The amount of snark and sarcasm I see in social media outlets seems to continue to increase over time. I know that some of this is due to the current election campaign season, which always seems to bring out the worst in us, but I think it’s also become an increasingly acceptable way to talk about other people.
A friend of mine who appreciates snark in a way that I do not recently explained her enjoyment of it as follows: “For most of us, snark is a defense; it’s about hopelessness and anger at a world that looks utterly irredeemable. It’s how we protect our hearts which have been hurt over and over again when we’ve tried to change something, only to find that things get worse or they never change.” Given the amount of hopelessness and anger I see and hear around me, it is not surprising that snark would be on the increase, if her assessment is accurate for the majority.
However, snark—even when I find it funny—has always had the sound to me of judgment and criticism woven into it. It reminds me too much of the playground bullying I remember as a child, except that it is now adults who are bullying one another online and in public. I appreciate that others do not share my reaction to it and that I am seen as being without a sense of humor, but I routinely cringe for the ones who are at the receiving end of the verbal lash of the whip when I hear the snarky put-downs. Words can and do hurt.
I started a five-day weekend today—my last bit of time off before I start the full-time job. I am going to miss having the extra time to work on my own stuff that the part-time work has given me. However, I’ve been observing the way I use the extra time I have lately, and I’ve noticed some curious things about my habits.
I made the decision several months ago to spend more time away from the computer when I am at home in order to get more things done. I’ve stopped staying logged in to chat clients all evening that left me tied to the keyboard (just in case someone might want to talk to me, even though it was rare that they did in reality). I leave my laptop in my office where I have to come to do computer work rather than carrying it with me out into the sunroom or the living room where I enjoy most of my time. I’ve even switched the notifications on my phone, so that I don’t get “buzzed” every time I get an email. It just rings for phone calls. I’ve been so much more productive and my mood has been much better since I’ve made this change.
But I still notice that I get twitchy when I’m away from the computer for very long. I still check my phone to see whether I happen to have messages way more often than is necessary (since most of the time there are none). I make excuses to come check email/Facebook/Twitter/RSS feeds/blog stats quite often (sometimes multiple times an hour unless I’ve really gotten involved in something else—like a good book). I even check my phone for messages when I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It’s the last thing I check before bed and the first think I check when I wake up. Since there is so seldom anything new updates of importance on any of these communication channels, this is truly odd behavior. And it has therefore gotten me curious. Why do I do this?
In the wake of my recent struggles with encouragement, I’ve been paying even more attention than usual to what I say, what others say, and the reactions to both of these (mine and theirs). I’ve been doing this observing in my in-person interactions and in the electronic exchanges that I’ve been a part of or an observer to (Facebook provides so many opportunities for this!).
Although my initial focus was only around the way encouragement is expressed and received, it didn’t take long for my field of view to widen to take a look at what people are saying when they aren’t giving encouragement, as well as when they are. It’s been an interesting experiment in observation, and I received even more input today to make me consider with greater depth the impact of my words in those times when I am not offering encouragement. In particular, I’m paying attention to those times when I could be said to be engaging in anti-encouragement.