Like most people, social media has played a major role in my life since our formal introduction at age thirteen via an AOL CD received in the mail. The CD promised a random amount of hours to peruse websites, chatrooms and read unlimited e-mail, all for free! How bad could that be, right? I get on and get off before a charge is ran through my mother’s bank account. All I had to do was insert my 56K modem wire into the phone jack (“Nobody try to use the phone while I’m online!”) create a screename and…..
Eighteen years later, I’m still reminded by my mother of the charges. It was as if the monotone greeting of “Welcome. You’ve Got Mail”, was a hit of hard drugs and I needed my fix. AOL had somehow managed to draw me into this world of neither reality or complete fiction because it contained real people. I was hooked. Then suddenly chatrooms turned into profiles and IMs turned into DMs. Myspace exploded on the scene, followed by Downelink and then Facebook in 2004. Oh, Facebook. How I revelled in the exclusivity of having to be a college student to sign onto it. *Sigh*
Somewhere between the birth of Twitter and the rebranding of Instagram did social media find its way from ‘only being used after school’ to ‘constantly in my face’. I became excited and worried at the same damn time. But how could something that I enjoyed so much in my youth be anything but grand in my adulthood, right? (Double-blink).
I found myself feeling weird and disconnected from the physical people in my reality as time passed and my friend’s list grew. At one point in my life, I prided myself on meeting a lot of people and then collecting them, in a sense, on my social media to keep in contact. But after my list surpassed three thousand, I knew there was a problem. When people started approaching me in the street and striking up conversations as if we had known each other our entire lives but the only interaction we ever had was me hitting ‘Confirm’ by their profile photo, I knew there was a problem.
It didn’t stop at awkward social interactions. An unspoken competition had erupted amongst once encouraging peers. People no longer cared to ask how you are doing but what are you doing and is it being done better than me? Body image and personal finance issues bursts onto newsfeeds (in enters the pyramid schemes and body alteration placebos). Every day there was a reminder of racial wars, despite being in one of the most heavily diverse eras. Porn slapped me in the face as soon as I logged on, someone needed a donation for their gofundme; another fake news article riling people up…I CAN’T.
So I didn’t, for exactly 30 days and what I discovered or rediscovered about life was pretty f&*king dope.
It was like, a new taste of freedom
Once deactivating my accounts, it was as if a huge boulder had been lifted off of my back and I was taking my first gulp of fresh air. I felt like a ninja-spy-pimp going off the grid. The feeling of not documenting my every move, thought and whereabouts was refreshing. Interactions with strangers was even more pleasant. I didn’t have to worry if the person I was engaging with was going to tag me in a photo, write randomness on my wall or spam my timeline. I was having conversations for the sake of having conversations and it was great! It wasn’t based around who posted what, who had a baby, who gained weight or who so and so was with this week. They were pure organic exchanges of words combined with facial expressions and body language. I liked that sh*t!
You can actually get stuff done!
You don’t realize how much time you spend dragging your thumb up and down your screen until you log out. All of a sudden, I was meeting writing deadlines, on time for gatherings and knocking out weekly agendas WITHIN the week! Whhhaaaaat?! Without the distracting information of others, my mind was more focused on the tasks at hand. Those “five minute” scroll breaks that turn into an hour or more if the comment section gets too juicy was no longer a factor. It was just me, my scheduler and my goal smashing adrenaline.
There is withdrawal and your smartphone becomes dumb.
The first two weeks of going cold turkey were the easiest. But sh*t got real by the third week. It had gotten so bad that I started sending photos to my mother with hashtag descriptions. I even created a group chat just so I could have the feeling of streaming words across my screen. But it wasn’t the same. My phone was the driest it had been since the introduction of smartphones. I received texts from people I had forgotten had my number, just to check up on me since they hadn’t seen me online….and then that was it…conversation over….no funny memes….no spirit-hugging cat videos…no nothing. Just a blank oversized phone with functions that I’ve forgotten how to use. Besides grandma, no one was calling to have an idle chat. I had even became comfortable with leaving my phone home while I ran errands. Why am I paying this high phone bill again?
But you adapt and start to re-appreciate reality. #NoFilter
When my wife and I decided to deactivate our accounts, I had a slight nervousness. What are we going to talk about?! How are we going to keep up with the rest of the world if we don’t know what’s going on? I sat stiffly at our dining table awaiting my plate, then as she sat down in front of me she asked a question that I’m positive had been asked every time we did this but it sounded so foreign. “How was your day?” Just then, it was as if I was looking at her for the first time in a long time. Our eyes met across the table like distant lovers, not distracted by glowing screens. I smiled, she smiled back. Without our phones at the table, I could appreciate the full beauty of my wife’s face, all of my senses could engulf my meal and I could empty my mind without being attacked, provoked or challenged. It didn’t take long for this new perspective to seep into other areas of life. I embraced nature more, we visited museums and old friends. Not being on social media hadn’t stopped our lives. It helped us to focus more on enjoying it and not so much on capturing a photo of it.
The return to social media was intoxicating…..
After the 30 days were over, the first thing I did was log back into one of my main Facebook accounts. The feeling that rushed over me is damn near indescribable. I want to compare it to cocaine or maybe even crack but since I have had neither, I’m just going to say that it had me wired. The likes, comments and inbox messages poured in as if I was a missing person who had been found. The amount of attention physically made me jittery and as I bounced around laughing aloud and replying back to comments with physical speech as I typed, my wife had to remind me that it was only us in the apartment. It became really weird, really fast. Friend requests came in quicker than I had time to look over their profiles. Tags to parties and posts started up like clockwork.
The clogs to the machine had started turning and it was only a matter of time before someone was to post something about racism….yep…there it goes.
I was able to catch myself quickly and after an hour (or so) I put my phone on mute and laid it face down. I no longer cared to experience the emotional rollercoaster that timeline had to offer. I didn’t want to know everything that was happening in everybody’s life because it took away from me fully paying attention to my life.
I am grateful to social media for playing a major role in the frequency of communication but sadly it is at the expense of social disconnection.
So, would I do it again? Maybe, in the future I’ll limit my social media to business purposes only but first, I would seriously have to downgrade to a flip phone and give my phone number to more people.