On Saturdays and Sundays, I don’t look at any media, social or otherwise. Those are nice days! It’s like a spa treatment for the brain. But unfortunately, my brain is addicted to social media, so come Monday I’m clicking and swiping and freaking out at every piece of horrifying information that comes across my newsfeed. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to keep up with family and friends, and even a bare minimum of news, without being forced to see every dreadful thing that the Facebook sidebar throws in your face?
Well, there is. It’s called Sadblock, a browser extension that will hide all the sad and troubling stories in your newsfeed. It’s a kind of digital-age version of soma, the opiate in Brave New World that makes people forget they’re living under a repressive regime.
I tried Sadblock for a week for Facebook and Twitter (I look at Reddit only rarely). Here’s how I’d grade it for blocking all the troubling stories in my newsfeed: A solid B.
For starters, you can choose what kind of blocks you want to enable: There’s sadblock, for anything sad. There are also blocks for anything political, anything about climate change or certain celebrities, and a block for certain “trigger words”, though I don’t know what those trigger words were. You click “enable” on each one, and then, when you’re on Facebook or Twitter, you can watch the Sadblock ticker counting up the stories it is hiding from you. Great, right? So why isn’t it an A+?
Well, the stories do flicker across your screen for an instant, sending tiny jabs of news into your eyeballs: Tax reform. Roy Moore. Ivanka. You very briefly do see those stories getting gobbled up by Sadblock, bringing to mind a magician who doesn’t quite pull the curtain fast enough, revealing a slightly drunk magician’s assistant who thought she was on break. So the user is actively reminded that there are terrible stories out there, and that Sadblock is basically a high-tech way of sticking your fingers in your ears.
But, I mean, it isn’t like the stories that come in front of you are decided by some legitimate, orderly system anyway. Sadblock does reduce what you see that’s troubling, but it also inexplicably deletes innocuous posts and leaves a lot of distressing ones – a friend’s funny post on irritating corporate jargon was nixed, but a GoFundMe for a child with a terminal illness was evidently not deemed sadblock-able. I saw the news about the guy who died because he couldn’t afford his insulin, the heartbreaking story of a man with Alzheimer’s and his loyal cat, and a lot about the Nazi profiled in the New York Times. But Sadblock hid tweets from me about my own stories, tweets in which I was tagged, presumably because they’re about sexual harassment. On the other hand, I got to see a lot more recipes than usual, and a story about architectural oddities such as whispering walls.
So Sadblock works, but it isn’t a total blackout. The news is still regularly awful, and frankly, if people are dying because they can’t get insulin or parents can’t access medical care for their sick kids, I actually do want to know. Do the stories make me sad? Sure. They also make me angry, and I don’t actually want Angerblock. Anger is motivating. If you’re blocking everything that’s troubling, you might as well eat your dose of soma and take a nap. In the meantime, I’ll stick with my weekend blackouts and Monday freakouts.