Building a functioning dam(n) for the river of horrors

Building a functioning dam(n) for the river of horrors

As we enter a US election year I have decided to reduce my exposure to online dialogue substantially. I don’t live in the US, I don’t vote there and if something is important I am sure The Americans* will tell me about it. The fact is, it is impossible to not know what is happening in the world today and there is a constant barrage of horrors to choose from. Yes, there is also goodness in the world but when ‘enragement is engagement’ the horrors are always top of the feed.

I have completely stopped going to my private Instagram account because it is non-stop horrors. Horrors I have no control over. Horrors I am not educated or have enough power to do anything about. I could spend most of my day educating myself about global politics and still never scratch the surface of knowledge about everything. It’s all too much.

I also don’t want to be ignorant of the events of the world. I do hit a news site for the biggest headlines and read the paper (yes, a physical national newspaper like an old person) once a week so I know what’s going on and I think that is about as much as I can handle. I am overwhelmed every time I hit a social media site and the feeds feel like a battlefield.

To me, it felt increasingly like everyone was just screaming into their own echo chambers. I think when everyone is terminally online, posting memes feels like activism. I, myself am guilty of this and only have recently been really taking a long, hard look at what feels good vs. what does good. I spent years setting the dopamine gun to STUN and quite frankly, it’s basically changed nothing except that my iPhone reminds me on Sunday mornings that I spend more time on it than I do with my kids each day.

One of the reasons why I don’t have comments turned on here is because I am horrifically addicted to feedback (and I love making new friends). Although many people assume that I don’t WANT feedback – oh I do – negative and positive! I want to mainline the comment sections of every website I go to, proving once and for all that my opinion is the best opinion (you can take the girl out of debating…). But realistically I have spent so many years doing this: on IRC & BBSs/usenet since 1994, to livejournal in 1999-2007, to all of the Meta properties until today (I have thankfully avoided tiktok so far…)**. I can’t even remember a fraction of those discussions and I don’t think I have changed the world in the slightest. If fighting on the internet with strangers had a longevity prize, I’d probably be up there with my 30 years of service (as an aside, the gift for 30 years of marriage is jewellery containing pearls: the internet would snicker at that relentlessly.). But when I look back on my life I don’t want that to my defining characteristic; my tombstone would probably say something dumb such as: THERE WAS AN ATTEMPT, TUCKER HAS LEFT THE CHAT or 404 LIFE NOT FOUND.

The reality is though that I just don’t have enough social media clout to make a difference. I used to work in social media and the first thing I did when I retired was shut twitter down. I loathe twitter. I don’t use my real name on facebook, I am cautious on Instagram and even on my posts I try to respect the privacy of my husband, children and our lives in general. Sure, I am not so dumb as to think that people couldn’t find me if they really wanted to – I am not in the witness protection program after all – but I try and keep some modicum of privacy. I also don’t think I am interesting enough to find, either. I admire my friends who have chosen different paths and create these hugely popular networks that have served them well – they have political clout! When they speak, people actually listen. But for the rest of us, all of the memes and hot takes and snarky political commentary is all shit for flowers: no one gives a rat’s arse what we think. In the grand attempt to turn the internet into one giant Speaker’s Corner, there are no more corners in which to hide from the constant barrage of opinions.

I just think that we need to actually reevaluate the way we engage with the systems of the world. I feel like we’ve gotten stuck in a feedback loop from the last decade which was all about “raising awareness.” You just shared post online and TA DA! You felt like you did your part and you didn’t even need to leave your house. But did making people aware of issues bring us anything more than pink vacuums at a markup? Probably not. In many cases as well, raising awareness does more harm than good. It made me wonder: am I posting because I think it will change things, or am I just posturing?

Don’t misunderstand me: this is not a treatise about bowing out of political life. Not at all. I just think that we should be cognizant on what we can change and what actions are effective at enacting change.

