicism instead of acting to improve ourselves and the world. It’s tough to be out in the arena, as the Roosevelt quote goes, and it’s easy to pitch barbs from the sidelines. But there’s no glory in that.
  • Negativity legitimizes feel-good complaining. Complaining feels good in the moment, but it’s a poor use of time and energy. With a cynical worldview, however, complaining becomes the only way we feel comfortable expressing ourselves — and this is treacherous.
  • Negativity makes us feel better about ourselves. At its root, negativity is intensely egoic. By building up righteous outrage over one thing or another, we give ourselves permission to tear others down while inflating our own self-worth. Negativity is ultimately a product of insecurity, narcissism and inner pain.

First, ask yourself a simple question.

The question goes like this:

How am I making myself and the world better today?

I ask myself this question constantly. Not aggressively, but with a polite urgency. I genuinely want to know: am I acting virtuously, or am I letting the baser angels of my nature seize the reins?

When I’m tempted to blast out a bit of righteous outrage on social media, or tear someone else apart, or lose a few hours to Twitter or the outrage-blogs — I ask myself this question.

I’m not always happy with the answer, but I try. And that’s all any of us can do.