Social media is terrible, and social media is amazing. It inundates us with panic-inducing news and rage-inducing hot takes; it also keeps us connected to our friends, professional circles, and news from around the world. But if you try to drink straight from the fire hose, you're going to drown - or get your head blasted pretty hard. The key is figuring out what social media is good for - for you - and then getting other things that you need from somewhere else.
That's not what we meant by "take a break". Photo: scribbletaylor / Flickr
I personally find Twitter terrible for news. Information is scattered and often incorrect, and it usually comes with a lot of panic - "THIS ISN'T NORMAL" and the like, as if I won't know things are bad unless I'm shouted at.
When social media is our only news source - or source for updates from our friends, or for links to good essays to read - it becomes really hard to take a break. You can use Freedom to block Twitter from your phone until 10AM (that's a bonus hack, by the way; I do that and it's great), but if Twitter is the only place you get news, you may spend your morning worrying about what breaking news you're missing out on - not to mention lacking articles to browse on the train in to work.
It's important that your social media feeds work for you. On Facebook, you can unfollow, unfriend and snooze to get inflammatory news-sharers out of your feed. On Twitter, you can mute keywords and accounts. You can also use Tweetdeck to follow whittled-down lists instead of your entire feed - when you don't want to drown in the endless feed, but want to keep up with your actual friends or favourite cute animals, you can just do that.
Once you've broken your morning Twitter habit, or scrubbed your feed of everyone but your friends and cute animals - or whatever works for you - here's how to keep up with the world in a way that will make you feel a little less batty.
Young 'uns, pull up a chair. Back before the endless scroll of the social media feed, one way we got our electronic news was via RSS readers, helpful tools that aggregated the feeds of our favourite sites and blogs, listing new articles so we could browse and determine what we wanted to read. (And, unlike social media feeds, an RSS reader's feed had a blessed end.) The best and most beautiful RSS reader is no longer with us (RIP Google Reader), but others still exist. Try Feedly or Inoreader. You'll have to spend some time importing the sites you want to follow, but once you do you'll have an easy list of headlines to browse whenever you like. You can make separate lists for national news, essays, blogs or publications in your own field. You can keep up with as little or as much as you like. And it won't be interspersed with the million other things screaming for your attention on social media.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I actually found that signing up for push alerts for breaking news made opening Twitter much less anxiety-inducing for me. Instead of scrolling my feed wondering what fresh hell I was about to encounter, I knew that I'd get a push alert on my phone each time a new fresh portal to hell opened up.
If Tinyletters are the new blogs, then why not get your news sent straight to your inbox, too? You can get the latest headlines from your newspaper of choice, or a weekly tour of an obscure field of interest curated by an expert in said field. Some that come highly recommended: Vox Sentences, The Washington Post's Daily 202, No Complaints, The Ann Friedman Weekly. (If you have some you love, please recommend them in the comments!)
Good Old-Fashioned Newspapers
Go to their website and browse some headlines! Maybe pay for an online subscription to get behind the paywall (and support their work). I know it sounds nuts, but that's where the news is, and when you go beyond the headlines and read a few articles, without a feed's worth of other posts grappling for your eyes, you'll find that the news can be surprisingly informative. Who knew!
Talk to Friends (Online is Fine)
Of course, social media isn't only about news and reading material - it's also a way we stay connected to our friends. Social contact on social media can feel thin, but it isn't insignificant, and if you don't fill the void, you'll have, well, a void. If you're pulling back from your feeds, take advantage of the other ways technology lets us chat with our friends: gchat, Slack, text messages, whatever it takes. (Please do not harangue me for being a millennial in the comments.)