Avoiding Getting Caught Up In Other People’s Bullshit

Posted on Sun 04 September 2011 in Dispatches • 3 min read

One downside about social media is that it’s easier to get caught up in other people’s drama just from tangential contact. In most cases, it’s just the narcissism of small differences at work, and it isn’t worth your time and energy to get upset about it. Sometimes though, it’s hard to tell whether it’s worth it or not, and this is certainly something I’ve been struggling with as of late.

Duty Calls, from xkcd

This is everyone, including me.

Seeing as this is one of those problems that I’ve been wrestling with, and it isn’t likely to go away as long as there are people on this Earth, I thought I’d share briefly how I make decisions about getting involved in conflicts on the Internet.

The Process

When I feel the urge to charge into some sort of argument online, I go through the following process to figure out if I want to get involved and start posting.

Step One: How Easy Is It To Walk Away?

The first thing I do is test if it’s something that truly bugs me, or if it’s just a case of small differences causing a knee-jerk reaction. To test this, I stand up, walk away from the the computer, and do something else for a bit. I go make some tea, step out onto the balcony, or harass the cat. If it’s still bothering me by the time I get back to my chair, then it might be worth getting involved.

Step Two: Do I Have Something Worthwhile To Add?

If I just disagree with someone, but I don’t have a particular point to make, I skip the whole thing altogether.

Step Three: Do I Want To Invest In This Conversation?

If I do have a point to make, it becomes a question of how invested I want to be in continuing this conversation. After all, drive-by commenting is a pretty useless method of discourse. If I’m going to make a statement, I need to own it and make a commitment to it.

Step Four: Does The Math Make Sense?

In the end, whether I end up wading in or not has a lot to do with the opportunity cost. Arguing with anyone takes time and can drain my mental energy. Personally, I have other things I can use that for, as I’m sure all of you do as well. I’d rather spend my time making things. I work hard, and I don’t have a whole lot of free time to devote to my creative projects, so what time I do have is precious to me. As a consequence, the amount of time I spend arguing online has an inverse relationship with how actively I am working on a project.

Step Five: What’s the Verdict?

If it matters, and if I still care after all that other stuff is taken into account, then it’s worth it to get involved. If not, I skip it, and get on with my life. It’s the difference between spending my time or wasting my time. A good conversation or debate can be very valuable and will win out in this process, but an impulsive flame war won’t make the cut. In a case where it still isn’t obvious, I’ll default to getting on with my life.

Closing Thoughts

As a process, this has worked out pretty well for me. It’s not an original strategy by any means, and I’m sure plenty of others have said similar things elsewhere. I’m writing this primarily as a way to straighten out my own thoughts about this and remind myself of what is important to me. If it works for you too, that’s great.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hop offline. I have projects waiting and a word count quota to hit. :-)