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 Born to Write
 A Blog by Author Amy Hill Hearth

How to be Happy on Social Media (and Make the World a Better Place)

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I see the benefits of it. I've made new friends and acquaintances. I've learned all about butterfly gardening (something I've always wanted to do) by joining a Facebook group, and made notes about new places I want to travel from members of another group.


And, of course, as an author, it's lovely to interact so easily with my readers. This is a great improvement over the days when readers sent letters to my agent or publisher, who then forwarded the mail to me. Sometimes, weeks had passed before I received the letters!


But there's no doubt that social media is too often a destructive force.


A few years ago, I made a deliberate choice. I decided I would not engage with social media provocateurs, whether or not I agree with their point or issue. This way, I'm not adding any fuel to the fire.


Of course, sometimes this is hard to do. Sometimes, a post seems like a junior high school dare. I feel as if I'm expected to participate, and that I'm a coward if I don't speak my mind, too.


But first, let's remember that Facebook algorithms, according to a high-ranking Facebook whistleblower, reward anger and outrage. This is wrong, and I'm not going to buy into it.


Second, it's not as if the only way to exercise your right of free speech is through social media. It's not even a particularly effective option, if what you hope to do is change someone's mind, according to recent studies.


There is also the issue of Internet privacy. By participating in every rage du jour, you're handing a ton of revealing information about yourself to Facebook or other social media corporations. Why do that?


Last but not least, it simply isn't healthy or the best use of time to get caught up in a social media argument.


Several times over the years, I have considered quitting all social media altogether. Instead, I just take a break from a few hours to a few days, depending on how annoyed I am.


Ultimately, it's worth it to me. I'd miss hearing from old friends. I'd miss all the posts of dogs, cats, babies, birthdays, new books, and stunning sunsets. On my Facebook Author Page, I'd miss reflecting on the interesting people I've met through my career, or answering questions about my books. When I don't have much to say, I look for something to share, often about history or nature. Life is what you make of it.


And so is social media.    


Are You a Bystander in Your Own Life?

My father was a very good amateur photographer. Then one day in middle age, he set down his camera forever.


He simply stopped taking pictures. He'd been his high school's yearbook photographer, documented his own experience in WW II with a camera, and took hundreds of photos of his wife and family in the 1950s, '60, and '70s.


I must have been in my late teens when we all noticed he no longer carried his camera bag with him. I asked him why, and he said he was tired of feeling as if he were documenting life rather than living it. "I want to be a participant, not an observer," he explained.


I've thought of his words often. I love photography and have sold some of my pictures over the years to newspapers and magazines. I've taken my own photographs for one of my nonfiction books. But I understand what Dad meant and I've heeded his warning. Photography is a passion that will swallow you whole if you're not careful. When I go out with friends, I don't want to be the person everyone counts on to get a photograph of us together. Ditto for every experience from travel to family holidays. I don't want to be worried about the lighting, or if someone blinked. I want to live the experience, not record it.


Now this situation is multiplied a thousand times with social media. Those of us who participate are performers, documentarians, reporters, witnesses, and judges. On social media, real life can take a backseat, and it's not always clear what is truly happening. Some people are perhaps too candid while others are cautious. Many people present a curated view of their lives. Some people post photos once a month and others, ten times per day.


As for me, I'm finding my own way. I love social media but I don't want it to own me. I love photography but I don't want it to take over.


Like Dad, I want to live fully in the moment.

What I Learned on My Break from Facebook

I missed a pug named Audrey. Boston Terriers named Wonder, Lexi, Luna, Jax, and more. Beloved cats named Quentin and Benny.


I missed travel photos from my friends on vacation.


I missed photos of babies and old folks, newly-engaged couples, and family reunions.


I did not miss political posts. I did not miss angry or "negative" people. I did not miss toxic people who use Facebook as a place to vent all the time.


I did succeed in writing a lot more, which was my goal. It's hard enough to be a writer with all of the turbulence and distractions of this world. Add Facebook to the mix and it can be hard to stay focused.


But I miss it enough to come back for a while. 





Were We Better Off Before Social Media?

Before I start my little rant, please note that I do recognize the irony in the fact that you're reading it on a blog and that a lot of other people will see it when it's re-posted and shared later on Facebook et al. 


This is what I want to say: I have a love-hate relationship with social media!

There are moments when I think it's the best darned thing that ever happened. There is so much sharing and caring, if you pick your friends carefully and you don't engage with negativity. 


As a person who was raised to be polite, however, I am dismayed that social media tends to reward the noisiest and snarkiest among us. Evidently, it brings out the inner bully in a large number of people.


At its absolute worst, social media could lead to a world-ending war. It's an incubator and a megaphone for rage, conspiracy theorists, and terrorists.


On a day to day basis for most users, the dangers are two-fold: We are surrendering our privacy (to varying degrees, depending on how cautious you are). And, we are accepting a lifestyle that moves too fast.


Much too fast.


I have noticed that when I've been overly-connected to social media I'm not nearly as likely to watch a bird building its nest, to spontaneously call an old friend, or simply sit and watch the clouds go by. And yet those are among the things that nurture my soul.


There are certainly days when I wish we could turn back the clock.


But I can't give up on it – at least not yet. Right now it's a new invention. It's the wild west of our lifetime. Let's hope someone figures out a way to emphasize the good and get rid of the bad.

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Many people are deeply distressed and grieving about race relations in America. There is a feeling of utter helplessness among countless Americans who don’t know what to do to make things better. As someone who has studied and written about race in America for years, I have some suggestions that I’d like to share with you.

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