Roach: Why I took a break from Facebook

If you scan the headlines, columns and links that abound online, the bad news clearly outweighs the good. By a lot.
Computer screen with the Facebook logo on it and an eyemask
Photo by Getty Images/Carol Shufro

Recently, I received a query from a friend via Facebook Messenger.

The question was, “You’ve been absent on Facebook. Are you OK?”

My answer? “Hey. I’m fine. But I have sworn off news and social media because Wisconsin is depressing enough in the winter.”

But it isn’t winter’s fault.

If you scan the headlines, columns and links that abound online, the bad news clearly outweighs the good. By a lot. No matter the source, it seems that the media and fellow inhabitants of the planet seem committed to convincing you that all is lost.

Conspiracies lurk behind every corner. Denying science has become a national pastime, while the pandemic grinds on. Incidences of louts beating up flight attendants are higher than they have ever been. Who does that?

It feels as if things are coming apart.

To make matters worse, given the myths surrounding election math and vaccine efficacy, we are witnessing an undeniable assault on objective facts. You get the dreadful sense that truth is being ushered to the door. That there is, in fact, no truth.

So, to fight these dreadful realities, I sought solace in the very thing that has caused so much angst. My computer.

In an attempt to buoy my spirits, I Googled, “How is the world better?”

One of the first things I found was that the world is remarkably more peaceful than we think. A LOT more peaceful, according to an Oxford economist named Max Roser. He produced a graph showing human death by conflict has been plummeting steadily since World War II and is at the lowest number of war deaths in six centuries. So, mull that over as you stir your coffee.

Here’s more good news.

Global poverty has declined markedly. According to Forbes Magazine, in 1950, 75% of humankind was living in extreme poverty, which can be gauged by such things as potable water, electric grids and public sanitation systems. Today, that number is only 10%.

Here’s another hopeful fact, again from Mr. Roser: Up until the 1800s, youth mortality was a tale of grief. For centuries the percentage of death for children younger than 15 stood at 46.2%. That means nearly half the people born never lived past their 15th year. Parents buried their children at a rate difficult to comprehend today. Even as late as 1950, the global youth mortality rate was 27%.

The good news? It is now 4.6%. Global infant mortality — deaths of children younger than 1 — has also improved. For centuries, that number was near 30%. It is now 2.9%.

As for American life expectancy for all, it has increased from 39 years in 1860 to just under 78 years today, which means our lives are twice as long, on average, than those of our great-great-grandparents.

Such statistics give cause for hope. But these trends unfold over a much longer time than the daily news cycle. Now, due to the web, that cycle is in hyperdrive. The former news rhythm could be marked by days. Now it’s minutes. Even seconds. The bombardment is continuous.

And here is why that is so unsettling, and why we have a population that is so stressed, sad and anxious. Technology is clearly outpacing our ability to evolve with it. Digital noise is coming at us with a speed that we just are not neurologically or emotionally equipped to handle. The pandemic has amplified this affect, leading to higher rates of depression and substance abuse.

There is a framed Esquire Magazine column at my family’s cabin in the woods. It was written in the early ’90s before the world became dominated by the web, but during the rapid expansion of cable television and other distractions. The article asserted that the three rarest commodities in the modern world are silence, solitude and darkness. These are the things humans once had in abundance when we looked up to the night sky to see the Milky Way unburdened by light pollution and all of humanity’s noise.

They are timeless sensory comforts that formed us. Kept us connected to our collective soul.

Silence, solitude and darkness kept us in touch with the universe and in so doing, humbled us.

Now they are a rarity.

So, yeah.

That’s why I took a break from Facebook.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

This piece appears in the March issue of Madison Magazine. This opinion editorial written by John Roach does not reflect the opinions of Madison Magazine or Channel 3000.