In the last year, I’ve written a few blogs on social networking, and the impact social networks have had on our generation and our culture. In the last few months I’ve been pondering some aspects of social networks. What I thought might make an interesting topic for blogging is to focus not on social networks and how we use them, but rather why we use social networks. Have you ever stopped to ask why everyone seems glued to their phones day in and day out? Why do we feel compelled to share random tidbits of our lives with the world. Why did we feel the need to take a picture of that cup on a table in a coffee shop at an “artistic” angle, choosing multiple “filters” with stupid names, with some cool abstract caption of random hipster song lyrics or author quotes? Why do we feel the need to tell the world about our workout habits, our eating habits, our small insignificant accomplishments, our big accomplishments, jokes, gossip, movie quotes, or random thoughts? I think there’s something to the compulsion to constantly update statuses, take pictures of everything, and tweet everything we do, think, and say.
A few months ago, circumstances in my life encouraged me to make the decision to take a break from all online social networks. I was off facebook, twitter, instagram, wordpress, path, and everything in between for about a month. That first week felt like a lifetime. The first few days I kept catching myself grabbing for my phone to get on facebook or instagram and do my 5 minute “scanning” ritual. I know you know what I’m talking about here: open facebook, take a quick glance at all the newest posts from the last few minutes, sit phone down for about 10 minutes, pick up phone and repeat. Sometime in the last few years I got in the habit of doing this ritual all day, every day. I was so attached to my phone that when I didn’t have it I would feel some small level of anxiety the entire time. It was as though in the back of my mind, if I was really honest about it, I was afraid I would miss some vital piece of information that was floating around out there in the greater webosphere. But that wasn’t ever going to be the case! I was never looking at information that was ever going to be pertinent to my life in any way…ever.
So why the anxiety? I remember back in the days when texting was still a new phenomenon sweeping the world and taking the minds and attention of every teenager with it, I would spend the majority of my day texting who knows how many people at the same time. After a while, I got used to always texting in every situation. Before long, it got so bad that if I wasn’t texting anyone, I felt lonely, sad, and bored. I felt as though I was being left out of the world. I would get, what I like to call, “phantom buzz” in my leg….That feeling where you could have sworn you felt your phone vibrate in your pocket, but your phone wasn’t even IN your pocket! Craziest thing ever.
I bet you’re reading this blog, nodding your head, and completely relating to many of the things I’m saying. I’d venture to say that, in this day and age, unless someone consciously doesn’t use social media sites, everyone is using social media sites. How many times do you use your phone to talk to someone? Of those times, what percentage, would you say, is by method of actually calling someone to talk to them, or someone calling you? Hardly ever, right? The majority of the time we communicate via text, twitter, facebook, instagram, or some other social media site. We communicate through statuses, comments, tweets, private messages, or texts. Some of us still use Email too. But thats pretty much it. Have you ever stopped to ask…why?
During my break from social media, I started to notice something that I never expected. I began to appreciate the quiet times in my life again. I started to notice and enjoy the little things in life. I started reading books again. I used my phone to learn about real things that were going on in the world. I had conversations with my family. I hung out with friends. My girlfriend and I went on dates, had deep, meaningful conversations (she took a break from social media as well). All of the sudden, I had all this time on my hands. I had a drive to be productive again. What I noticed was that every day had precious moments. At first I thought maybe my life had suddenly just become better and I was just taking the time to enjoy it. But after a while I realized that my life had always been this great, I just never stopped long enough to notice or appreciate it. My life was filled with many brief, pointless moments of keeping up with other people’s brief, pointless moments, that I forgot what It was like to have real relationships in my life. It was as though for a brief moment I came up to breathe…And it was a gloriously refreshing breath.
After my break, I went back to facebook, I went back to twitter, I started a new instagram, and everything returned to normal, except it wasn’t. It couldn’t be how it was before, because I was awakened to an old truth I had long forgotten. My reasons for being on these sites were different than they were before. Thats when I noticed the difference.
One day a few weeks ago, I was sitting in a room full of people, all on their phones. They all would randomly make comments about what they were all reading about, but one thing stood out to me. Someone would be glued to their phone screen, reading status after status, comment after comment, all bug eyed and zombie-like, until they saw that someone “liked” their status, picture, or link. That person would then light up like the 4th of July. You would have thought someone just gave them a thousand dollars. The only thing people seemed to be talking about was who liked what was on their page! That got me thinking….And the conclusion I came to has impacted me greatly.
