Cancer is a difficult topic for me, as I would imagine it is for many people. My mother went through breast cancer twice (and survived). Both of my grandfathers died from cancer: one from lung cancer, another from a brain tumor. The image of my grandfather being unable to speak because of the tumor in his brain and seeing the frustration and pain in his eyes will never leave me, much like the image of my mother asleep after a day of hellacious chemotherapy, a halo of hair laying on her pillow. The word “cancer” is an intense word for me, and it is a word that I don’t use flippantly.
The last month or so has finally convinced me: social media is cancer to our society, the most dangerous that has existed in the history of mankind. This is my opinion, and it is not an opinion I have thoughtlessly come to.
This idea isn’t exactly a new one. Multiple blogs, news outlets, journals, and op-eds have said essentially the same thing for years now. The problem is that we haven’t really taken it seriously. I know I really didn’t. But history has a strange way of taking singular moments and creating wildfires of events that we will struggle to see how they exactly they evolved from the original spark.
The murder of George Floyd and the continual unrest that followed in it’s wake is something we will look back on years down the road as a breaking point, for good, for ill, or in all likelihood a combination of both. Every reasonable person who saw what happened to the man was wrong, regardless of anything he did in the past. The vast majority of Americans of all races and belief systems agree that he was murdered and those responsible and complicit in it should be put to justice. The protests that followed were well-warranted and justified; the riots and anarchy-filled pseudo-revolutions (looking at you Seattle) that hijacked those protests did nothing to address the real root of the issues, they only created more wounds and bleeding, like a surgeon in the dark cutting and stabbing in a blind rage and refusing to acknowledge that he’s making the situation worse with every drop of blood that hits the floor.
We all know this, but we are not seeing the truth, because the cancer of social media has simultaneously blinded us, distracted us, enraged us, discouraged us, and lied to us. Between the world’s response to COVID-19 and to the George Floyd tragedy, we are seeing the first real widespread fruits of how the rapid spread of information (complete, incomplete, factual, or just plain lies) can stir the masses to every kind of conceivable reaction. In an article by Michael Solana, he rightfully states,
“Short of any kind of truly global, meme-induced disaster, there is the potential for as many personal- or national-scale disasters as can be imagined. The danger, at every scale, is large numbers of people acting rapidly and emotionally on information they just received. The information will almost certainly, by the very nature of new information, be incomplete or inaccurate. Individuals are now routinely targeted by massive, online mobs, sometimes millions strong, after doctored or incomplete information is shared with the malicious intent of evoking such reaction.”
We have become a society of street-corner preachers shouting into the void at the invisible masses, except the gospel that many are preaching isn’t a gospel at all. “Gospel” has traditionally meant “good news”, but what so many of us are preaching is the exact opposite: hate, division, narcissistic self-promotion (like you will see below), false images of lives we pretend to have, political ideologies that have become idols, or mindless amusements that in the long run do nothing but distract and render us dumb and disinterested in the world at large.
Here’s a difficult thing for me to confess: I’ve been guilty of all of those things I listed above.
I have finally been honest enough with myself about what exactly I have really been largely getting out of social media in all of my time on it, and it has boiled down to four things: distraction, discouragement, depression, and anger. None of those things are beneficial to me, so I’m done.
I’m doing what I wish could have been done for my grandfather: I’m cutting this cancerous tumor out of my life. At this point, I don’t care if I’m not as informed. I don’t care if I’m behind on the memes. I don’t care if I’m not up to date with the latest thing that will be old news five minutes from now. It’s just simply not worth my time anymore. There are more important things to concern me with.
Thomas Merton once said that “If you don’t want the effect, do something to remove the causes,” and this is exactly what I am doing.
I’m not asking anyone else to do the same. I would imagine many of you are probably much more well-adjusted and balanced than I am, so this may not be an issue for you. My only request is this: step back and take a brutally honest look at what you are really getting from social media. Once you figure out what that is, make the best decision possible for yourself.
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