On building the discipline to tune out the aggressive American media, and prioritising everyday life in France.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m really bad at keeping a healthy distance from my Twitter feed… On an ideological level, I feel irresponsible when I don’t stay abreast with French and American politics, but the American news cycle is particularly overwhelming for two reasons.
First, American news feels very, very personal. Even though I’m working on integrating into French society as though I were a citizen (I’m still disenfranchised, but I’m working on it!), the contours of French politics don’t have the same sharp edges as American politics.
America is my first home, and I simply have a wider network of people in the US than in France. I’m trying to change my perception, but when I hear about protests at a state capitol or in DC, I feel that personally. I know where that city is, I’ve visited many places where people are in peril and fighting back. There is a deeper cultural reference for me in the American news cycle and when the hits keep coming as they have been, they still land hard.
Second, it’s more difficult to tune out because I understand, literally, all of it. French politics tends to challenge my vocabulary, and while that’s an important exercise, it’s easier to glaze over or tune out if I’ve had enough for the moment. Even arguments that I take very personally, like the immigration misinformation being perpetuated in speeches and policy discourse, are less sharp in my hands, as it were, because I’m often translating them back into English. Even when I’m reading and thinking in French, which happens more and more these days, the emotional significance of French is still newer than English.
As involved as I want to be in my Indivisible group back home or in the every fevered update from the New York Times or Associated Press, I’ve formed four rules for myself to stay disciplined at my internship, in class, and at home.
First, I’m inching ever closer to quitting Facebook. By not posting publicly, I’m not compelled to write long diatribes about the latest horror oozing from DC. By the end of 2018, I want to have completely deleted my account, but what keeps me there is the Indivisible group that has brought me a lot of comfort and organising structure as we wade into the fight for human rights and civil rights day after day.
Second, I regularly delete Twitter from my phone. Sure, the fact that I delete it over and over means I redownload it, but I tend to read it on the way to work, delete it, and download it again before dinner so I can catch up on things that I may want to mention when calling my congressperson (an activity for 8 or 9pm several times a week).
Is it an elegant system? No. But I don’t have to use my limited self-control on fighting off the urge to click into the app and scroll furiously through hot takes and updates about the newest terrible nonsense. Instead, I can focus on drinking enough water or working through a difficult data problem.
Third, I think of the opportunity cost. I’m a huge nerd, and keen on economics (a good thing, considering my impending Masters of Science in the subject!) and opportunity cost is a pretty simple concept to trick yourself into being better with your time. Each moment I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or the Google Alerts that I have set up for various political figures, I’m using my time for something that is high stress, low reward, instead of dedicating myself to the mountain of other things to be done.
Certainly, I use social media and the news as a form of entertainment, but I could be reading, working, thinking, blogging, running, sleeping, kissing, cooking, literally anything else, instead of overindulging in the news. That will usually kick me off social media on the weekends, when E and I have limited time together that just doesn’t need to include Twitter.
Fourth, and finally, I try to recognise that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s an old adage, but it feels especially true. If I want to keep my stamina up, and to stay engaged, I need to be able to let go of the constant adrenaline and horror cultivated by the news cycle. I need to remember that I’m safe, and from my position of safety I can help others who are in jeopardy, but only if I keep my feet on the group and my head in the game.
The smart people I follow might be right when they say we’re headed to a crisis of epic proportions, but right now, my main task is to do good work with real people at my internship to help improve their lives, and to finish my degree so that I’m able to jump in where I can to help.
My career will likely focus on France for the time being, and I need to be prepared emotionally and mentally to wade into the complex issues facing my second home. That means incrementally letting go of American politics and shifting myself towards France, and keeping healthy media habits so that I don’t just recreate the problem en Français.