Social media feeds and Facebook pages are like people’s yards. God bless you; do whatever you want with yours. If you like plastic pink flamingos in your yard and wooden cutouts of old women bending over in your garden, more power to you. As long as you are not scaring the horses in the street, to each his or her own. Heck, there are times I am willing to look the other way if someone wants to give the ponies a startle or two.
The same is true of social media. Post to your heart’s content the content you want. Devote your posts and memes to whatever trips your trigger. Anti-vax, pro-gun, love all things Trump, believe the moon landing is a hoax or that pastrami is a misunderstood meat, enjoy. Want to update the world where you are at all times? Have at it. I am worried young stalkers and thieves are not getting the exercise they once did. Once it took a little effort to be creepy and obsessed. Now, a person can remain in their pajamas and achieve that ick factor.
“Look, Mary just took a selfie with her hot venti White Mocha. I better give her a “thumbs up” or a “heart” click before the diabetes she is about to get makes her vision too blurry to see. Oh, she just clicked that she will be attending Missy’s party. That gives me three hours to break into her apartment and walk around in her underwear.”
I love watching young love blossom from cyberspace, the adorable photos, the cute little comments about how lucky the two of you are to be in each other’s lives, your friends’ comments about how dreamy a couple you are, and then the inevitable relationship crash into the side of a mountain. The best part comes when one of them scrubs their page of the other person cleaner than a hospital operating room. The year-and-a-half with their sweet Babboo never existed.
Some married guy comments on every status update that a young, single hottie puts up and how she thinks he is just a really friendly guy. For some unknown reason, he just gets her and enjoys her sense of humor. It is like watching a car accident. You know the wreck that is about to be his life is going to happen. You want to turn away, but you can’t.
Middle-of-the-night meltdowns and human beings being the flawed creatures they are, social media at its best is like a soap opera, just with ordinary ugly people. My eye is twitching again. Social media sites are designed for the user to become Pavlov’s dog. The bell rings and the dog drools. Our brains want that affirmation feedback loop. The worst thing that can happen is your posts get no response. Like junkies, we crave that chemical spike in our brains. Every social media platform creator understands it is not the content that matters, but the delivery system that keeps people coming back. The id must be constantly fed.
Still, and this hurts to say, Donald Trump might be right. We need to make America great again. Yet, the pathway is not found in building walls or banning some poor kid from using a bathroom, but with the Internet. Here are five simple rules to follow if you want to make America great again or at least keep my eye from twitching every time I log on.
One: Take a break from the Internet. Don’t be constantly checking your phone when you are talking to someone. It is called respect. It is a strange thing, but you get used to it. Americans check their phones eight billion times per day. The typical user touches their phone 2,617 times every day. The top 10 percent touch it more than 5,400 times. I would rather lick a shopping cart handle than touch people’s phones. I know what room in the house it has been in. I don’t want it near me.
Almost half of Americans (44 percent) admit that they could not make it through the day without their phone. Seventy-one percent sleep next to their phones. Three percent of us actually sleep with it in our hands. It is the first thing well over one-third of us touch in the morning and the last thing they touch at night. If you are in a relationship, this should inform you of your place in the pecking order. Nine percent of people admit checking their smart device while giving each other that very special mommy and daddy hug. I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’re probably not doing something right if you can check your Twitter feed or surf Etsy then.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I got a proper prescription for my glasses. I was legally blind without glasses and did not know it. (And yes, I had my learner’s permit to drive a car, which should scare you.) It was truly amazing to see the leaves in the trees. Discovering that people’s faces were more than a blur is something you never forget.
Similarly, while always checking your phone, there is something amazing that you miss every day because you cannot be bothered to look up at the world around you. Have you ever gone to a concert or an event and witnessed a large part of the crowd has their tablets up in the air videoing it? Those tablets change the moment like television cameras in a courtroom, forming a barrier and boxing in your reality, cropping out so much of what is happening. Just enjoy the moment, enjoy the music, I am not sure what that means as I am a Norwegian, but I am sure it might be like seeing leaves in the trees for the first time.
Two: Remind yourself that everyone else is as pathetic as you. Social media is like a year around Christmas card. Once upon a time people only lied about how wonderful their lives and families were in a holiday card, telling everyone how wonderful things are. Social media makes it appear that everyone is having a grand old time in life and you’re the wallflower at the dance called life. Everything seems to be going their way — great kids, love and a job to die for. Your reality cannot measure up to those perfectly posed and timed photos. It causes people to have anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, basically all the things that add up to a person being a good Lutheran. Nothing can make you more miserable than someone else’s happiness.
I know a guy who used to post photos of him paragliding over tropical beaches and attending parties with the beautiful people that would never let me inside the door. Then I saw him gassing his car in the Iowa cold. He had been fired from his job and was stealing pills from his father, who he had moved in with. The dirty secret of social media is everyone likes to take photos of the pony, but don’t share the mucking out the stall.
Three: If a meme, story or quote is too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. I know this is hard to believe, but people lie on the Internet. As much as I want every story that happens in an Alabama Walmart to be true, I know some of them are made up. There are hundreds of sites on the Internet devoted to fact checking things. Take that extra few seconds to confirm what you are about to post is true. I once shared a story about Adam Sandler’s car breaking down outside of Pella, Iowa. What I discovered after a few hours from the comments of friends is either Adam Sandler cannot drive a car more than ten feet before it breaks down or the story was just an urban legend that various sites just change the location (and sometimes the famous individual). Always remember the words of the great Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t believe everything on the World Wide Web.”
Four: Men, don’t send photos of where your swimsuit covers to women. No woman ever got one of these faceless photos and said, “Oh, I had no interest in knowing him before receiving this lovely Picasso-like picture, but he seems like a fellow I could take long walks and share my love of Yeats with.” You are never going to find yourself 30 years from now, gray-haired, and sitting on the couch with your cane, saying to your grandchildren, “So, you want to know how grandma and I met? She posted a funny meme about granola. I responded with…” It is gross. It does not work. And in the best-case scenario, she saves your life by texting back that you need a penicillin shot.
Five: Don’t harass people, especially if you insist on using guttural language that would make a gynecologist with Tourette’s syndrome blush. There are these things called manners. I know they are disappearing faster than a bucket of chicken at a Weight Watcher’s meeting, but they are wonderful.
Verbally recreating a Quentin Tarantino film at someone in the comment section or a reply might trip your trigger, but ultimately you are commenting more on yourself than the person you attack. While it feels good to think you are on the side of virtue, especially if it involves no effort on your part, in reality, you end up being just another member in a lynch mob with a piece of rope.
Let’s make America great again or, at least, alleviate my eye twitching.
Trevor Soderstrum is a Story City native who has been writing columns for about 10 years or so. He’s been all over the world, and attended the summer session of The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He loves to share his stories.