Burn WITHOUT Reading

Well, it’s finally over. No, not the skinny jeans that double as torture devices for every woman over 125 pounds; seems that straightjackets for the lower half are going to stick around just long enough to smother our self-esteem for another season, #Hips #SeeAlsoAss. No, what’s finally over is 2016, the year our icons died, an election was won and lost in a most bitter, divisive fashion and somehow, some way, local liberals earned the ire of other local liberals for endorsing a tax. (Really. I don’t get it either.)

This last year has given us a lot to chew on, mull over and argue endlessly about on social media. As a person in the news business, I see the proliferation of people absorbing content 24/7/365 across multiple platforms and in as many formats as we can provide it — news bulletins via chips implanted in hearing aids? Sign us up! — as manna from heaven.

But it’s gone too far … way, way too far.

We’re so immersed in information that we’re losing our perspective, and because most of the content that gets shared and re-shared is negative, overconsumption of news can cause anxiety; in some cases, extreme anxiety. When you spend your days, evenings and those ceiling-thumping minutes between 3:18 and 3:24 a.m. as your boisterous upstairs neighbors routinely aggressively pursue peak orgasm, consuming news, the negativity piles on until you become more than halfway convinced that modern society is fixing to erupt into anarchy, nuclear holocaust and, eventually, roving packs of cannibal boy bands will scour the landscape looking for tasty morsels just like you. Or that everything is just going to suck a big fat one for the foreseeable future.

That’s not reality, however. 

Bad things are certain to happen, to good people, too, but just because you aren’t thrilled with the tax code, or are wary of China’s increasing influence in world affairs, or worry that Jan. 21 will sound the death knell for your health insurance, that doesn’t mean that the sun won’t rise and set, your parents don’t love you anymore or all the jobs are going to disappear tomorrow. In short, we’re not totally f*cked.

There is much beauty and truth and good in this world. But you’re not going to find a lot of it in the news you’re constantly consuming. Sure, news organizations do provide you with interesting fodder about local heroes, delicious restaurants, tasty bevvies, the arts and a generous dash of laughs, but if you’re spending the vast majority of your waking time on the Internet, you’re probably starting to notice a certain happiness-sucking effect. It’s not the Internet’s fault, it’s just that the headlines that grab us aren’t often to the tune of “Really Great Dad Does Really Nice Mundane Thing” and “Politician is Honest, Ethical and Not a Braggart” — instead, we’ll click on “Mom Drowns Puppy at Son’s Birthday Party” and “Preacher Steals from Special Needs Day Care.” (Lest you fret, I made both of those up.)

We humans like a spectacle — and we love a scandal.

And those of us in the news business know it. So we often groan when we’re asked to write about yet another centenarian or cover the cheesepuff shaped like Abraham Lincoln’s head, hat, beard and all. It’s not that we don’t like those stories; it’s just that we know such popcorn pieces are small, digestible and utterly forgettable. Nobody ever bragged about winning an award for Best Meme using the Dos Equis guy on his or her résumé. Not even an alt weekly writer.

This over-immersion in content has created so much negativity that no one was surprised when earlier this year Time magazine said we’re losing the Internet to a “culture of hate” perpetuated by trolls, many unleashed by something called “the online disinhibition effect,” which basically means that anonymity online turns people into nasty assholes hell-bent on making other people miserable.

It wasn’t always this way, though. Remember when we were excited to connect with people online? When it was thrilling to log on? When you felt enriched by the Internet, rather than buried under a mountain of information, correspondence, drama and highlight/lowlight reels? (Seriously, folks, please stop posting about the trials and tribulations of your anus. No one needs to know, except your anal sex partner. And your doctor.)

The Internet makes my job so much easier in many respects that I cringe to imagine being disconnected but, as someone who grew up without the onus of constant connectivity tethering me and my peers to tiny screens and nonstop headlines that make parents afraid to let their kids out of their sight, let alone the yard, sometimes I wish we could just go back to the way it was before those useful-yet-terrifying maps that show where all the sexual predators live. There were still risks and people were still assholes, but they had to do it to your face or at least within your vicinity, elsewise you were none the wiser. Which was, I now realize, incredibly liberating.

But we can’t go back. We can, however, close the browser, put the phone or tablet down, read an actual work of fiction, and connect with other humans, live and in person. Failing that, there’s always cat memes.