March 2, 2020

John Phipps: Social Media Outrage Exhaustion is Bad for Your Health

 |  By: John Phipps

The last few weeks have been difficult for farmers on social media. Participants have bounced from indignation to anger as topics as varied as crop report numbers, Michael Bloomberg comments and data sharing provided an environment littered with triggers. Some of this outrage maybe be justified, but most is not, and can be deflated with a few minutes of information seeking.

Only deflating our strong emotions may not be our goal. My impression is we have become attracted to, if not hooked on, outrage. Outrage arises from our own feelings of righteousness and especially victimization. Wherever we look we can see others taking advantage of us or maybe just not showing the proper respect for who we think we are.

It is not a harmless pastime, however. Nearly constant resentment is hard on our bodies, as powerful hormones and chemicals alter our hearts, digestion, and especially our brains. Even as we continue to ingest information that upsets us mentally and physically, we can’t help noticing we feel worse about our lives and our futures.

There is a time and a place for outrage and anger, but what we have never faced before is technology that can expose us to constant reasons why the time is now, and the place is here. Social media distills the most alarming information to keep us clicking and scrolling down past the ads. Like some of you, I am trying to step back and reduce my outrage calories. It is not easy, but I have noticed that several other people I follow have been less prominent as well. Whether we limit screen time like we do our children, or go cold turkey, all of us are thinking about what might make our lives more enjoyable. Personally, I think it’s working. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed outrageous events have shorter lifespans, so you can avoid entire uproars which turn out to have little consequence.

Perhaps the biggest discovery in the relatively quiet moments is how tiny the population of outrage addicts really is. I also am coming to the conclusion that this tiny minority will have less long-term effect than we think because we are so few. If anything, cultural and political inertia may be growing, as more people plan day-to-day and carefully ignore long-term implications. This may be the unfortunate price for managing our outrage exhaustion: setting aside our hopes for tomorrow in order to make it through today.