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Put the Phone Down, Filter the CRAP, and Hit it Big!

Social Media is more than just a distraction to some.  The reading this week made me really step back and evaluate myself with regard to my own level of distraction caused by my response to the notifications from social media and e-mail.  I spent and entire day being acutely aware of my habits in a way that I had not previously, and here is what I discovered:  I am a social media addict with unchecked OCD!

Each morning, my alarm sounds (on my phone) 15 minutes before I have to get out of bed.  This is purposeful because it allows me to silence the alarm and spend those 15 minutes waking up while scrolling through my e-mail, text messages, missed calls, and of course my Facebook business page/messages.  I have been known to stay in bed doing this for 30-45 minutes, often missing my opportunity to shower and beginning my day with a coating of dry shampoo and body spray.  On days when I do have time for my  shower, I take the phone into the bathroom with me and will often prop it against the wall at the top of the shower so that I can be sure to not miss any important messages or phone calls.

When I am out of the shower, I check my phone again for the temperature and the daily weather so that I can get dressed accordingly.  By then, it is usually time for me to wake up my youngest son to begin his day (we home school).  I often Face Time him as his wake up call, you know, to save those 10 steps I would make to his bedroom.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon as a slave to the pings and bings of notifications.  If I am waiting on an important call or email, I find my (actually diagnosed) OCD pattern of checking every few minutes rears its ugly head.  I will admit that, often, this pattern does not change when I am in the car driving.  In his book, “Net Smart,” author Howard Rheingold notes that, “Texting while driving kills…(and) the fact that anyone would risk life and limb for an LOL is a clue that something about texting hooks into the human propensity to repeat pleasurable behaviors to the point of compulsion” (p. 45).  ACK!  He is right!  Try as I may over the years of driving with my son’s in the car and teaching the boys to drive, I still can’t say that I am 100% cell phone free while driving.

texting and driving

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My brain knows I need to be, but something almost uncontrollable begs me to check that phone at every ping.  And, turning the volume off doesn’t change that desire to check.  In fact, it almost sends it into hyper-drive as I worry that I have missed something imperative!

Most evenings I work my business by doing online Facebook parties to open oysters and sell jewelry.  During this time I am totally plugged in – working while checking a barrage of private messages, keeping up my online presence, and reading/responding to live comments as they come through my feed.

To finish my day, I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook or read articles online that interest me until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  I can’t even speak to how many times I will be reading through an article or a friend’s Facebook timeline only to find myself in the circle of links and clicks that lead me to chase a white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole.  If you aren’t sure what I mean about the rabbit hole, here is a great article I read recently after a night of chasing that rabbit for about 3 hours:  Following the White Rabbit Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole

Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector

In Chapter 2, Rhinegold points out that, in order to be smart in our use of the internet, we must learn to filter out what is true and what is false.  Rhinegold says, “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing.  Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.  Chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter” (p. 78).  I am going to take a second here and get really personal in an attempt to give an example of a broken “CRAP detector” (p. 89) and the toll it took on my quality of life for over a year.  I mentioned above that I battle OCD.  My OCD doesn’t come in the form of counting or repeating steps for fear that something bad will happen.  My OCD presents itself with health anxiety – I am a hypochondriac when I allow my mind to take off in whatever direction it chooses.  Rheingold assures us by saying, “What person doesn’t search online about their disease after they are diagnosed?”  After my youngest son was born (15 years ago), I went through a severe bout with my OCD/hypochondria where I determined from Dr. Google that I was dying from a brain tumor.  I lost a good year of my life with worry and anxiety, but I was too afraid to see a doctor or mention these concerns because I just knew I could not handle a horrible diagnosis in my fragile mental state.  According to the internet, I had every symptom.  I was dizzy, I felt my speech was stumbling and slurred at times (even though friends and relatives had no idea what I meant and had not seen/heard any issues when speaking to me), occasionally my vision was blurry and I was experiencing flashes and floaters.  I was feeling like I was in a memory fog and often felt clumsy and off balance.  I often would run to a mirror and stick my tongue out to see if it went straight down or off to the side -Google told me to try that.  Unfortunately, Dr. Internet failed to tell me that brain tumors generally affect one area of the brain at a time.  So, if I had blurry vision caused by a tumor in my brain, it would be located behind my eyes (most likely) and symptoms would all be related to that one tumor in that one place.  A tumor behind my eye would not cause me to have slurred speech, a foggy memory, or to lose my balance unless, of course, it was metastatic.  It took me a year and a Lexapro prescription to tune my crap detector enough to realize that I had been feeding my unfounded fears by seeking worst case scenario CRAP on the internet.  I am happy to report that I continued with that Lexapro prescription and I no longer live my life in fear of dying from whatever Google diagnosed illness I may have.

dr google

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Working to “Hit It Big”

