Voice Over - Time to Go On a Diet

The outrage machine which is social media is really easy to get lost in. I’m not sure how we got to a place where most of the news we consume is dialled up to 11, but here we are. Even regular news uses much more florid language than it did 10 years ago – I suspect in a vain attempt to keep up with the power of viralism on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Now there are a lot of more or less hysterical hot takes from academics, journalists and pundits on exactly how this mess is rewiring our brains, particularly those of young people. It has yet to be seen what the post-Millennial (with its totally unimaginative placeholder name of Generation Z) cohort is going to look like. I’ve written before how I think these generational character generalisations are most useful in how they bundle certain behaviourial preferences together. I don’t think it’s useful to say that ALL people born between Date 1 and Date 2 are going to share a common set of preferences; It is frequently true, however, that people who say like collaborative meetings also prefer a more casual leadership style.

One thing we can take as a given is that Gen Z and Millennials are going to be different – perhaps profoundly so – particularly when it comes to social media, social norms, and the power of online outrage. Just as GenX pioneered an overt disdain for the manipulation of advertisers which in turn spawned nearly a decade of anti-advertisement ads (see Apple’s famous SuperBowl ad as the inception of that era), GenZ is already making it clear that social is their world and don’t even try to f* with them there. Even more than Millenials, GenZ will be post-email. What’s an interesting emergent trend is that I think they may also be post feed-based social (eg Facebook, Yammer). They prefer content in short sharp unscripted videos and images, and they apparently do not have a ‘work day’ but rather a blended online offline existence that is literally always on… and also always off. Even the concept of work-life balance apparently eludes them as entirely unnecessary, an artificial construct of a by-gone era.

The predictive power of generational personas starts to become apparent when I tell you that I can now more or less estimate the age of a Twitter respondent based on their reaction to a particularly incendiary tweet from a highly public figure. Let’s take a recent example. The US President said something typically bombastic using his usual poor spelling, errant capitalisation, and complete disregard for objective facts. Boomers thought it was awesome #MAGA. GenX responded with anger, disdain, and frustration primarily to correct spelling, factual, and grammatic errors (and now you know which generational bias bucket I fall into, eh?). The Millennials running the social media feeds on dictionary, museum, and fast food sites trolled him spectacularly with definition puns or a play on words. And GenZ? One picture, a lot of shade, and no retweet… watch the ratios. Snap.

Now for many of you, that entire last sentence was complete gibberish. Maybe even the complete paragraph. Don’t worry about it. I’m just doing what I always do and attempting to dive into the mind set of a group of people who are essentially alien to me. What I can learn from this exercise, however, is how not to be outraged by the outrage machine. When I started using Twitter, I’d leave the browsing experience in a towering fit, literally twitchy from shock, dismay and despair. But as I modify my feed and my consumption – incorporating more from the youth around the world, more @fungiofnz and @smolrobots, more kittens and LGBTQ advocates and science fiction authors, more weather twitter (no shit this is a thing that I just can not recommend highly enough) and dropped farther and farther from politics twitter, I realise that we have far more control over our social media experience than we are led to believe.

So my first resiliency recommendation for social is to rule your feed. Don’t let faceless platform algorithms rule it for you. Social platforms want you to be upset. Upset equals more time, more clicks, more eyeballs. Remember, you are not a customer; You are the product. Proactively unfollow the toxic voices, don’t click the headline bait, deliberately add things you might not think you would like and see what it does to your world view. My second tip is that when you can’t help but read something unpleasant … and then can’t resist reading the subtweets and responses… look to the youngest amongst us for how serious you should take it. They will be the ones with just the right clever quip or GIF to expose the blatant hypocrisy, underlying lack of good faith, or complete factual inaccuracy. They don’t get upset. They get even… quickly with a ruthless efficiency I can’t help but admire. Most of all, they go beyond debunking the bad faith, they simply roll over it and leave it helplessly twitching in their demographically dominant wake.

And my most important recommendation is to put yourself on a very strict diet. Just as you can’t thrive on unlimited consumption of processed carbos washed down alternately with caffeine and booze, it’s really helpful to leaven your media consumption with high quality mental food. It doesn’t have to be non-fiction. Add some good quality reading material, really amazing video, outstanding music, quality science or political long-form journalism, public performance of virtually anything by anyone of any age. Play games – from Heads Up with friends at a bar to a first-person MMORPG. Do a puzzle on the living room coffee table, redownload Pokemon and go for a walk. Listen to podcasts. If you’ve allocated 2 hours a day for media consumption, only a few minutes of that can or should be social feeds. Use the rest to play.

Do I practice what I preach? Kinda sorta. I’m a serial monogamist with my obsessions. Just as I had a World of Warcraft phase, a Facebook phase, and a YouTube music competition phase, I’m in a Twitter phase right now. It’ll pass because when all is said and done, I have the attention span of a housefly and all this repetitive bullshit is starting to bore me. Now anime to live action Chinese and Korean television series…. That’s a new rathole pulling and tugging at my attention.

Today we are going to start a revolution. This is the beginning of a lifelong marathon not only for me but for my generation. Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government; our parents don’t know how to use a f*ing democracy, so we have to.” ~ David Hogg (born 2000)