Choosing the big or small picture

Focusing on the world’s big picture is not making me happy.

I would go so far as to say it’s making me miserable and yet I can’t seem to stop. I’m addicted to the information highway.

I get the newspaper (or three) and I read chunks of it every day. I follow political and current event websites. I stalk the daily posts on twitter.

It’s leading me to the conclusion that we’re all doomed and the world should probably be cleansed by fire.

This is not a good mindset for anyone to hold, but it’s especially detrimental if you suffer from anxiety and depression. Yet, I can’t seem to quit.

I devour the news about the domestic ethics scandal surrounding the Canadian government. I obsess over the apparent takeover of the US by big business and the far right. I worry about Brexit. I scour the news for articles on climate change. I despair over violence in the mid-East. I worry about the rise in terrorist attacks.

I share the articles and make pithy and salient comments on-line, accomplishing exactly nothing. Meanwhile, the constant flow of information is making me stressed and unhappy, exacerbating my own internal struggles.

How informed is too informed, anyway?

What we do and think matters, I firmly believe that, but how much of an impact am I actually making with my participation in the information age? Do my comments and posts change anyone’s mind? Am I making anything better for anyone?

I’m certainly making things worse for myself.

Yet, it’s hard to quit. I worry about what might happen if I’m out of the loop. I won’t know about the incredibly stupid thing Donald Trump said on a day ending with “y”. I won’t know that farmers in the Midwest are being flooded out and their livelihoods are being threatened. I won’t learn about the latest election in Thailand. Aren’t these things I should know?

Where’s the line between being informed and overwhelmed and how did I cross it without realizing it?

I start each day with an hour on the computer, devoted to updating and catching up on current events. No matter my mood when I started, it’s worse when I stop. Being in the know is not making me happy. It is not improving my quality of life. It’s not making those around me happier either; staying in the loop tanks my mood which means I’m struggling more, which means I’m harder to live with.

None of the things I obsess about are in my control, either. My tweets change and fix nothing. They are, for the most part, a waste of time.

Sometimes, when I’m out grocery shopping, I stop and chat with and give money to the homeless people who hang about near the entrance. On Wednesdays, I volunteer with new immigrants to help them learn English. I joined the local branch of a political party I support. These actions have meaning. They impact my actual circle. They affect my actual reality. Plus, they make me feel good in a way that stalking social media does not.

We are getting overwhelmed. With the influx of so much information comes, I think, a sense of despair and hopelessness. How can we fix such a big monster? How can we change the world?

The short answer is that we can’t, at least not that way. Not by overwhelming ourselves, not by arguing with random strangers, not by posting pithy memes. We change the world by changing ourselves and committing to meaningful acts in our own environment. I can’t stop the deforestation in Brazil by harping at politicians online. I can be greener in my own life. I can’t change a racist’s point of view by lecturing him on social media. I can lead by example in my own community.

I’m strapped to the information superhighway and it feels like I’m getting run over every day, yet I’m the one who puts myself out there. I’m anxious if I disengage, yet engagement makes me miserable. Another one of life’s conundrums.

I’m going away on vacation this week. I could, if I choose to, keep up with current events and media platforms – the hotel has Wi-Fi – but if occurs to me that this might be a good time to step back and take a moment. To confirm what I think but have a hard time acting on; that nothing much will change for me if I step back and reorder my life with a routine that is more soul affirming.

When I return, I may decide to revisit what I ingest when I log in online. I think my mornings would be better and my days would be smoother if I limited my consumption of current events, lived according to my beliefs and principles, and watched more videos of cats.

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