Well, this year has certainly started off with a great deal of excitement, hasn’t it? It’s hard to expect differently after the year of ridiculous twists and turns dished out by 2020, but somehow things seem to get crazier and more unbelievable by the day.
This is a time when the Twitch is going to be stronger than ever—during times of uncertainty, unprecedented events, and widespread fear. In this particular moment, I want to offer some perspective that will be helpful in getting through it.
Television news cycle is designed to keep us watching. They’re using every psychological trick in the book to trigger emotional responses that keep us hooked. Remember, capitalism is driven by revenue, and revenue is driven by watch time. The more we watch, the more ads we see, the more they get paid—plain and simple.
With the advent of digital smart TVs that feed viewership analytics back to the cable networks, they know exactly what you’re watching, for how long, and what causes you to drop off. Using that feedback loop, they optimize programming to keep you hooked.
Consuming more will not put our minds at ease. Now and then, we’ll have a relieving piece of information that comes into our social media feeds, but it never lasts long. Just like TV, social media is designed to optimize for time spent on the platform to increase revenue. This is done through malicious, highly suspect psychological tactics that trigger emotional responses in our brains.
Look, we need distractions to get us through difficult things—it’s an effective form of coping, and nothing to be ashamed about. And simultaneously, they’re not going to actually help us function normally in this insane environment. We can solve being hungry by eating marshmallows, too. I’ve tried it. It’s great for the first like, 12 marshmallows or so, and then things go downhill real quick.
It’s hard to pull away, but you’re going to feel better when you do.
Our brains weren’t designed to have this much information. Imagine the fire hose of information currently flying into our sponge domes. Not much has changed about the human brain in the last 100,000 years. Just 330 years ago, the only way you’d know something absolutely crazy was happening in a distant city was if someone got on a horse and pounded 12.5 miles of pavement to come tell you in person that, “The British are coming!”
I’m sure it wasn’t pavement, but it rolls off the tongue much better than “trails”.
It’s weird imagining Paul Revere with four million Twitter followers, isn’t it? Sure would have made his work a lot easier, huh.
It’s okay to turn it off. You can come back later.
You don’t have to escape to a remote cabin in the woods and swear off technology forever. Thoreau’s lake was barely a mile outside of town. Put your phone in the other room, make something to eat, punch a pillow for a while, scream silently from your lockdown window, play a video game, or call a good friend.
Just give yourself time to step away, breathe, and let your brain process through the backlog of information it has. It’s not easy, but it will help us get through this.
It’s okay to not be okay right now—and you deserve space and self-compassion more than ever right now. Set some time limits on getting updates, then turn it off.
A friend just said to me “Are we supposed to be working during the coup?” and honestly it was the most American thing I’ve ever heard.— Dani/Tober: Actually a Witch (@thequeengeek) January 6, 2021