We’ve always been good at jumping to conclusions and letting our prejudices run away with our reason, but now things are different. Our dumb ideas don’t just fizzle out, dying quietly in some back alley of our brain. We violently extract them from our imagination, like undeveloped offspring, and send them careening through cyberspace to assault everyone who will listen. Why? Because we can.
In the classic sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet, we encounter a world where a massive machine empowers people to telepathically create anything by the power of thought alone. “Creation without instrumentality.” But they forgot that not all the products of thought are worth creating. Some of them are down-right scary. Just imagine Stephen King on that planet! In our current reality, instead of a miraculous machine, we created social media–the place where all your thoughts, even the ones better left unsaid, can be broadcast instantly across the world. And like the murderous creature in the film, our tweets run amok, destroying whatever upsets us.
Some of the best advice I’ve heard about social media came from sports radio. Former NFL player and coach, Herm Edwards, commented on irresponsible posts made by current players. His advice: Don’t press send! Wait a while and let your emotions subside. There’s even an entire organization that goes by this moniker. They seek to promote “kind and careful online communication, in the hope of preventing [young people] from harming themselves or others.” But telling people to restrain their baser impulses as a strategy against their baser impulses seems futile to me. Noble, but futile.
So, as an alternative strategy, set a policy now, ahead of time, about what you will do then. Decide now that you simply won’t post or tweet about anything without a 24 hour waiting period. Let me give a few solid reasons for this policy.
1) Your first take on things is probably wrong.
Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes two parallel “systems” at work in our brain: “system 1” and “system 2.” System 1 is fast and less accurate. System 2 is slow but more accurate. (I’m waaayyy oversimplifying here.) If you want your understanding and your response to be more accurate, take the time to engage system 2–your more analytical nature.
2) The s#!t-storm is doing just fine without you.
I know it feels so important to get your take out there, to show everyone how smart and passionate and righteous you are, but you’re more likely to contribute to the problem than the solution. You might feel better, but the world won’t. Just because you can’t see the mob, with their pitchforks and torches, doesn’t mean you aren’t walking into it. Social media is an angry mob. Don’t join in.
3) Regret sucks.
You’ll probably end up saying something you’ll have to apologize for later or at least feel really bad about. (I have experience with this.) Better to wait, let your reaction cook for a while, boiling away the crud. You might find that the whole thing has soon boiled away, leaving an empty pot. You’ll be glad you didn’t serve it to anyone.
So for the love of good thinking and the world and everything that’s holy, slow down. Unlike the freeway, the internet is a place where it is good to go slow and let everyone else fly by you, honking and screaming. Let your “system 2” engage. Social media is power, and remember what Uncle Ben said.