There’s a long and hilarious history (dating back to Aristotle) of adults complaining about new trends and worrying about kids.
I don’t want to be that guy. I’m enthusiastic about the whole world moving online and the benefits of remote work. I believe we can push forward as a society, gradually getting better and kinder.
But I also witness how our current society rewards certain toxic behaviors. And this is especially true for those who spend a lot of time online.
Let’s talk about those traits we’d be better off without.
Sometimes we pretend that self-repression is a thing of the past. Many old social taboos are gone, but that doesn’t always mean we understand ourselves well.
For example, take the fear of death. It used to be a natural part of life as several generations lived together and helped each other out. But over time, we’ve all become distant from each other. COVID-19 really brought home how much we’ve been avoiding topics like sickness, aging, and also grief and death.
Once we stop repressing our fear, we can start accepting it. We can stop living our lives as though we are immortal. Without repression, we can embrace the day instead. Isn’t that so much better than constantly fleeing from our own feelings?
The world has sped up — we can all agree that that’s true. It’s impacting the way we treat each other and the things we think about.
Do we really need to know about what’s going on in the world every day? Keep tabs on which celebrities date whom? Watch the latest hot show on Netflix and forget about it the next day?
We know that Fear of Missing Out leads to increased loneliness and depression. But it’s still hard to break out of that need to know everything. Nobody wants to look silly in a dinner conversation, and we’re also tempted to try to one-up people with our collection of useless facts. So we’ve developed a thirst for shallow information and entertainment.
I’m not saying we should all start reading classics by candlelight (as peaceful as that sounds). But there’s much to be gained about enjoying books and movies with more substance. When I put in that kind of effort, it fills up a void I’m not aware of usually, and my FOMO fades away.
3. Intellectual Arrogance
Being shallow about art isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s far more worrying that people take the same approach to the news. Instead of looking at what’s true and important, we often notice only the flashiest, most shocking news items.
To be fair, there’s a lot of information out there, and it’s hard for anyone to navigate. I keep thinking about that one Noam Chomsky quote:
“You can’t expect somebody to become a biologist by giving them access to the Harvard University biology library and saying, “Just look through it.” That will give them nothing. The internet is the same, except magnified enormously.”
We have never had this much access to knowledge… and people are sinking into willful ignorance at alarming rates. Many fall for conspiracy theories, while others latch onto their favorite pundit’s opinion and refuse to hear other viewpoints.
There’s no easy answer to the problem of finding good information, but a bit of intellectual humility would go a long way. As Epictetus said:
“Be content to appear stupid or clueless in extraneous matters. Don’t wish to seem knowledgeable — and if some regard you as important, distrust yourself.”
Don’t fall for easy answers and don’t pretend you understand things you don’t. The only way to gain knowledge is to stop showing off and do your own research. Even more importantly, work on your self-knowledge. That way, you won’t fall prey to grifters.
4. An Addiction to Anger
While we’re at it, we need to work on our emotional resilience. It’s all too easy to fall for a herd mentality, especially when it comes to strong emotion. I keep watching people get swept up in a tidal wave of outrage, and sometimes I’m tempted to do the same.
Anger is a poisonous emotion. It is also very easy to redirect. You’re angry at yourself, at your boss or your spouse or the life circumstances you’re stuck in. But you don’t want to actually deal with any of that, so you direct all your anger on some topic that doesn’t affect you at all.
Now you’re thinking, “But Eric! There’s so much injustice in the world, why shouldn’t I get angry about it?”
Sure, that’s true. But are you using your anger to really help anything? Or are you just indulging in it because it makes you feel important? It’s an adrenaline rush, getting to yell at somebody online, especially when you get to feel righteous about it too.
If you haven’t heard of Myka Stauffer, she’s a Youtuber who gained notoriety last year after she and her husband “re-homed” a child she had adopted from China. The little boy was autistic, and the Stauffers decided they didn’t want to have him in their family anymore. It probably didn’t help that he wasn’t as easy to film as their other children. Myka kept getting frustrated with him for ruining her brand as a parenting influencer.
The story was infuriating. Now there’s that adrenaline rush I was talking about just now — I succumb to it too sometimes!
But it was also a good example of the casual cruelty that’s becoming standard today. We’re treating other people as expendable.
Is it good for any kid to have all their moments recorded and shared online? Nope. But parents do it anyway, and they don’t care about the consequences.
It’s not just parents who are prey to this. There’s been a rise in animal cruelty perpetuated for likes and views. Sometimes, people don’t even realize they’re abusing the animal — they’re simply ignorant and don’t stop to think about what they’re doing.
That’s not even getting into how badly we treat each other. Social media increases narcissism and decreases compassion, and it seems to be getting worse each year. Cruelty is rewarded with engagement and attention — and we’re increasingly desperate for both.
Is There a Solution?
I don’t think there’s an easy way to solve any of these problems. Social media isn’t going anywhere, and the damage it’s done is already here.
All we can do is try to maintain some clarity. Avoid time-wasters, disengage from the outrage, and step away from stupid arguments.
My personal motto is: Cut the crap. That’s what I tell myself when I notice I’m being dishonest (toward others, and more importantly toward myself).
As long as I can hold on to who I am, I think I’ll be fine.