In my city, the turn out to vote for mayor and city council was 43.79%

In my province, the turnout for the last election was 43.53%

In Canada, the turnout for the last election was 62.2%

But this is all wrong, realistically. The government that has the most to do with our lives as citizens is our municipal government. They are responsible for every day things such as school boards, waste/recycling collection and road maintenance. We interact with our municipal public servants more than any other government representatives in the country***. This is followed by the province who is in charge of things such as healthcare, social welfare and highways. Then the federal government is responsible for the big things such as national defence, law, immigration and taxation. Of course, there is a wide amount of overlap between all levels of government but it’s shocking to me that people vote the least in elections that control more aspects of their daily lives.

But even then, many people I know don’t know that their elected representative’s main job is to represent you, the citizen, to their legislature.

I can’t remember any Civics lessons from school and most of what I have learned about the political process has come from working for the federal government and then extrapolating that to all levels of governance. But to come back to my original point: your MPs, MPPs, the Mayor of your city and the councillors probably don’t follow you on social media. The heads of departments or people who sit on committees don’t know you and they don’t know your opinions on issues: you need to tell them.

It is not enough to post memes and clapback to online trolls. It isn’t enough to comment on news articles and spread awareness for causes unless you have a HUGE following that ends up making your opinion trend. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up! I decided that this year would be the year of doing what DOES good instead of what FEELS good. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of things that I have decided to do this year:

Stop posting about politics online: controversial, I know. I don’t want to constantly be under the watchful stare of the terminally online. I also don’t want to be terminally online. No one who is important**** reads my locked down posts so it’s really an echo chamber for the most part.

Stay informed: your representatives usually have mailing lists and websites. Go there first for info. I have now gotten into the habit of pointing people towards the incredibly detailed newsletter our city councillor puts out weekly when people get hysterical about the “lack of communication.” I remember one woman had an apartment building going up behind her house. The councillor actually took a team to FLYER the affected neighbours, posted repeated online about it on social media, and put it in the newsletter for a month. This woman was absolutely hysterical that “no one had told” her. But what more can politicians do? I feel like people expect an engraved invitation but let’s be honest: it’s up to us to stay informed as well.

Write elected officials: I have been writing emails to my officials and giving them my name and address and my opinion on things. Recently, our community was slated to have transitional housing occupy an old LTC that had been decommissioned. Of course, this cued a bunch of online fighting but hardly anyone went to the meeting or emailed the contact with their opinion. I wrote many, many people about how great it was that our community could use this building to house people…in a housing crisis.

Contact elected officials and ask them: email or call with questions or concerns on how they’ve voted and why. If they don’t get enough feedback from citizens, it could be difficult to gauge their temperatures on issues. I make sure they know how I feel.

Donate: CHANGE THE WORLD WITH THIS ONE TRICK! Honestly, we doubled some of our donations this year just because inflation and housing is just brutal for anyone who isn’t middle class or higher. My cousin is getting married this summer and she has asked people to make donations to the woman’s shelter where she is the ED. She is a middle-aged woman who doesn’t need gifts and who already owns a house. I think this is a brilliant solution!

Volunteer: this doesn’t even need to be a formal volunteer position. We help our elderly neighbour navigate technology. I see people offering to run errands for sick neighbours & shoveling walkways for the elderly all of the time in my neighbourhood group. The community association is constantly looking for people to help with events and other activities.

Sign up to work at a polling station during an election: I have done this before. It is an extremely long, gruelling day where you don’t get a break. You will meet kind people, but you will also get people who call you a fascist for asking for ID. It is really good insight into the process, and I did learn a lot.

Protest: there are so many ways to protest from boycotts to physically going to a rally. I feel like shopping in your community and buying products from artisans instead of dropshippers on amazon are forms of protest as well. To sound cliché: we do vote with our dollars. I know none of us are perfect and some people just don’t have as many options but we need to support our communities if we want to keep them.

People often believe a dam is designed to completely stop water from moving. But often it is just good water management for the purpose of generating electricity, preventing floods and providing communities with water. I don’t want to eliminate news and political engagement but I just want to make it manageable for me and targeted in ways that make it a net benefit, not just a feel-good moment where I click share, wipe my hands, and move on with my day.

*These are my Americans, get your own
**I am ancient and from the Beforetimes
***Yes, I live in the capital and see more federal public servants than not but let’s be reasonable
****You are important to me! Just, not, like, the world at large.

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