Breaking Up Isn’t That Hard To Do

November 3, 2015 § 32 Comments

Always a classic. From XKCD.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post from a conservative wingnut someone whose political views differ from mine. It wasn’t their original thought, but a re-posted meme from a hate-mongering politically oriented talk radio station. A photo, with a caption, that touched on an issue I hold dear, that I believe to be genuinely important in my country and to my fellow citizens.

And it was wrong.

Someone was wrong on the internet.

I looked up some statistics. I did some math. I rephrased as evenhandedly as I could. I revised. I posted my response, with substantiating links and documentation that this wasn’t just my opinion, this was verifiable fact.

It took forty-five minutes.

The response–one sane and compassionate person who agreed with me, a few likes, and a doubling-down from the original poster, reaffirming her position that people not as white and wealthy as I am are lazy whiners financial difficulty is a moral failing.

It took forty-five minutes. And not just forty-five minutes of writing and research time (time I should have spent on an essay, or freelance editing, or the upcoming Brevity podcast), but forty-five minutes of focused emotional investment during which I was–literally–trembling with rage.

The original poster might well be a loon have different views from me. But I don’t hate her–I don’t even dislike her. I’ve been her guest, eaten her food, had many lovely and temperate in-person discussions.

What’s right with Facebook is that I can keep in touch with my friends, family and acquaintances. Cheer their successes, console their failures, have a quick online chat to catch up, set up coffee when I’m in town.

What’s wrong with Facebook is that I care. These are people I have a personal investment in, not bloggers I follow or website articles several steps removed by virtue of being “the media.”

What’s right with Facebook is that it invites dialogue. What’s wrong with Facebook is that it invites dialogue.

So I took a break. Moved the icon into my fourth-screen folder next to Apple Watch and Stocks, activated Self-Control for the first twenty-four hours. It’s been tough to change the physical habit of checking whenever I have a minute, but it was easier than I thought to cut the emotional cord. Yes, my thumb strays to the screen, but I’m realizing how much was mindless habit rather than an actual connection to the information. I’ve subbed in Twitter when I feel the pull, and the very nature of Twitter is less emotional. There are fewer people I know as people rather than their media face, I see more subjects faster, and the 140-character limit is not an easy venue for serious argument. It’s the online equivalent of chewing gum instead of lighting up, filling the physical urge without continuing the addiction.

I haven’t suddenly filled that extra time with a fountain of new words of great beauty and technical craft, but I’m no longer spending time dreading multi-day conversations that leave me in helpless fury. I haven’t been in a pointless argument with a friend whose mind I will fail to change. I haven’t “needed” to assert my moral superiority correct online strangers.

Will I be back? Probably. It’s still the easiest way I’ve found to stay connected to the mix of friends, acquaintances, and fellow writers in my life. This is a separation rather than a divorce. But finding out I may want you in my life but I don’t need you feels pretty good.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the Brevity podcast, which will debut in January.

Comic illustration by XKCD


§ 32 Responses to Breaking Up Isn’t That Hard To Do

  • rachaelhanel says:

    Good for you! I also grew weary of seeing certain people’s posts. I usually am not one to respond to posts, but simply reading them would make me angry. I love the “hide from newsfeed” option, especially if “de-friending” them would cause a scene. I started to use Twitter more recently, too, for the reasons you describe. I’m trying to make a concerted effort to spend my spare moments reading something worthwhile or jotting down ideas for future projects.

  • Akire Bubar says:

    Great post!

    One side thought though – is that an XKCD comic? Because I don’t see the artist attributed, or any links to the source. Please credit the artist if it’s not you!

    Feel free to delete this – I don’t think there’s a way I can message you privately about this, otherwise I would.

    As always, I love your blog!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      It is XKCD and when I wrote the blog, the picture was supposed to hotlink to the site! Which it now does not. Thanks for pointing that out and I’m going to fix that right now.

      • Akire Bubar says:

        No problem! I’ve had trouble with links sometimes too. There should still be a caption giving credit though – there are still lots of folks who don’t know to click on images, believe it or not! 🙂

  • Jan Wilberg says:

    It’s also astonishing how personal people get when you don’t agree with them. And really, really mean. Sometimes I can’t resist saying something but now I know better than to go back and look at what wrath my disagreement brought.

  • susieq777 says:

    I won’t say it’s divorce this time. After all, I’ve left before and then gone back. But the more I think about it, the longer the months go, the less I do went to return. Even though it’s lonely out here 🙂

  • utahrob says:

    I like it best when they give advance notice: “Boomer Rant,” or “Hannitized,” something akin to a tattoo on the forehead.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    You are a woman after my own heart. I discontinued the email alert from FB and unsubscribed from many, many websites. You went further. I commend you, I salute you, I am not sure I can follow but you tempt me!

  • So well done! Both the actions, and this writing about it. An inspiration.

  • diahannreyes says:

    I do find when I’m on tv and online less so much more space frees up not just with my time but inside leaving room for more creativity to come through. I’m trying to find my own balance. Thanks for sharing your process here.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Totally! I have more movies in my life now that I’m with someone who likes movies, but I do appreciate a lack of TV when I can!

