The shit filter

All in all I think I’ve done OK with this social media thing. I mean given that just over two years ago I didn’t know what Facebook was. Really. I emerged into 2010 from three years in ‘hosptial-land’ (thanks to breast cancer for that) and was plunged back into the ‘real’ world, and when I first heard the socially accepted end of conversation line, ‘Find me on Facebook.’ I said, ‘What’s Facebook?’

Well times move on and now I comfortably use Facebook, Twitter less so (and could somebody tell me what LinkedIn is for?), but I recognise that there are things about this social media stuff that means that I can stay in touch with people, find new friends who share my interests…. all good stuff. But it’s not all good. I mean, there’s just so much STUFF out there. How do you find the good or relevant stuff?

I recently read an article in The Word magazine (no I don’t read it but Ronnie does), and he’d told me about ‘frictionless sharing’. Mark Zukerberg, creator of Facebook, coined this phrase, and the concept is discussed in an article by Eamonn Forde:

“If everything we consume is being shared socially… does anything actually stand out? Sharing just becomes about quantity rather than quality.”

Exactly my feeling too. Now the article is about music, about the fact that through the sort of music services like Spotify we now have access to millions and millions of songs, in effect endless libraries of CDs. So how do we pick which ones to play? Well, in the world of songs and music, there are now services that organise playlists for you. One is and David Nam who works for them says:

“I have been quoted in the past as saying that we are your ‘shit filter’. I wouldn’t mind if that quote haunted me for the rest of my life as that really is what we strive to do.”

I slapped the magazine down on the table and shouted out to Ronnie, ‘A shit filter! That’s what I need.’ Yes, a shit filter?


Me and Rach having a Skype early in 2011. Two shit filters in operation.

If my dear friend Rach were alive now I know we would have talked about this, and I can imagine her saying to me, ‘Where can I get one?’ And we’d probably laugh out loud about it, no – no probably about it at all – we’d probably start selling them. Although, of course if you knew Rach, well you’d know that she certainly didn’t need one. She had a full on shit filter. No shit got past her.

But I digress. So what exactly is ‘shit’? Well, in my opinion, when ‘stuff’ is shared, it should be shared with friction, not frictionless sharing. I mean, if you think an article is worth reading because it’s so sensational that, say, the end of breast cancer is on the horizon, then tell me, express an opinion about it. But if you’re just sharing stuff because it’s about ‘a subject you’re interested in so I might be too‘ (and this happens often in the world of breast cancer, or even cancer generally), then if you don’t tell me why I should read it, then I’ll just ignore it. It should be worth reading, it should be worth my time to read it. Because time, as I am finding, is a very valuable commodity, especially when you think there might be less of it than you’d previously thought.

And there’s so much stuff out there. There’s so much noise, static. It’s too easy to copy other people’s shit and pass it on. And it’s so easy for us to find ‘Friends’ (I’m using the Facebook definition here) and our lives can just get so full. And so I regularly clear out my Facebook friends (yes I really do that – frequently – I see it as a way to make space for new friends who do want to engage with me rather than being a miserable unfriendly person), and I’ve written before about friendship, about what it actually means, with Rach sarcastically asking me, ‘What’s the criteria Sarah?’

Well, that’s for you to decide, but for me it means interaction. It means exchanges that contain emotions – joy or fury – I don’t mind. But it has to contain a real interaction. It has to be real.

In a recent unfriending session on Facebook, I discovered that I can actually categorise my ‘Friends’ as ‘Close friends’ or ‘Acquaintances’, and – what’s more – Facebook will do it for me! So if I have 687 Friends (and who can really have that many friends?), but actually I’m only interested in what say 35 of them actually post or share, I can zone out the other 652. I mean, really, isn’t that a shit filter in itself? A shit filter that someone else (Facebook) has installed for you? But I think it’s better to install your own.

