On Things and Caring About Them
It's okay to care. It's also okay to not care.
There seems to often be a good bit of hand wringing about caring about things and not caring about things on social media. “Let people enjoy things” is a sort of meme that circulates from time to time as a mantra against the widespread refutation of or negativity around a particular aspect of culture.
The meme is thought to have originated from this Buzzfeed comic1:
It’s okay to care about things. It’s good to enjoy things. It’s admirable to be concerned about things.2
It’s even good to not care about things. It’s fine also if you care about things but don’t feel the need to let the world know what you think about the things you care about. Some would say such a posture is, in fact, the most admirable and wise.
We shouldn’t get upset when people care about things and express their concern about those things on the internet. We should be okay with people who are concerned about the well-being of the things they care about. Their concern may be legitimate and founded on a desire for the things they care about to flourish. This is good! Our ignorance about the things they care about doesn’t give us license to dismiss their concern or demean their interest. As it is said, “Let people like (or care about) things.”
It’s also okay to not care about things, no matter how many people tell you that you should care about the things they care about.
Those of us who care about things and express our interest in these things shouldn’t expect everyone to care about the things we care about. Not everyone needs to care about the things we care about. The social internet has implanted a lie deep into the hearts of many of us that “attention determines value.” Believing this lie makes us think that we have to get as many people to care about things we care about as possible, because the more people that care about our favorite things, the more valuable our things are and, thus, the more valuable we are.
But this is wrong. No one has to care about the things you care about. The things we care about are important and valuable no matter how many other people care. Don’t believe the lie that others’ attention validates your feelings or gives the things you care about their value. Log off. Get help. You’ve fallen prey to one of the lies the social internet leads us to believe.
If you’re tempted to get upset that people don’t seem to care about the things you care about as much as you do, consider that maybe others don’t feel the need to talk about those things all the time, despite caring about them themselves. It is possible to care deeply about things and never speak about them. Diarrhea of the mouth is endemic to the social internet, so spending too much time online can make you believe that if someone cares about something they will definitely post about it on the internet. This isn’t true. Log off. Get help. Your brain has been hijacked by your relationship with the social internet.
We need to be careful that social media expression not become a litmus test of how much someone cares. The pejorative phrase, “Such-and-so’s silence is deafening” is nonsense and worthy of immediate dismissal.3 Silence is only deafening if you’re of the mind that the only way to think or care about something is to talk about it, in which case I would direct you to Proverbs 17:28.4
There are a lot of things I care about that I never post about on social media. In fact, you could say that most of the things I care about the most never touch my social media feeds.
It’s okay to care about things. It’s also okay not to care about things.
Let people care about things. Feel free to not care about things. Don’t be pressured into the lie that “to post on social media is to care.” It’s a lie, and it both is and leads to more foolishness.
Sidenote, or footnote, I suppose: one of the things I love about the social internet and social internet history is that we believe the meme originated with this comic, but we don’t really know. The comic could have been inspired by a comment on some message board the artist liked to hang out on or by something he overheard in a coffee shop. But we wouldn’t know. The history of internet culture, despite its relative youth, often feels like ancient history.
Yeah, this post is weird. Strap in.
An important caveat here: situations in which an individual is always outspoken about a particular topic but has, for some unknown reason, lost their ability to comment when speaking out on that topic may have negative personal implications. In such cases, silence may in fact be communicating something. For example, imagine an evangelical leader is always outspoken on social media about the various ways in which secularization is threatening the integrity of the Church, but then seems to lose their keyboard when their friends or donors are caught threatening the integrity of the Church. That would be a situation in which silence may be speaking volumes.
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” - Proverbs 17:28