I had originally planned to publish a piece on Sunday titled “Social media is cracking us all” and I must confess, it was quite the alarmist screed. How do I know? Because I started it off by saying: “This is not alarmist.”
If you must say something is not something then it most certainly is that something.
The truth is, I don’t believe a single world in that essay was wrong. I do think social media was created by socially anxious and awkward nerd-folk who have, in the ubiquity of “social” in our society have turned us all into anxious, nervous, and awkward folks who have tons of trouble relating and connecting easily to one another. They made their world our world and that not only sucks, it is also quite sad.
But, “sounding the alarm” and participating in “stunned outrage polemics” does nothing for anyone, does it? In fact, it is more apt to make people double-down and dig their heels in further, because logic and laws and rationality, honestly, have never changed hearts and minds. Just because you know something doesn’t mean you get it. Just because you have a fact in hand doesn’t mean that someone else needs to accept it.
You know what does change hearts and minds? Hearts and minds. So let me share mine with you.
Starting last Friday, I deleted all of my apps. I didn’t delete my accounts, no, I’m not an anarchist and I’d like to believe I’m less of an extremist now, but I just took them off my phone. All of the standards: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and LinkedIn. All the dating apps were iced from well before.
But I am not calling this a “cleanse” or a “detox” or trying to fit it into some cute little box or meme or make it a ‘thing’ – really, it’s just a choice I have made for me, and I capped myself at 5 days, but we’ll see how long it goes. I just wanted to take an opportunity to observe myself, to see what’s behind what I do. I want to share some of those observations and you check my math, check me, and maybe if it seems interesting to you, perhaps you will then check yourself?
- I’ve always been a bad sleeper because I do all my thinking during the night. I wake up at 5 every day with thoughts in my head. The primary recipient of this is my best friend in London. I used to reach for Instagram because I was looking for connection. I just wanted to speak and be heard.
- After an intense work period or series of meetings, my brain is tired. So instead of getting up from my desk and going for a walk, I reach for Instagram or Facebook. Maybe I should just take a quick nap?
- Sometimes I’m not ready to work yet and in my procrastination, I end up on Twitter, hoping for some amusement, but it becomes white noise after mere minutes. Perhaps I should just take a few minutes to read useful long article?
- All of these tools give you an easy way out from not engaging with people. I can ‘like’ someones photos but, given the real opportunity, would I really want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with them? Mostly no, so why am I even looking?
- Speaking of looking, it also becomes monitoring, because it also gives you an easy way of staying engaged with people from who you don’t want to risk rejection; I find that quite sad, too, forever stuck between being close and yet being held at a distance. Why not just close the distance?
These things can be fun and amusing and useful. Who doesn’t like a laughing baby picture or an “animal in an incident” photo? (Btw, I love that Instagram account, viking dogs are fantastic!) But, I can say, it doesn’t serve my soul. It doesn’t feed my soul.
It is not enough.
The fact that presence, validation, adulation, and a type of submission to this cult of social media is a generalized social norm is a form of tyranny. We put ourselves into boxes: into a series of photos, profiles, affiliations, quotes stolen from self-hating comedians and airbrushed celebrities and books we will never read. We flatten ourselves into data that can be quantified, compared, and “matched” with algorithms that are inhumane and unyielding and ultimately unreliable. This is the true revenge of the nerds: they have taught us how to be just like them, to sit in their analytical prisons which they hope one day they find the secret of humanity and that it is mathematically and logically complete, and therefore utterly risk-free and certain.
Humanity is not functionally complete, though. We have messy, sweaty bits; we have chemicals that interact, explode, and sublimate in ways we cannot fathom; and, we are emotional and reactive and so prone to behavior that do not make sense! I am glad for it! I am glad that we are unfathomable and I wish we all, just for a few moments, if we would just stop, breathe in, breathe out, and be okay with not knowing and be okay with being what we are and be okay.
Social media tells us, day in and day out, whether there are pregnancy photo shoots on Facebook, and cutting to the quick soundbites on Twitter, or hyper-constructed cool-cool on Snapchat, or FOMO-inducing #relationshipgoals and #bestvacationever photos on Instagram, or status-envy on LinkedIn (or Pinterest or Vine (R.I.P.) or whatever comes next, is next, is here, will be gone and replaced) that we are not enough—
There are many ways to beat a tyrant, to topple a giant that wants nothing but to hold you under its thumb and should you try to resist, then exerts all that pressure to turn you into nothing but paste and waste.
For me, taking a break has been my way to endure that pressure. I am determined to find a way to pluck that great big thumb off my back permanently so that I may focus my energy and attention on real life. You know, life offline, where I can spend talking, laughing, seeing and being seen, being known, by real people–
Connecting. In meat space. Scary, isn’t it? Maybe a bit. But that’s how you know: if it scares you a bit, that is when you are on the edge of change and discovery. So many people say they want an adventure, perhaps this is it? We live in the Age of Information, but so many of us long, secretly, for the Age of Adventure, when seafarers, crusaders, and dragon-fighters, men and women of myth, roamed the earth in search of wonder.
If you are willing to risk a little rejection, some cuts and bruises from trips and stumbles, a few falls and a lot of uncertainty, you may find a reward, the reward of something that is real, fully realized and materialized.
How does that sound to you? How does that feel? For me, it sounds glorious. For me, it feels free.