One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to be more mindful of how I’m spending my time and with whom I’m spending it. For me, that translated to less time spent alone staring at the ever-glowing screen of my laptop or pocket robot, and more time spent with the people I love, doing the things I enjoy.
Not that I don’t enjoy the quasi connectedness that comes from mobile devices and the social media applications that dwell within them – I am constantly in awe of the many magical things the interewebs can do – but I question the nature of the connection they provide.
As a dear friend of mine likes to say, “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.” Coming from him it’s funny because he doesn’t live his life online, but for others (myself included) that saying can become eerily true.
I would certainly classify myself as a serial poster. Facebook is my vice of choice, but I also dip in to Twitter and Instagram from time to time, and of course there’s the over-sharing I’m often wont to do on this blog.
I began to question my reasons for posting. And I wasn’t entirely happy with my answers.
Like so many ‘artistic types’ I have an insatiable compulsion to perform. Being somewhat of an introverted person by nature, social media became a very attractive, not to mention convenient medium with which to do it.
I tried to tell myself that by constantly posting hilarious dog videos, live-tweeting the Republican National Convention or detailing my latest encounter with the homeless man who likes to expose himself to me on the subway, that I’m helping others by bringing a laugh or a smile to their otherwise dreary day.
But really I just like the attention I get from it.
If enriching the lives of others is somehow an unintended byproduct of my vanity, then great, but I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that my motives are not 99.9999% selfish.
I write things, post photos and make (hopefully) witty commentary solely because I want you to think that I’m awesome. I desperately crave your approval. Yes, faceless internet friends, I’m talking to you. I want all of you to think I’m clever, funny, pretty, whatever…and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. There are certainly worse things I could be doing.
It’s when that desire for attention and approval from people who ostensibly don’t matter in real life overshadows what you’re doing when you’re with the people who do matter that it becomes a problem.
For me, the little ding of a Facebook notification or the whistle that accompanies the much-coveted re-tweet (perhaps the most valuable form of internet currency next to Bitcoin) brings with it the same spike in endorphins that come from a real life encounter with a boy I like. It’s a heady thing. It’s also alarmingly addictive.
While it’s by no means on the same level as, say, a heroin addiction, it’s not exactly healthy either. That’s why, in an effort to ‘heal thyself,’ I went on a diet. A diet consisting of only whole, natural, grass-fed, organic, real life, real time encounters – in other words, no social media…for 30 days.
It was mostly a success.
As with the breaking of any habit, the first week was the toughest. Ignoring the notifications that were demanding my attention felt like a sacrilege. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something, without being able to articulate precisely what.
I couldn’t give up email because it’s such a huge part of the way I do business, and I did have to check my Facebook messages once or twice because I got a few business-related messages that required immediate attention. But other than that, I’ve been totally out of the loop.
For instance, I don’t know what any of you have been eating. I don’t know about all of the adorable things your children have been doing. I probably missed a couple of New Year’s Eve engagements. Not to mention dozens of birthdays…
Conversely, none of you know about my daily trials and triumphs, like the epic two week stretch I went without having to move my car on account of the Chinese New Year, inclement weather and the memory of a black man’s indomitable dream; or that I’ve been cast in not one, but two shows for which I am currently in rehearsal; or that I started a new exercise program which lasted exactly seven and half minutes; or that I have a new obsession with tiny houses on wheels and how I kind of want to move out west and build one in the woods and live off the grid forever.
By removing the social media interactions from my day, I had much less use for my precious iPhone. Though I still listened to music, audiobooks and podcasts incessantly, those things add value to my life and require almost none of my time and energy in return, so I deemed them okay. I did have to turn off a lot of the notifications on my phone because the constant interruptions were very distracting.
The best part about not being glued to my phone every minute of every day is that it increased the quality of my real world connections exponentially. Nothing ruins good dinner conversation faster than whipping out your phone to take a picture of the meal and then check it a dozen more times to see who ‘liked’ it. Which is absolutely something I’ve been guilty of in the past and hope never to do again.
The other nice thing about taking a step back from my digital life is that I wound up being a lot happier with my real life. I recently discovered that as much as I love interacting on social media, it often makes me kind of sad.
Intellectually, I know that the majority of the things people post on social media is their personal highlight reel and they’re probably not as blissful as they seem on the screen (at least, I know it’s true in my case), but as a poor, fallible human, I can’t help but compare their seemingly superior circumstances to my own.
Facebook in particular seems to send me into a whirlwind of inadequacy and self-doubt. Unplugging for a while really gave me the opportunity to step back and gain some much-needed perspective. Despite appearances, I’m confident that everyone feels that their life is as mundane and disappointing as mine often feels. Which, in a way, is a comforting thought.
As my social media-free month came to a close, my resolve wavered a little bit. I’ll admit to checking my Facebook notifications more than once. I even ‘liked’ a status or two. But I no longer feel as though I’m living to post – a definite win.
I also received a handful of emails from friends who noticed my absence on their Newsfeed and expressed their concern. Those emails made my day. I even reached out to a few of them (by phone) to express my thanks and to assure them that I was all right.
Now that my self-imposed sabbatical is over, I will definitely go back to sharing my life on the internet, but I hope to do so in a way that is more mindful. I don’t necessarily want to change the sorts of things I post – I’m prepared to be just as ridiculous as ever – so long as I’m clear about the reasons I’m posting and I’m able to maintain a keen awareness for when it’s time to take another break.
So interwebbers, what’d I miss?