Our Own Worst Enemies



There has been a recent cry for Facebook to be broken up. The social media giant has too much power, argue critics. Robert Mueller’s report about Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election shows how massive amounts of disinformation were spread to the millions of people who use Facebook.

I’m all for regulating companies whose business practices are predatory and monopolistic, and I can certainly see how the success of such Silicon Valley behemoths as Facebook, Google, and Amazon can pose a threat to free commerce. But one of the reasons Facebook users were so easily swayed by bogus and slanted stories during the election is that they wanted to believe those stories. Many of us live in the echo chambers of our own belief systems. Whether it be from Facebook, TV news, or newspapers, we seek out information that conforms to our worldview and disregard or hold with intense skepticism those stories that contradict our beliefs.

In short, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to digesting information.

I certainly think our national security apparatus should deal more vigorously with avoiding a repeat of Russian or any foreign interference into our next presidential election. That won’t happen, of course, because Russian interference benefited Donald Trump, and he sees no reason it won’t help him again. I think we are past the point where anyone really believes Trump’s motivations are anything but self-serving.

What we can do as Americans is learn to take in information and opinions in a more critical and thoughtful way. Trump’s and Republicans’ complaints notwithstanding, there are still reputable news organizations and journalists working tirelessly to publish factual information about politics, the economy, foreign policy etc. When we hear or read things that sound hard to believe, we need to question those stories. “Pizzagate” comes to mind. There are also numerous nonpartisan fact-checking organizations that can confirm or refute what we are hearing from our leaders.

As a teacher, I used to work on critical thinking skills with my students. They learned about fallacies of logic, how statistics can be manipulated, and how language can affect the message. We need to do a better job in our children’s schooling to raise thoughtful individuals who are willing to question their own assumptions and test the arguments they encounter in the public sphere.

Facebook may indeed have too much power. Fox News might in fact be little more than a mouthpiece for conservative viewpoints. But it is up to us, the American people, to take the time and effort to discern what is true and what we should view with skepticism. Only with thoughtful and informed citizens will our democracy be sustained.



No Comment



I have been avoiding the comment section of Facebook posts lately. Other than wishing my friends a happy birthday or anniversary, or sending a complimentary word about a family photo, I have tried to stay out of the fray of these comment threads – especially political ones.

First of all, I doubt that my arguments with other Face-bookers will change their minds. Whether the subject is Donald Trump, gun violence, sexual harassment or racism, people have their strongly-held beliefs, and I’m just not going to change them. Worse, arguments on Facebook often lead to ill will. Without the social filter of physical proximity to the person with whom we are arguing, we tend to get more strident and offensive.

I’m also trying to eschew online comments because they are bad for my own mental health. Every time I enter the fray of a heated argument on Facebook, my blood pressure starts to rise at some of the responses I get. The only way to calm myself down is to refer to the point above and realize that my righteous indignation will change nothing.

Still, it’s very hard for me to refrain from offering my opinions. I grew up in a very argumentative household where it was almost a badge of honor to shout the loudest and make one’s judgments heard. Yes, family dinners did often give my poor mother a headache.

Also, I like to think of myself as a maven. I fancy myself in possession of lots of knowledge and wisdom, and I just know others would benefit from my sharing it. Well, in the context of Facebook or other social media, not so much.

So I will continue to work on repressing the need to comment on Facebook posts while still being my friends’ online cheerleaders. It won’t be easy, though. I shudder to think what would happen if I got an account on Twitter.

Facebook Fast



As the penitential season of Lent begins, I as usual will give up my beloved sweets of all kinds: coffeecake, cookies, chocolate etc. But I have also decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and abstain from spending time on Facebook.

Facebook has been a blessing and a curse in my life. It has been great to reconnect with old friends, see photos of their families, and even get into some pretty serious conversations. I have learned so much more about many people I know than I ever would have in casual conversation at the supermarket or on the soccer sidelines.

But Facebook has had some drawbacks, and I feel the need to take a break from it. One of the most obvious drawbacks is how much time it can suck out of your day. There are many days when I spend little time on it, but others when I check it compulsively several times a day, adding up to hours spent on the social media platform.

There is apparently some evidence that spending time on Facebook can lead to depression. This does not surprise me. The reason given for this phenomenon is that it can be depressing to compare your life to all the wonderful things your friends are doing, what they are wearing, how cute their children are and the like. None of this particularly bothers me. I am not that competitive with others when it comes to social standing, looks, or just how much fun someone else seems to be having.

What I find depressing on Facebook is mostly the political divide that has become all too evident since the presidential election campaign began in earnest back in 2015. It is discouraging to see so much animosity on both sides and to realize that no matter how many meaty articles one posts or how well-considered one’s argument is, our friends on the other side of that divide are unlikely to come around to our way of thinking. Even the sheer exposure of current events that I see in my news feed every day, with or without commentary, can really get me down.

So I will be spending 40 days in the internet desert. I will still be posting on my blog, which automatically loads to Facebook. But I myself will not be scrolling along to see what’s up in cyber world. It is my hope that this Facebook fast will give me renewed energy, more time, and the chance to focus on my spiritual life, which is the purpose of Lent.