Maybe the reason we feel compelled to constantly be plugged in to social media sites is actually quite a simple truth. It makes us feel loved. We are so far removed, at this point, from the benefits of true love and friendship, that we have let our self worth be defined by how many “likes” we get on a facebook status, or how many “retweets” we get. If this is true, that would mean that the real reason we feel the need to constantly post things about our life online is because we’re afraid. We are afraid that if we don’t continually post things about our lives, we will be forgotten. We will cease to exist to the “world” around us. We have become extremely isolated by bad imitations of the social life we so desperately long for and try to create in brief, broken moments throughout the day. We are so consumed by our ready devices of social media that we most likely often miss true moments of connection with the real world around us. I know this is true of me, and I bet its true for most of you.
Since this realization I’ve begun taking an inventory of my life. I started looking at things in my life and assessing if they have any real worth or purpose in my life, and if they don’t, I mentally flag that thing as something that could be a potentially dangerous thing in my life that could become more important to me than it should. All the while, I’ve been taking note of the people and moments in my life worth remembering and cherishing. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to invest in people’s lives more, and use my time and energy to pour into things that will truly last.
One of the ways I want to do this is by actually talking to people. Texting is a great invention. I’m not knocking it. I think if someone is in a meeting, at work, or just in a place where they can’t talk, and you need to tell them something important like “hey don’t forget the milk” or “I won’t be home until _______” then it’s great. But one of my pet peeves is when people try to have a full conversation with me over text. I’d like to make a point to call people more. I think there’s something to hearing someone’s voice when you talk to them. Plus it’s just plain easier. We say texting is easier, but we’re just making excuses. Calling someone generally means more to that person. Why? Because somewhere deep in their subconscious, they acknowledge that you are taking time out of your busy day, and giving it to them. You are saying “Here. This is my life, and I want to share it with you”. But the sad reality is, we just don’t want to connect with someone that much.
I could go on and on about the reasons we may have reduced the majority of our connections to social media. I think some of us do it because we can retain a sense of control. We can give the appearance that we are being intimate and open, while keeping all our walls up, and getting what we need out of all the fake connections. Its an instantaneous but momentary thing. Social media is a drug, and we are junkies. Marketing firms know it, Corporations know it, THE MAN knows it, everyone knows it…And they know how to take advantage of it.
I’m not trying to make the argument that social media is “of the devil”, or anything like that. I think social media is the most amazing and fascinating invention since the internet, to be honest with you.
I would equate my opinion of social media with my opinions about alcohol. I have absolutely no problem with alcohol. I have many drinks that I enjoy. I have quite a fondness for good beer. But I approach beer the same way I approach all other beverages. I drink it because I like it. I don’t drink beer because of what I can get from it. People drink alcohol in excess because they are wanting something more than the drink itself, they want the feeling it gives them. People drink too much because they want to be drunk. Sure, some people drink more than they should without knowing their limits, and mistakes happen, but most of the time its because they have tested their limits and they want what comes after they have pushed the limit.
I think social media is like alcohol. I can approach social media sites with a healthy fear of what it can do to me, and be responsible with my time, and it’s not a bad thing. But when something as meaningless as facebook starts to dictate how I live my life, which people I’m in contact with, what things I think, what feelings I feel, and steals the moments from my life that I could have enjoyed, had I not been on facebook for a third of my day, then it has become more important to me than it should be, and it’s no longer a harmless, effective tool in staying in touch with people, but rather a dangerous element in my life that could easily lead to depression, loneliness, and an emptiness that causes me to abandon logic and question my worth to those around me, and be less motivated to take risks with people. I end up trading living life with real people for a false sense of safety and security because I’m controlling every aspect of my social life.
There’s no denying that we are lost in this world of imitations. We are searching for meaning, and we are coming up empty. We don’t know what we’re doing, or where we are going. We want to feel alive. We want to feel as though we aren’t alone, that we won’t be forgotten, all the while we are neglecting the people who matter most to us.
I’ll leave you with this….
Don’t lose sight of what is important! We get caught up in the disconnected world and try to survive by means of empty, meaningless relationships. What we need is still right in front of us.
I don’t do challenges very often, but this once I’m going to challenge you to participate in an experiment with me. Try to take a day, maybe three if you’re feeling saucy, and take a complete break from all social media/texting. If you need/want to talk to somebody, call them! If you miss someone, go see them! If you love someone, tell them! Don’t text it, don’t email it, don’t facebook message it, say it. Somewhere along the way we forgot the power we have in our voice. There’s a reason why its so much harder to talk about things in person, or say things out loud. It’s because when we say something out loud, it means more. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but it does. So why not speak truth, encouragement, and love into someone’s life today? I bet deep down, if you’re really honest about it, you wish someone would do the same for you. Sure, it’s uncomfortable. It might feel awkward. But in the end you’ll be glad you did it.
So don’t freak out if you get a call from me, I’m just trying to get back to living, and I’d like you to join me.