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Imagine a sea of people sitting in a town square, fully present, deeply centered, heads down in a state of rapt attention and effort. They are staring down intensely with palms resting in their laps yet they are not meditating. Hint: Their fingers are frantic.
Good guess. They are refreshing their Facebook feeds. (Winky face)
Back in 2008, on Meetup.com, on the profile of a friend, I read “browsing” as one of her hobbies. Until I got my own iPhone in 2009, I didn’t know that “surfing the web” if done for hours on end could indeed be a hobby. As years went by, notifications on Twitter and Facebook had made me into a person zapped by tasers or a person with an acutely unidentified neurological disorder. I became a master of content curation, carefully pruning and untagging myself from pictures I didn’t want others to see from the bygone weekend of partying. At home and in social settings I became an expert at phubbing, the practice of giving preference to your phone than real people with whom you are sharing, say the dinner table.
Instead of learning how to cope with real life, I turned to technology to help distract me. My phone continued turning into a firehose of information. I lived my offline life solely for the purpose of creating a cute post on Facebook or a breathtaking picture on Instagram. Like everyone else, I saw “trends” I wanted to follow, which I didn’t at the time realize were just breaking news based on the whims of background application algorithms ironically “personalized” for us.
I liked my friends’ posts not knowing that they were hawking products which were pyramid schemes. The “be your own boss” industry made me wonder what I should be doing to earn extra income on the side not realizing that these were Mary Kate’s new generation version of “direct sales” businesses.
To stop seeing fake ‘copyright’ status updates which started with “I do declare the following…..”, I carefully clicked on hiding those updates not realizing all the time I was wasting. I turned into an armchair activist by asking people to support digital equality this or net neutrality that, not fully understanding what those words meant to me.
I read disturbing status updates like, “My daughter is no more, please pray for her soul.” from an aunty whose grown daughter had passed away suddenly. In the same minute, I would read, “A nice sunny day for a beautiful 7 mile run at the foothills of the gorgeous Swiss Alps.” Forgetting about the tragedy that had just crossed my mind, I would roll my eyes at this latest update.
This is what my non Indian friends thought of their food, “Literally NO wait and my fave, Bellini and French toast… Not sorry at all.” And this is what my Indian friends made for lunch, “beans vepudu, majjiga pulusu, mamidikaya pappu, beans kobbari curry.”
This is the review of a music app called Saavn that I read on a friend’s feed. Music indeed has no language (or grammar) barrier. “suprb nd lisnd my favourts ,i enjoyd fully with dis site, ossam music yar thnks for this site 2 gvng such a oppurtunity 2 custmrs, nd be continu like dis only…..”
An update from a friend like “Rolling in my new wheels” would send me in an envious frenzy, making his life a real life mystery for me to see where he and his car will end up at. There are countless other types of posts that I don’t even have the real estate to mention. For me the worry of people I didn’t want to see what I liked and commented was constantly exceeding the pleasure I was getting out of watching videos of men dancing in high heels. But, I hung around because of FOMO (Fear of missing out) and because I didn’t want my friends to forget my existence.
6 years into Facebook, one day, as I heard Zadie Smith say that people who don’t seem to have time for anything don’t know how to prioritize, I felt ashamed of how I was spending my days. That instant, I quit social media cold turkey.
But is this self inflicted hobby so harmful? Some facts around social media:
* 35 to 49 year old Americans spend 7 hours on Social media per week.
* Some 208,300 pictures are posted to Facebook and 27,800 images are uploaded to Instagram every minute.
* At the end of the First quarter of 2017, the daily active user count on Facebook was at 1.28 billion.
* According to Pew research center the percentage of people who stalk friends and family on it is 68%. Those of who play games is 14%.
* From 2014: Facebook’s Like and Share buttons are seen 22 billion times a day, making them some of the most-viewed design elements ever created.
I recently read an article on a feature of Snapchat called “Streaks”. Definition of Streak from Quora: To keep a streak going, you and the other person much EACH send at least one Snapchat to each other every day. When someone asks you to start a streak on Snapchat, just make sure you send them a snap every day (and they do the same), and it should go fine.
Kids on Snapchat are so stressed about maintaining their streaks that they employ their friends to keep posting on their behalf while they are on vacations. What in the world is happening?
From childhood, we are encouraged to keep our bodies clean, our homes and our surroundings clean, and to watch the food that we put into our “temples” and to exercise daily. Then how about practicing mental decluttering for the sake of our brains? As technology workers form the majority of the workforce and as the use of “smart” phones increase in the world, there is a need for taking stack of all the digital garbage floating around as we swim in this modern world of ours.
There is an argument in favor of social media and the power of social capital that everything gets better if shared. But everyone who has used any social media app knows that our experience on social media is solitary. We all seem to be living in silent desperation over our mid life crises. In Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google, analyzes our private search engine and public social media footprints and shows us the hypocrisy of our lives. If we are searching for IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) on Google secretly, we are updating our Facebook statuses with pristine beach vacations to the Caribbean. “Taking my Honda for a spin.” Said no Facebook status ever.
For Facebook to be an effective tool or a resource of efficient communication and networking, we should be able to work it rather than passively let it work us. How many of us are able to show self control while checking feeds and timelines or in general while using the internet. But our brains haven’t evolved at a rate of how social media apps release their newest versions every few weeks. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri suggests that our cognitive revolution happened 70,000 years ago to our hunter gatherer forefathers which changed the course of our history. Simply put, our brains have not been primed for the technological revolution.
Digital minimalism allows us to clear up so much time it will seem incredulous at first. You will actually be able to laugh at your kids’ jokes without feeling constipated about all the things you still have to get done before hitting the sack. With all the time you have left over, you can pick up the phone and call the person you haven’t seen since college to thank them for shaping the course of your destiny in a certain way. Tell them that you think of them often but social media had gotten in the way until now. The first conversation is going to be awkward, since nobody has received a phone call in a few years now.
Take your life offline, restore your social networking skills in person. Don’t watch endless videos of incredible basketball shots, play them. Do what truly impacts people around you with the unique values you can bring to the table. Having good intentions is just not enough, you have to get up and do the consequential. When was the last time you were involved in a conversation where you talked with friends not about buying something of value, wearing something of value, selling something of value, but living a life of values?
Stop snooping up on people’s business and avoid letting others get into yours. Even the names of the latest app blockers available for our phones are trying to tell us something about the distracting nature of social media: Freedom, Selfcontrol and Unplugged. Forget the need for validation via social media, your grandmother didn’t need it. Remember that she did not expect her daughter to celebrate her via “mothers’ day” updates on Facebook. Unplug and you will end up on the gorgeous Swiss Alps and still not feel the need to tell me about it.
Go to settings page, then onto the General tab, and under the Manage account, click on “Deactivate your account” option. Sure, you will miss your friends’ blurry family selfies leaving you with withdrawal symptoms resulting in sensory deprivation. You will miss those moments spent in deep wonder watching “Train pushers shoving customers onto commuter trains in Tokyo” videos. But on the positive side, you won’t have to see shared videos of celebrities with vocal fry, talking like they have marbles in their mouths.
Imagine how terrible it would be to go to therapy for being delusional. Imagine getting treated for grandiosity, jealousy or paranoia. Phew. I initially wanted to name this post, Shut the FB up. You get the point.