Turkey Drop*



My daughter recently taught me a term I had never heard before: the turkey drop. The turkey drop refers to the phenomenon that occurs when romantic couples go off to different colleges or graduate schools and try to maintain a long-distance relationship. Invariably (apparently), these couples break up by Thanksgiving – thus the term “turkey drop.”

When I first heard it, I found the expression humorous. Lately, though, I’ve been considering what people/things/habits I might separate myself from. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the time-honored Turkey Drop, I am challenging myself to get rid of the following:

1. mean-spirited people on Facebook. They will never have to know I am unhappy with their “low blow” types of posts. I can simply unfollow their posts without unfriending them. I have no doubt some of my FB friends have decided to unfollow my many liberal political diatribes.

2. arguing about politics. In the same vein, I’m pretty sure I have never convinced someone to change his or her political convictions by arguing my case. As my daughter recently pointed out, after 28 years of marriage, my husband and I are still polar opposites when it comes to politics. Why spend fruitless hours and create hard feelings arguing about partisan issues? I plan to follow the same policy on Facebook, where it is much easier to volley verbal grenades at one’s opponent from safely behind a keyboard. This does not mean I will not continue to post articles and blog posts expressing my views. I simply won’t engage in a pointless shouting match.

3. sarcasm. I enjoy a witty barb as much as the next person, and some of my favorite comedians use sarcasm like a finely honed weapon. Yet I tend to use it  as a defense mechanism or way to feel superior to others.

4. general negativity. This may be the hardest challenge of all for me. I tend to be a “glass half empty” type of person. Negativity leads to fatalistic thinking, depression, gossip, and surliness. The holidays are a good time to shake things up and try to approach the world with a positive point of view.

I have many other bad habits that could use a revamp, but as the Christmas holidays approach, I think these are a good start. I encourage others to perform their own “turkey drops” and get rid of whatever is holding them back from claiming their own happiness.

What turkeys do you need to drop?

*Author’s note: In looking for a photo to accompany my post, I learned that in Yellville, Arkansas, live turkeys are actually dropped from planes every Thanksgiving. This is a horrible and barbaric tradition and instance of animal cruelty. Yellvillains should be ashamed of themselves. Time to “turkey drop” this tradition!


Just Click “Like”



As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I find myself clicking the “Like” button a lot. Here’s a photo of my friend’s vacation (Like). Another friend’s family portrait (Like). Graduations. Birthdays. Block parties. (Like) (Like) (Like) Sometimes it gets tedious, all this “liking.”

But I’m afraid to stop. What if I “like” one friend’s post but not another’s? Will the other friend be insulted? It begs the question: What, exactly, do we get from all these “likes” on our Facebook posts? I think the answer is: validation. When I post something, I am gratified to see the number of “likes” the post gets. It makes me feel noticed, appreciated in some way. And so I want to extend that same courtesy to my friends who have taken the trouble to “like” my stuff.

The need to be liked seems universal. When Sally Field won an Oscar for her role in the movie Places in the Heart, her famous response was, “You like me. You really like me!” Not, say, I appreciate being recognized for my talent, hard work, etc. Just the fact of being liked seemed to be the most important aspect of her acknowledgment.

When we were young children, the worst taunt you could throw at another child was, “I don’t like you.” It was a guaranteed ego-crusher. My own kids would often hurl that insult at me when they were little. Sometimes I would revert to a preschool mentality and toss back, “I don’t like you either.”

Although Facebook “likes” may seem superficial, I enjoy giving and receiving them. Facebook has allowed me to keep in touch with people from various parts of my life: family, friends, former co-workers and students. I actually learn a lot about these friends’ beliefs and opinions from what they post, more perhaps than I would in casual conversation in the limited time I might have with each one. However small and fleeting, there is a connection on Facebook that I truly appreciate having with people in my life. That is definitely something to “Like.”

It Takes a (Virtual) Village



Behavior on social media sites has been getting a lot of scrutiny lately. Commentators are understandably disturbed by the many uncivil exchanges and downright bullying that can occur when people are allowed to speak their minds under the cover of anonymity.

Yet I have also found that sites such as Facebook can be a helpful tool for families. For instance, my son’s college has a parents’ Facebook page, on which members post queries about everything from dorm assignments to meal allowances to the availability of campus tutors. Whenever a parent asks for help on this page, there are dozens of answers from other interested and concerned parents. Families will ask for doctor or dining recommendations, off-campus apartment suggestions, and even prayers when an ailing or upset child is keeping them up nights. The college Facebook page has become a great way for parents to share information and ideas, and just to support each other during a difficult transition in their own and their children’s lives.

There are other internet sites that provide parents with advice, encouragement, and support. Some are forums such as The Parenting Spot. Others, such as Scary Mommy, inject a needed dose of humor into the all-too-serious business of raising children. And the relative anonymity of the sites, while it opens comment threads to abuse, also allows parents to share their struggles without worrying about what their friends and neighbors might think.

