This could just be the cough medicine talking, but I think I found an analogy to explain social media.

My dog has this tennis ball that he loves. Unfortunately for the tennis ball, when a German shepherd loves something, it can be rough.

Despite its dilapidated condition, he loves to play with it himself, and have me throw it around the house.

Often, it rolls under a piece of furniture where he can’t reach it. Then he makes pathetic noises unworthy of his size until I fish it out for him, sometimes employing a yardstick or bad words.

It took me a while to realize that he was batting it into those places, like a soccer player scoring a goal, on purpose.

On purpose.

See, I’d stop playing after a while, becoming engrossed in a book or game on TV. Despite having a acorn-sized brain, he figured out that trapping the ball under a chair or cabinet would get me involved again. I’d have to get up, stop what I was doing, and rescue the ball. He was making me pay attention, making me care about the ball. Which, as I said, he loves very much.

Think of the tennis ball game as social media. The game never ends, but you only have so much interest or attention to give it. You have other things.

So, how do they make you notice? Make you care?

The social media environment rewards outlandish, outrageous expression and emotion. Outsized or fictional claims of victimhood. Racism. Phobia. Conspiracy. Louder. Bigger. Exaggerated.

Understatement, basic facts, might not get people up out of their chairs. Instead, give them something so over-the-top that they have to react. Time and again, they will. You will.

Now, though,  it’s not just social media. We’re losing our ability to discuss or frame any differences in subtle ways. Disagreements blow up quickly into name-calling and demonizing. You’ve noticed it—everything’s more flammable these days.

At least with the tennis ball game, if I put it on top of the fridge, he eventually forgets about it.

If only everything were that easy.


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