The great political time sink: hobbyism vs. engagement

What if we spent half the time we now waste fighting online doing something productive?

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Does this sound familiar? You’re on the couch, phone in hand, scrolling through social media, and you stumble upon a raging debate about the latest political spectacle. Your heart races, your fingers twitch, and before you know it, you’re neck-deep in an online brawl about politicians and pundits. Hours fly by, and you emerge from your screen dazed, triumphant – in your head at least – and ready for Round Two.
If you recognize this scenario, well, you might be a political hobbyist.
Political hobbyism is the Netflix binge-watch of civic engagement. It’s engrossing, it’s emotionally charged, and it gives you the illusion that you’re doing something really important. Adrenaline runs high, stakes feel monumental, and yet, nothing changes. All you’ve done, really, is hammer out some passionate comments (and maybe throw in a few memes for good measure). Meanwhile, your town’s roads still have potholes, your school system still needs improvement, and your voice hasn’t traveled all that far beyond your own echo chamber.
Social media is like a bag of chips – you can’t have just one, and once you get a taste, it’s mighty hard to stop. But here’s an idea: What if we spent half the time we now waste fighting online doing something productive? Instead of refreshing Twitter for the umpteenth time, we could:
›› Join a local organization. Whether it’s a nonprofit, a political group, or a community service organization, there is no shortage of groups that could use your passion and energy.
›› Attend civic meetings. Get to know local leaders. Voice concerns, stay informed about what’s happening in our own backyard, and seek to make an impact from the bottom up.
›› Volunteer for a cause. Find an issue we’re passionate about and contribute our time and skills – in person. Real-world involvement trumps online fighting 10 times out of 10.
›› Educate ourselves and others. Read, attend lectures, and engage in thoughtful discussions. Maybe start with a “Feast of Reason” in the tradition of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, in honor of The Civic Season. As they say, knowledge is power – and informed citizens make better decisions.
We’re missing very, very little if we take a break from the daily spectacle. If we turn off the notifications, log out of the debates, and step into our communities. We can be the neighbors who attend the meetings, the volunteers who make a difference, and the voters who are informed, engaged, and inspiring others to do so, as well.
Plus, being a real-life change-maker is infinitely more satisfying than winning an online argument with a stranger. Your community — and your sanity — will thank you.

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