As a mother, I have often felt alone trying to deal with some of the challenges of raising my kids. Whether it was a medical challenge, a discipline issue, or a problem at school, I felt as if I were the only one facing such struggles. That is one of the problems with our intensely private culture with its emphasis on the nuclear family and the exclusion of outsiders in our day-to-day decisions.

When my husband and I were in China having adopted our youngest daughter there, we were approached on the street by a group of strange women who seemed to be chastising us about our baby. Our guide explained that the women were telling us, “Take off her socks. The baby is too hot!” We were a bit taken aback, as in the United States such unsolicited advice would be anathema. Not so in China, where children are considered everyone’s treasure and everyone’s business.

Reflecting on it later, I had to admit that I liked the idea of an entire community looking out for my child. I remember with fondness growing up with all the moms on my block, who had absolute authority to discipline me but at the same time the absolute conviction to help me should I ever be in need.

In our hands off society, maybe it will take a virtual village to help us raise our children to be happy, healthy, and safe.

Facebook Addict



The other day I decided to make a list of all the things I actually do in a day. It went something like this:

Made coffee. Went on Facebook.

Got kids up for school. Drank coffee while on Facebook.

Made breakfast.

Drove kids to school. Came home and went on Facebook.

Drove husband to train. Came home and went on Facebook.

Read an article about how sitting takes years off our lives.

Got up and threw in a load of laundry. Cleaned the kitchen.

Went on Facebook.

You get the drift. I realized that I have a certain obsession, bordering on addiction, with my online community via Facebook.

To be sure, Facebook has helped me connect with old high school classmates, former students, and other friends who live near and far. And I have learned a lot from the many posts my friends have shared on their Timelines. I have also been entertained by snippets from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher from their shows that I don’t really watch on TV. And as my friend Janice would say, who doesn’t love a picture of baby goats in little sweaters or pajamas?

The problem is that my Facebook time is eating into my productivity time. While no one is going hungry in my family and they generally have clean clothes to wear, I must admit my housekeeping has gotten a bit slovenly. This would be fine if I were busily writing the Great American Novel, but I’m not. I’m scrolling through my news feed to see what interesting posts there are – or checking my notifications to see if anyone “liked” my latest blog post or silly pun about donuts.

One of the pitfalls of being in charge of your own daily schedule is the ability to get sidetracked and waste time. Facebook has not caused this problem, but it has certainly facilitated my procrastination tendencies.

Ironically, many of the posts on Facebook admonish us not to waste a precious moment of our fleeting lives. How is it that I nod and smile at these nuggets of wisdom while refusing to acknowledge that my behavior contradicts those sentiments? It’s akin to my penchant for reading nutrition advice while eating a cheese danish and drinking lots of coffee. (I’ve also been known to sit on my couch and watch exercise videos.)

I think it’s time to tame the Facebook habit. A short perusal of the news feed in the morning and some Facebook time at the end of the day as a reward for all my hard work might be a sensible way to enjoy the wonders of social media while still living a happy and productive life.

World Wide Web



It used to be that when I got up in the morning, I would make a pot of coffee, sit down with my breakfast and open the newspaper. You remember those, right? Rolled up bundles of newsprint thrown on your lawn from an old Chevy at 6 in the morning? If you’re really old, you remember some 12-year-old flinging yours from a bag on his shoulder as he rode his bike along the quiet streets.

Nowadays, while the coffee is brewing, I fire up the laptop and start to peruse the lighted screen. If I am feeling diligent, I do some writing. After all, that memoir is not going to write itself. Then I check my email and Facebook. Here is where I feel myself getting sucked into the web. Before I know it, two hours have gone by, and I have little to show for it.

The internet has been both blessing and curse. If I need to find anything – a fact, a phone number, or a place to host my kid’s birthday party – I just Google it. Yes, that word is now a verb. I picture the creator of Google, not as a savvy business person, but as an evil mastermind developing the ultimate addictive drug – instant information. Soon I am Googling everything from SAT statistics for a blog post to new Nike shoes for my son to the name of the actress on that old Seventies TV series, “The Partridge Family.” (It’s Susan Dey, by the way.)

It is also more than a little unsettling to find the results of your online shopping scrolling down in ads on your Facebook page. Facebook recently received flak for doing a psychological experiment with people’s moods as they used the social website. Is there any doubt in our minds that the employees over there are cackling maniacally while tinkering with our brains?

Remember when Al Gore took credit for inventing the internet? Well, it’s a good thing Bush stole that election from him in 2000 because if Gore had been president, he would have used the internet to completely manipulate our thought processes and enslave us with technology. I’m pretty sure we would all be marching in lock step while chanting things like, “Parental warnings on CDs” and “Global warming is killing us!” 

How many cute but useless memes do I have to read before I awaken from my stupor? How many clever You Tube videos do I have to watch before I realize I should be doing something more productive? Maybe if I received a “Like” every time I got the dishes or laundry done, I would be more motivated. As I write this, it is only 9:25 am here in the heartland. I think there is still time to salvage the day. 

I’m getting off the internet right now and unrolling that mysterious bundle I found at the end of my driveway this morning.