Why 40 days of positivity on social media isn’t as easy as it seems

Published 3:49 pm Monday, February 19, 2018

Every year around this time I find myself casting about for some way to observe Lent, the penitential season before Easter.

Usually, I end up taking the easy route with some type of fast: Giving up something for the duration.

This has taken a number of forms over the past quarter-century or so of my observance, some repeated. Last year’s Lent, for example, was another period without sweets. This inspired a column about whether an absence of Oreos can lead to a closer communion with God.

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It’s not quite that simple. Mostly, I find that the discipline required helps focus my mind.

With that thought, I originally approached this year aiming again for something to give up. And I found myself gravitating toward something I haven’t tried before: Doing without social media.

Which, for me, basically means Facebook and Twitter.

My thinking was that, with all the negative, corrosive energy those platforms often present, I’d be a better human being if I just let it go, at least for a while.

Full disclosure: Some of that negative, corrosive energy has been supplied by me.

Just last week, for example, I took issue in this forum (and, subsequently, on Facebook and Twitter) with “the ’Sip” as a nickname for Mississippi. I basically had nothing good to say about it, and proceeded to say nothing good for more than 500 words.

In contemplation of the social media fast, I took a quick look at my Twitter posts for the past year. I’m by no means prolific – apparently, some people have a lot more thoughts than I do – yet there was no shortage of people and notions that I’d disparaged.

The president, for example. While I’ve pledged that this column will be a Trump-free zone, I haven’t applied the same standard to other forums. And I have not found anything good to say about him.

Likewise, I’ve badmouthed “Hail State,” the Winter Olympics, Republicans, Mississippi legislators, dogs (sort of), asparagus, atheists, bad spellers, Bill O’Reilly, Tom Waits, Vicksburg, Halloween dragons …

Clearly, I don’t limit my criticism to weighty topics. But when I do wade into serious issues, the debate can go on among my friends for days, long after I’ve lost interest in the topic.

Instead of prompting people to stop and think, I’ve sometimes been giving total strangers (to one another, not me) an excuse to argue on a platform that is better suited to swapping pot roast recipes or idyllic memories of the vaunted Good Ol’ Days.

I might as well have been a Russian troll – except, on the opposite side.

But instead of choosing merely to stop my social media criticisms, I’ve taken on a far greater challenge: To have something positive to post every day.

It’s not as easy as you might think.

For one thing, I don’t want to repeat myself, lest I fill all the 40 days (plus Sundays) with fawning comments about cats. Beatles lyrics. Or, you know, my wife.

Aside from that, there’s the matter of settling on the definition of positive. What if something is slightly critical, but funny? Does humor offset negative?

It’s early on, obviously, and I haven’t pushed the envelope. So far, I’ve managed to post affirmatively of Butterfingers, snow and love. And my wife. Cats and Beatles are surely on the way.

How much good can one person’s effort do? I don’t know. But it can’t hurt.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.