This isn?t a detox, it?s a life change
Licensed from Adobe Stock // Vladimir Sazonov
We spend our days chasing attention and affection. Oscillating between the two states like a metronome. Not understanding that they?re two halves of a whole. We believe claps, likes, hearts, retweets, and shares will sustain us. Crumbs stored in the tomb that is our computer, our phone, and the flicker from our screen is an opening of the lid. Look at us peering in. Look at all the mothballs fluttering out. Our technology is new, but our wants are a sarcophagus.
Hold on to these virtual crumbs because it?s all we?ve got, we say. Hold on tight. What we fail to see is that we can?t hold a like, a heart, and a clap in our hand.
It?s only when we peer further in when we pry the lid open with our hands and jump in, and wade deep, that we realize the tomb is black and bottomless. Yet, we keep hitting refresh, reboot, and reload, in the hope that the crumbs will accumulate to form a net of attention and affection that will break our fall. A net that will lift us up and carry us to a home that?s forever in foreclosure.
If only we had switched off that computer, that phone. If only we held people instead of metal. If only we heard their voice instead of the shrill of notifications. If only we tasted the meals that united us instead of the solitary meals we take with our technological appendages. If only we saw people as they are instead of what they pretend to be behind a screen. If only we smelled the nape of their neck when we hugged them hello instead of nothing at all.
Last week, I shuttered the remains of my social media accounts. I took my personal blog offline. I?ve only LinkedIn and Medium left. People responded in curious ways ? from ardent concern to confusion. It?s been over a year since I abandoned Facebook and people are still shocked when I tell them that I?ve deleted my account. Is everything okay? How can you not be on Facebook? How will you keep up with people? Some even viewed my departure as a form of snobbery.
To which I respond that I spent literally half of my life not online because it wasn?t available to us. While I had Hotmail and AOL accounts in the late 90s, very few of my friends were online. No one really thought it would take off like it did, forever changing the way we connect and communicate. We were still making calls, writing letters, leaving voicemails, and seeing one another in person. So when people ask me how will I live (with a level of fear that borders on frightening, if I?m being honest) I tell them I already have.
I tell them I?ve lost more than I?ve gained. In the end, being on social media didn?t give me much. It never made me feel better about myself. I felt even less connected to the people I thought I knew. I discovered things about them I didn?t want to face or know (read: their politics). Whenever I met someone I knew from social media, we laughed when we said that we didn?t resemble the people we knew from our screens. People thought I would be bombastic and intimidating; they hadn?t expected someone soft-spoken and shy ? chatty only when I got to know you, louder only when I got to know you.
I hated the way we performed on platforms. In person, it was hard to pretend. People sensed it in your voice, mannerisms, the way you averted your eyes. It?s harder for me to lie in person, especially to someone I care about, love.
Without social media, I realized two things: I have more time and I have to work harder. The work is a muscle I haven?t exercised in decades. We?ve become passive in our consumption, which sometimes frightens me. We accept Facebook status updates as sustenance. We consume a shocking level of factual inaccuracy on Twitter. We wallow in our paralyzing self-doubt on Instagram.
Now, I have to contact the people I care about. I have to hear their voice, read longer emails. Now, I have to aggregate the news sources I read every day to make sure I?m getting a balanced view on politics and world events ? I get the facts, I form my opinions. My former best friend of two decades is a Trump supporter, and although we no longer speak, I thank her for pressing upon me the need to study both sides of the issues. A lawyer, she said, you have to understand them to effectively argue them.
Without social media, I have the time to write and read more. My work is better. I?m selective about the people I let into my world and the degree in which they enter it. No longer is my attention parsed equally amongst friends, acquaintances, and strangers. My attention span has gotten better (it?s not what it was, but I?m no longer skimming and I?m less distracted). I?m calmer, more reasonable, patient, less stressed because I was no longer a lazy circus performer.
I have to make active choices in my life. I have to work to get the attention and affection I believe I deserve, and for the first time in years, I feel whole. I?m no longer staring into a black box; I?m sitting in the light across from real people I can touch and hold. I wave to friends over a screen and hear their voices, see their expressions ? all the things we take for granted, but it?s the things that bind us, make us human.