Lingering in a coffee shop awhile ago, I was soaking up a few rare minutes alone before picking up my boys. My wandering thoughts were interrupted by a sudden strident voice erupting to my right. The man in the corner was addressing the girl sitting next to me, who was attempting to do the crossword. "People are viruses! Just like viruses! You hang around them at all, and pretty soon you think like them, you talk like them, and you pick up their bad habits! It's just disgusting!" His unwilling audience offered a palliative reply, while remaining buried in her puzzle. I sat there a bit stunned by his vehemence.
Viruses are a hot topic these days, with fears of swine flu and disease outbreaks, as well as the continued trend towards viral information-spreading thanks to the explosion of social networking. Yes, I've been bitten with the Twitter bug (@sanemoms) myself! It's handy, powerful, and capable of taking over your life if you're not careful. Welcome to viral living, where there are lots of things to catch (including bad habits), and little training in how to keep your immune system from overloading.
As I was listening to the coffee-shop ranter, I was initially put off by his bitterness. He obviously hated the idea that we rub off on each other, and had some bad experiences in his past. What we see/hear/read/experience is a huge part of who we are, and so we do influence each other a lot. We catch each others' moods, feelings, and ideas: some more than others, depending on how much we trust the source, how settled we are, and how sure we are of what we already know. How much do you reflect what you're exposed to, rather than project what you believe? A loaded question perhaps.
Exposing ourselves to a huge variety of information can be good, but I know I tend towards information overload. It's easier now than ever thanks to things like Facebook and Twitter, and a huge array of choices in most everything, really wrecking my focus and ability to move forward if I'm not careful. What I need to know, what I want to know, and what I know just because I stumbled across it ... these are very different things. Viral living tends to move things from the Stumbled category back up the line into the Want and Need categories, helping viruses earn their bad name. They're hard to get rid of!
To boost my immune system, I'm trying to manage my inputs more consciously. I'm reading more books and fewer blogs, so I don't wander so much. I'm limiting (somewhat successfully) my computer time. I'm encouraging my voraciously-reading son to sometimes take a break from the comics and delve into the classics. I'm also filtering my outputs, projecting more of what I believe and tweaking my community to reflect a bit more of that. Finally, I'm focusing on chasing down the things I want and need to know. How to raise happy kids, how to cook healthy food, how to live more sustainably. Things that are much easier to gather information on virally, but won't actually happen unless I stop gathering and start doing.