This past week, our world tiptoed closer to dystopia. A fear-mongering bully officially became the Republican presidential nominee. His wife gave a speech many believe was plagiarized. Racial tension continued to divide Americans and violence spilled out in cities across the world.
I was blissfully unaware of all this. I was riding roller coasters with my wife and eating ice cream with my son.
It was time for a much-needed vacation this week, so we dropped the baby with grandparents and took my 4-year-old to Kings Island, an amusement park in southern Ohio. Growing up, a highlight of my summers was the annual trip we took to the park with my cousins, and we’ve been trying to restart the tradition in our family. Last year — our first taking Mickey — was a bit of a mistake, mainly because he was too small to ride much and my wife was seven months pregnant with our daughter. This year, my sister and brother-in-law came with their kids, my parents joined us, and we had a much more enjoyable time.
One of the decisions I made was to have computer silence during the week. I shut off access to my work email. I pre-loaded some blog posts. Most importantly, I shut off access to Twitter and Facebook. While my wife kept me abreast of a little bit of the craziness going on in the world, I didn’t see just how dire the tone across the country was until I logged back in on Friday afternoon; I promptly closed the laptop and picked up a book instead.
And so, while the world fretted about Donald Trump — a man so vile that the best thing his supporters can say is “he may be a racist, misogynistic buffoon, but at least he’s our racist, misogynistic buffoon” — I took my son on his first roller coaster ride. While critics parsed Melania Trump’s speech, I cooled off on a log flume. While the world went crazy, I enjoyed time with my family, disconnected from the barrage of opinions and hot takes coming from all angles on social media.
I was initially surprised how hard it was to disconnect. The first day of my “screen fast,” I still absently tapped the Facebook app on my phone, as if by reflex. I felt strangely adrift without constant, immediate access to what was happening in the world. It was weirdly isolating to not be surrounded my my friends’ opinions, photos and updates. But as the week went on, I felt an immense sense of relief at being untethered and unreachable.
I felt happier. I was surrounded by my family, creating memories that my son will hopefully cherish in the coming years. I was more at peace; we talked about the trip and our own memories at the park, not politics. Not having to capture every moment made me feel more present. I went to bed not bombarded by yelling and opinionated screeds but by cuddling in a hotel room watching “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” with my wife and son. Constant access to social media and the immediate ability to speak our unfiltered opinions gives the impression the world is on the cusp of falling apart. Shutting off that access made me realize that life is still enjoyable, people are still good and things might be okay.
But sometimes you’re not burying your head in the sand; you’re protecting your brain. And the ability to get our news immediately, without it being filtered and fact-checked in the rush to exclusivity, means we end up with wrong information. Our desire to share that news and our tendency to live in an echo chamber means that we live in a whirlwind of incorrect information, confirmation bias, bad news and anger. We’re bombarded by noise and then we add to it, argue about it, and walk away curious as to why we’re so angry, disillusioned and depressed. It’s not that the world is beyond hope, or that things are worse than they’ve ever been. It’s that our only exposure to this world is through a filter of fear, lies and rage.
For our own sanity, we need times to step away. We need to remember that while politics and current events are important, they are not our immediate lives. We need to regularly shut off our phones, close our laptops and disconnect. Because while Donald Trump is a threat, our kids’ greatest need right now is our attention and love. While Americans rage and fight, there is still beauty to behold, wonder to savor and life to live. And even though we must be concerned about shootings, wars and corruption, we also need to take the time to let roller coasters blow our hair back, laugh with the ones we love and build memories that will outlast these crazy times.