  • Ken Dowell says:

    I have the same reaction sometimes to Facebook posts. I think there are people whose only motivation for using Facebook is to provoke their “friends.” The only thing that actually calms me down is to just stay off of FB for a little while, especially during times when the kinds of comments that drive me nuts are likely to appear.

  • Ann V. Klotz says:

    Outstanding–except I found this great writing on facebook–you are exceptional.

  • I’m amused that at time of commenting, this post has had 63 shares on Facebook ::D

    I don’t use it anymore; haven’t for years. Occasionally it’s inconvenient because it’s so widespread, but for the most part I’m completely fine with it. But I do understand having to take a break from social media in particular, and the internet in general. Sometimes there is an awful lot of stupid…uh… people with differing opinions, and it just adds to my stress levels. What’s the point of that?! I might as well get something tangible done, like finish the washing up.

  • NYCPenpusher says:

    This basically happened for me in July 2012, when some people I knew, people I had met face-to-face and had worked with, and who otherwise seemed somewhat normal, started saying things about the incumbent that were nonsensical (an adjective that makes those comments seem far more innocuous than they were). As I was working on the re-election campaign, I had three choices: ignore what was being said, jump in and counter attack or leave Facebook. I knew I couldn’t do the first option and I didn’t feel I had the stomach for the second, so I just ditched my FB and haven’t looked back. I understand now that there are various levels of security and filters to help with this issue, but my list of people was pretty long, and having to go through and assess each one for the level of security would make me feel like a TSA agent. There are times I feel like I might return to Facebook, but then I’ll remember what happened and those feeling immediately vanish.

  • borenbooklady says:

    Just deactivated my Facebook account for these very reasons. It wrecks my serenity on a daily basis!

  • dominique says:

    Share your sentiments and comments of others here too- it’s been a week from my separation only though I already feel a lightness in my step!

  • Yes! I’ve been down that frustrating road — thanks for sharing!

  • Sammy D. says:

    Allison – first, I love Brevity and look forward to your insightful essays. With all due respect, I’m disappointed in what you chose to include in this one. Whether you, I or your Facebook buddy are liberal, conservative or somewhere in between shouldn’t matter if the intent of your essay was bemoan the ‘ranting nuttiness’ and denial/refusal to consider facts and meaningful dialogue between people with differing political views. Why couldn’t you have written this without including your crossed out phrases such as ‘conservative wingnut’? Wouldn’t your message have been taken more seriously by your conservative readers (am I the only one?) – if you hadn’t taken those facetious and unnecessary swipes? You were emotionally affected by your friend’s off-putting rant. I get that. But people like you and I are the only ones who can change that by refusing to use the same kind of off-putting labels in our own writing.

    I hate the idiocy of political ranting on Facebook and give myself ‘time outs’ all the time. But what that negative experience has taught me is the importance and the discipline – when I spend time researching facts and rebutting someone – to be extremely careful not to use labels that only incite further emotional reactions. I am all for reasoned discussions about our political differences, and I doubt Facebook is the place for that to occur. Surely Brevity and its writers should be able to rise above those emotional digs in your own works in order to foster a safe and meaningful dialogue. If you and I don’t eliminate the ‘digs’, who will?

    • Jan Priddy says:

      It’s probably inappropriate of me to respond for Allison Williams, but I’m going to try anyway. I think, Sammy D., that the essay was written the way it was in order to candidly reveal the author’s own overblown and impolite and impulsive first reactions and how she reined them in before responding to the real world. I catch myself responding angrily on occasion and find myself self-censoring in a similar effort to maintain civil discourse. Name-calling certainly can go every which way, as I know from personal experience, but I think Williams has been truthful, and I do not think we need to get all (forgive my raising the term) PC about that. She accurately reported a personal experience. Would we prefer she abandon all principles of good writing and leave out all the details? Would we prefer she lie? Would we prefer she kept back her own biased reaction or pretend that she came under attack by both liberal and conservative wackos, excuse me, factions? I have been attacked from both sides on occasion, but apparently Williams’s experience that she has chosen to write about was with a specific person and not a “type.” I found her essay refreshingly factual, funny, and fair. She wasn’t writing about you and me or either of our posts. She was not condemning all conservatives or defending all liberals. She was not, in fact, writing about politics at all. She was illustrating how frustrating it is when correcting an error online becomes a political issue and the result is time wasted in pointless emotion and argument with people we do not know and might not care much about if we did.

      • Sammy D. says:

        I don’t consider you speaking for Allison; you are speaking for yourself. I appreciate your opinion as I do all Brevity’s writers and readers. Thank you, Jan.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    To be clear, I think Allison Williams did exactly what she intended, what she should have, and without sparing herself or making anyone else more of a villain than she needed to.

  • Peggy Bjarno says:

    Allison, this is a wonderful post, and I personally love the crossed out phrases, because I have SO BEEN there! I finally unfriended a person whose companionship I enjoyed. Her choice to be so angry and venomous on Facebook left me aching. I feel sorry for her, because venom consumes the person who is spouting it, and she cannot be as healthy as a result.
    . . . I just wish I could post this on Facebook! 😀

  • ericruthford says:

    Reblogged this on They don't cry and commented:
    Boy does this post explain a great deal of my own distraction as a writer.

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