I mean, is that even possible in 2018? The Internet and its brainchild, social media, are as ubiquitous as oxygen and as pervasive as a debt collector you owe money to. What used to be an activity that was first adopted by a younger demographic has since become a mainstream phenomenon.
What’s the first thing you check when you wake up in the morning? Don’t tell me. It’s probably your phone. No, not your landline telephone, (Who still has one, anyway?) I’m talking about your cell phone. And how often do you check your phone for its myriad of notifications? Have you ever felt that you were an extension of your phone and not the other way around? And have you ever sat with someone and instead of giving him or her eye contact, the nonverbal indication of undivided attention and that they matter to you, you decided to stare into your phone’s LCD screen feigning interest in the conversation at hand? I’m sure you have. Hell, you might be doing it right now. (Thanks for your readership, by the way.)
Well, approximately 21 days ago, I decided I would conduct an experiment and refrain from logging-on all social media platforms for 21 days. Essentially, I lived offline as much as possible in this technologically-driven Information Age except for the obligatory Google search, reading news articles, responding to e-mail, and clearing out my voicemail box which reminds me, I’m really not a fan of voicemail especially when people leave long-winded messages or give the impression of urgency when it’s only a trivial matter.
Anyway, I didn’t announce my decision because who cares whether you stay or go, right? If you’re going to go, go and if you’re going to stay, stay because attention-seekers and egomaniacs are annoying. I simply wanted clarity. I wanted more headspace if you will. I wanted to be able to distinguish myself between the observer and the observed.
"Clarity dictates our perspective, and our perspective dictates our experience". - Headspace
And I don’t know if it actually takes 21 days, 21 weeks, 21 months, 21 years, or 21 bottles of beer on the wall to break a habit, but what I can tell you is that I learned a lot about my behavior. My experience was refreshing as it was revealing.
I began by deleting all social media apps from my iPhone---Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The first few days of my detox, if you want to call it that, were a bit nerve-wracking. FOMO, the fear of missing out roared loudly and urged me to check-in because years of subconscious programming don’t reformat themselves overnight. I realized then that if I were to succeed in completing my goal, I needed to keep my mind engaged in activities that would prevent a relapse. So, I focused on exercising, reading books, listening to audiobooks, doing much-needed tasks around the house, telephonic conversations, and face-to-face conversations. All of those things helped. After about a week, the compulsion began to subside although it didn’t go away completely.
I don’t think we realize how powerful our brains are and that every time we reach for our phones, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers, we are wiring our brain’s neural pathways for screen-based stimulation. Arguably so, the levels of dopamine that cater to the pleasure centers of our brains are at an all-time high because whether we accept it or not, the fact is, to our detriment, we are over stimulated with artificial, digitally modified communication.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that constantly updated web content is called a ‘feed’, but it does beg the question, what are we feeding ourselves? The distractions on the Internet are legion. For example, Instagram is a buffet of vibrantly colored, perfectly curated photos that typically present the good and rarely the bad. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself comparing the totality of your life to a stranger’s filtered highlight reel or visually fornicating with a person who is physically attractive, but internally toxic.
It’s a conundrum. We desire intimacy, true connection, and community yet more often than not, we seek it out from mediums that cannot and will not give it to us, not because they don’t necessarily want to, but simply because they aren’t designed to do so.
As sentient beings, we all have an intrinsic desire to belong, which is why we are triggered to constantly stay connected to something or someone. But when we are online, to what are we actually connecting and with whom are we connecting? A matrix of trending topics that ultimately have no bearing on our day-to-day lives? A network of complete strangers that only know us based on what we selectively present to them? Why should we invest so much of our valuable time and energy into that?
A few weeks ago I read a statement that said, “The answers to the world’s problems will not be found in the comments section.” I smirked after reading it, too, because it’s true. So many people are talking yet so few are actually connecting and more importantly, listening.
Leading US psychologist Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together: Why We Ask More From Technology and Less From Each Other said, “Connecting meaningfully with others in person requires us to be ourselves, openly and genuinely. Conversations by text or Facebook messenger may be filled with smile emojis, but they leave us feeling empty because they lack depth.”
She went on to say, “Without the demands and rewards of intimacy and empathy, we end up feeling alone while together online, and when we get together, we are quite frankly less prepared than before to listen. We have lost empathy skills. And of course, this, too, makes us more alone."
It’s no wonder we can be absentminded in the presence of unredeemable physical moments of our lives when we choose to inundate ourselves with vacuous digital stimulation.
Having said all of this, I am not anti-social. In fact, I’m going to reinstall the apps on my phone soon enough because I actually believe that social media is a very powerful tool when used to my benefit. What better way to give a brand or cause instant awareness on a global scale? Human rights campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, and #TakeAKnee have garnered a global consciousness due to their presence on social media. If you are an entrepreneur, it’s an excellent marketing tool. And, of course, it’s a great way to stay connected to friends and family that are geographically apart, but still, it shouldn’t be a replacement for organic connection.
Again, as I stated in the beginning, I learned a lot over the past three weeks and I plan to make some changes going forward. As an aspiring writer, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and engaging with others and social media is a viable platform for conversation. However, I won’t allow myself to become consumed by it. Divesting my energy from conversations and imagery that don’t serve the values that I have for myself is crucial to my sanity and to my growth.
You don’t have to do like I did and commit yourself to a 21-day fast, but, as needed, do consider taking a break to separate yourself from the cacophony of fake news and fake people so you can gain clarity about your life.