Healthy engagement requires careful management and channelling of our emotions, ensuring that we are not driven by dysfunctional reactivity, but that we have the sort of well-ordered loves, selves, and societies that enable us to respond, rather than merely react. What this looks like will vary for different people. For most people, it probably requires radically paring down social media presence and activity. It almost certainly requires practicing solitude, or at least significantly cutting down on the intensity of one’s social exposure, spending more time in obscurer social contexts. For all of us, it requires the practice of those disciplines that will cultivate strong and virtuous character in us, so that we will be less at the mercy of our environments.
I’ve been far too busy with work and travel lately to read much online (and, just so you know, with the busy season continuing through late May, soon to be followed by the World Cup, that may continue to be the case for a while). Now, I love reading and writing as much as anything on Earth. But today was a one-day respite from the hectic pace of the rest of the week, where I had time to browse at leisure, and I have to admit, I had an almost-sinking feeling as I sat down and prepared to go through my usual smorgasbord of bookmarks. Do I really want to do this? I was mentally flinching from the thought of exposing myself to all the usual effluvia and jackassery. Even a few days away from it is enough to make you feel acutely sensitive to the depleting effects. It feels like eating junk food for the first time in months after you’ve been eating healthily and working out — instantly disappointing and regrettable. Sometimes I’m lazily reluctant to do pushups or go hiking, too, but I know from constant experience that I always feel better afterward for having made the effort, and the benefits are clear. I’m not so sure exposing myself to the latest social media stupidity is comparable to a yoga routine, though. What mental muscles have I exercised by reading the latest garbage about parents trying to raise their children without gender?
There is certainly worthwhile stuff to read online. It’s just a terrible shame that the overall environment where it exists is so permeated by toxicity. My body knows it even if my mind tries to rationalize it away. It’s like the old days of going to a concert in a small venue and being disgusted the next morning by the putrid reek of secondhand smoke in your clothes. Even the best shows playing online take place within a dispiriting haze of secondhand stupidity, competing to be heard over a din of belligerent imbeciles.