In Chapter 3, Rheingold begins to discuss meaningful ways that we can participate in social media.  Because social media is such a great tool in my business as a network marketer, I can’t just decide to unplug completely.  Instead, I can make small changes to the way I operate on social media (perhaps beginning with locking my phone in the glove box when I drive).  My inital interest in this graduate course came from my desire to learn how to better present myself online and how to be intentional in my participation on social media.  Reingold reminds us that, “The good news is that learning to participate effectively online (like learning attention and crap detecting skills) is a matter of mindset and practice – and the payoff can be big.  Knowledgeable online participation can help you land a job, find a mate, organize a movement, or sell a product or service.  As citizens, professionals, and consumers, we hit it big, manage to get by, or fail utterly in large part because of our ability to connect and converse with others by way of digital networks…” (p. 114).  I am ready to do what it takes to “hit it big!”




Crap Detection 101: Vaccines and Autism

While reading chapter 2, “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide If It’s True,” of Net Smart, I was waiting with bated breath for Rheingold to bring up the controversial subject that has caused great debate, disagreements, and “unfriending” in my social media circle in recent years: vaccines and autism in children. But, he didn’t.

As a parent, do I have concerns that autism might be linked to the vaccines my children receive? Absolutely. Do I vaccinate my children? Absolutely. Do I worry that I might be making the wrong choice after each vaccine? Absolutely. (To date, my sons–fifteen and eight–do not have autism).

So, what are we as parents to do? Rheingold recommends to “chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter.” To chase the story, the first thing to do is to search for information online. But what words do I search for and which link(s) do I click? Rheingold also states that “when you get the results from a Web search engine and click on a link, you can’t be sure that what you get is accurate or inaccurate information, misinformation, or totally bogus.”

I Googled “vaccines and autism” and then clicked the “Images” link. From here, the search results were already conveniently categorized for me by “chart”, “don’t cause”, and “for children”. The results also showed screaming babies and needles—scary stuff for any parent. Mixed in with these images, were other cartoons and infographics that were pro-vaccine, one even had support from Bill Gates.


How can I tell if any of it is real? Which side of this controversial debate do I take? Rheingold suggests to “think skeptically, look for an author, and then see what others say about the author.”

But how is this possible when even doctors, nurses, and government agencies—all have credentials and are highly regarded as experts—can’t even agree?

Rheingold also states that “digital media and information abundance may complicate people’s confidence in and knowledge of who is in authority” and that the “social aspects of critical evaluation can be powerfully useful, but they also can be misleading.”

Just because a link displays at the top of a search engine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best source of information. Nor does seeing disturbing photos of needles sticking into babies convince me that vaccines are harmful.

To complicate things even further, Rheingold states that when searching online, we “write the answer you want to get when formulating your search query.” So if I enter “vaccines cause autism”, I will probably get rhetoric on how vaccines are bad; and if I enter “vaccines do not cause autism”, I will get information on how the two are not related. This is also referred to as the “echo chamber effect.” We are all guilty of focusing our attention to only things that align or reinforce our own beliefs or behaviors. Is this why AutismOne has 14,000 Twitter followers?

Or why there are now children’s books that urge children to get vaccinated against Measles? Would a parent who refuses to give their child vaccines allow that child to read a bedtime story on the importance of being vaccinated? Probably not.

With this abundance (overload) of information, this is where my “well-tuned internal crap detector comes in handy.” However, he then cautions that “people who bet their health on online medical information […] the stakes in this detective game are high.” To get my answer on vaccines and autism, I could triangulate–check an author’s name, enter the URL of a site into a productivity index or hoax site, and type “criticism” or “background” in a search–to get at least three things that indicate whether an online link is credible.

Yet, this is not enough as Rheingold claims “well-intentioned yet dangerously misinformed people, quacks who sincerely believe that their ineffective cures will save the world […] abound online. It’s not just that uninformed consumers of bad medical information can harm themselves; people who link and forward without checking closely are part of the problem. When it comes to medical information […] believing or forwarding bad info can be unhealthy or fatal.”

If you believe some of the stories online, there are large portions of elementary schools with unvaccinated children in California. Other stories cite celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a dangerous advocate of anti-vaccines. There are blogs written by people who grew up without vaccines but are now reformed and many social media pages and groups that are anti-vaccine that it becomes difficult to figure out which information is useful or accurate. Did you know that World Anti-Vaccination Day is November 11? Neither did I.

I’m not sure when the controversial debate that autism might be linked to the vaccines children receive will be settled. Will it take a scientific breakthrough? Will it be when previously eradicated diseases reemerge? At this time, it seems that the only thing to do is to keep asking questions and to think like a detective to try to determine the credibility of online information so that you can make the best choice for your family. James Madison summarized it best when he put it, “knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”