A couple weeks ago, I clicked on a Twitter link from a website I follow that used to be an interesting mix of entertainment and weird news stories, but has recently devolved into link-baiting sensationalism. The link said something like, “Chinese woman dies in freak accident with runaway shopping cart. Watch the video here!” It was early, I was groggy, and I clicked the link. I don’t know what I was expecting (seriously, what the fuck was I expecting?!), but what I watched was indeed a video of a woman getting smashed against a wall by a runaway shopping cart. It was horrible and extremely upsetting. It was also a wake up call: I hadn’t even had my coffee yet, and I’d already WATCHED SOMEONE DIE — I really, really needed to overhaul my online habits.
Here are the facts: I’m a very sensitive person. Most of the time I wish I wasn’t, because it seems like life is much easier when you don’t take everything in on such a deep level, but alas, that’s not who I am. The mere mention of death or dying sends me into an existential crisis. I can’t watch horror movies because the worst scenes play over and over again in my head for literally YEARS afterwards, like I’m stuck in a sick, twisted View-Master. When I read about rape, murder, and other atrocities, I feel sick and heavy for days. When I read nasty comments, I genuinely wonder why people commit time and energy to putting more negativity into the world. I’ve never really mastered the whole “thick skin” thing, and honestly, I’m not sure that I want to.
But even as a sensitive person, I’ve never put much of a filter on the things I see/read/watch online. I just kind of went along with the flow of the internet conversation: clicking on every link that contained an exclamation point (it must be important!); following the latest internet debate long after it had deteriorated from thought-provoking content to personal attacks; spending time on negative snark sites; reading news stories about the latest way humans are ruining the world that made my heart hurt.
But after watching that awful video, I’d had enough. I decided to cut the following things out of my internet life, cold turkey:
1. Videos showing death, gore, violence and destruction. The fact that we have become so desensitized to death and extreme violence that videos of these events are now commonplace on entertainment websites is very disturbing to me. After watching the shopping cart video and spending the rest of the day rocking back and forth in the fetal position trying to forget it, I’ve decided that if I never see another video of someone dying, I will die happy — ideally in a peaceful, private way that no one will film and share online.
2. Super graphic photos. You know when a hyperlink says, “Graphic content ahead: proceed with caution”? From now on, I’m going to actually heed those warnings, and most of the time, not proceed at all.
3. Snark blogs. This one is going to be tough, because I love me some clever snark. There’s a good chance I will never give up my daily visit to Reblogging Donk. That being said, over the past couple years I have gotten into the habit of reading a few pretty nasty snark blogs that often included digs about female bloggers’ bodies and physical appearance. That is so not OK with me. I kept reading these blogs because sometimes they were funny, but mostly because they were in my bookmarks and it was easy to mindlessly click over to them a couple times a day. These blogs provided a quick distraction from work, but after I read them, I always felt a little worse about, well, everything: my body, the state of the world, etc. Not. Worth. It.
4. Twitter feeds, blogs, and Facebook pages that I hate-read. Do you guys have a roster of people or websites that you file under the “hate-read” category? Meaning, basically, you read them only to get yourself riled up because you find them so annoying? I definitely do. They include a couple holier-than-though lifestyle bloggers, some acquaintances from high school, and random Tweeters who have me constantly rolling my eyes. Reading these sites leaves me feeling angry, negative, and irritable. Why the hell would I purposefully create those feelings in myself? Time to unfollow, unfriend, and un-bookmark.
5. Sensationalist news sites. At this point, the term “sensationalist news site” applies to basically every major news site, so I’m going to be trying to find ways to stay informed without staying scared, upset, and stressed the hell out, which seems to be the end goal of most modern news outlets. Wish me luck.
6. Forums and comment threads that devolve into personal attacks. There’s nothing like a lively discussion of a controversial topic, and the internet provides a multitude of opportunities for that. However, as we all know, even the most thoughtful discussions have a tendency to turn mean, petty, and unproductive. Once that happens, I’m out. Watching a group of people scream terrible things at each other in real life would upset me. Reading it online does too.
I’m about a week into my online detox so far, and let me tell you, I already feel about a thousand times better. Right now I’m in the process of replacing some of the negative sites that had made their way into my daily online routine with more positive, funny, inspirational reading/viewing. I would love any recommendations you have for non-soul-crushing websites (besides The Frisky, of course)!
[Photo of woman at computer via Shutterstock]