Because, well, now that I’ve discovered this expression – the shit filter – I realise that what I’ve been doing these last few months is that I’ve been installing my own shit filter, and my life is quieter since. I’ve added it to my email, to Facebook, to Twitter, to all my stuff. It throws most of everything out! Obviously it needs maintenance from time to time, to make sure it’s fully tuned in. But it’s better, I like it this way.

I like it quieter. I don’t mind less noise. In fact, Rachel’s beloved husband Anthony wrote on The Cancer Culture Chronicles blog yesterday,

“Unfortunately noise doesn’t help prevent death from breast cancer.”

That’s true. Getting quieter, using the shit filter, can help us to really find the organisations who are doing meaningful things to change the conversation on breast cancer – like Breast Cancer Action. Doing meaningful research on metastatic breast cancer – like METAvivor. And believe me, it really matters to me that we have a different conversation on breast cancer. I mean like ‘life and death’ level of matters.

So now that my shit filter is in good working order, things are quieter around here. But it means I can feel free to write about other stuff than just breast cancer (it’s OK I wrote and published a book, that’s about 100,000 words on my opinions about breast cancer culture, you can read that if you’re interested). It means I can spend more time gardening. It means I can make dandelion honey. It means I can think about how I use my experience of breast cancer to give back, to train to perform unique services to mark the lives of people when they die. You know, these are deep and reflective things, that could get lost in the world of too much stuff. It means my life is quieter.

It means I have time to appreciate life. And life lived beyond a breast cancer diagnosis becomes very precious indeed. No time to waste it on shit.

12 thoughts on “The shit filter

  1. Preach on, sister Sarah! What you say is so absolutely spot(ify) on. My antennae for these filters skyrocketed since my marital breakup. Who needs all that frictionless sharing out there? It’s a total waste of time. By the way, LinkedIn is for professional contacts; supposedly HR folks review the profiles of the people in this network to see if their skills match their job description. But I’m not so sure it’s nothing more than a brag sheet for the current title of VP want-to-be’s. Cynical? Yes. Snarky? Yes. Realistic? Yes. Three yeses for Rach! Thanks for bringing this whole concept down to a gut level, a breast cancer gut level. xx

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Shit filters are not always cynics. Like you and Rach and the rest of us who are jaded about the pink culture, it’s not so much that we’re cynics but that we’ve got priorities and want honest to goodness ways to cull the morsels of value from the onslaught of things competing for our attention. Some of it could be Nobel Prize winning stuff, but if the presenter doesn’t couch it in a way that makes me sit up and beg to read/hear more…

    Yes, so much to do, so little precious time.

    PS When it comes to pink awareness, I think many of us have had our our fill of bullshit, but we’ve moved beyond being cynical. It won’t be long before we’re marching on City Hall mad.

  3. Wow- first I had to read this post due to its title, and now I’m really glad to have read it through. I think your shit filter concept is great, as is your point about sharing for the sake of sharing rather than, what does this do for us? Anyhow, great post! Thanks.

  4. Social media is a mixed blessing indeed. Sometimes I get heart weary of the noise and the way everyone seems to be promoting something. But then again, it offers extraordinary opportunities for connection, to ‘meet’ people who share some of the things we’re interested in, things that come from that deep and reflective space rather than just the noise. And it allows for a hop, skip and a jump of connection too, which is how our paths crossed, and I am glad of.

  5. Great post Sarah! I know it’s subjective – one woman’s junk is another’s treasure – but I really value those who filter the noise for me. I try to do some shit filtering in a very small way with my weekly round up filtering the gems from the junk. In an online world that is becoming ever more crowded with good and bad stuff, content curation is becoming more important.

  6. Pingback: Silence | a sense of place

  7. Great insights here…there seems to be an awful lot of sharing going on in social media (and else where) and some of it isn’t really worth sharing. But then, as in beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder I guess. Or in this case “shit-holder.” Is that too crass? Oh well. I’m glad things are quieter now for you. I’ve always thought quietness was under-rated. Too much noise is just too, well, “noisy.” Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  8. This is a really great post – I’ll definitely adjust my sharing habits after reading this.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Take care,


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