I took to social media like a duck to water. I loved Facebook from the very beginning. Staying in touch regularly and networking is a challenge for me so I embrace the ability to easily communicate with my peers, friends and family all over the world. To post pictures in real-time, instead of waiting until I get home and writing an email is a godsend. The subtle and not-so-subtle platform to show off a bit, get a little (or a lot) political, dabble in new ideas, feel “trendy” and of course stay in touch is a pool I feel very comfortable swimming around in. Twitter is a great place for quick news headlines and I love to post my beautiful “artsy” photos on Instagram. Instagram or “Insta” makes me feel cool. I draw the line at Snapchat though, it might just be too trendy and too cool for me.
So what’s wrong? Why post about this anyway? Putting the political firestorm on social media aside, there are some pitfalls, a dark side if you will. Enter, the smart phone. Depending on the circumstances, it has largely become quite acceptable to be “on your phone” all the time. Presumably on or flipping back and forth between different social platforms. Even if the intention is purely to check email, for me, it always leads down the rabbit hole to Facebook or Twitter and invariably to Instagram. And in that moment, and all the moments that follow, my attention and focus are now facing downward into the world inside that little screen. Full of compelling photos of far off places I’d like to visit, updates on friends’ charmed existence, distasteful and sometimes disgusting posts, cute puppies and without a doubt, loads of negative and distressing commentary on the state of the world and our impending demise. I used to justify it, saying to myself, I just love knowledge, the more the better. But there is definitely a price to pay for giving your undivided attention to this jumble of random input. The price for giving undivided attention to the negative, dark, sad, offensive material is probably much higher than we imagine.
I started to let myself question it though. On a personal level. I am sure there are many studies out there that argue my point, however, we tend to mistrust studies that tell us things we don’t want to hear. So, this is my own, unfunded, perfectly biased closed study. First, I questioned. How could I give any particular item I am reading more undivided attention than to the person sitting right in front of me or the task I need to accomplish? It makes no sense but it happens. There is a problem when your hand is cramped, your neck is cramped and you are at the doctor wondering what in the world could be causing such pain. Is it the first thing you look at when you wake up and the last thing you put down before you sleep? If so you might be down the rabbit hole. Like me. When I took a step back and realized these warning signs and more, I could not believe it was me.
The first step is to admit it. Throw out the excuse book. I’ve used them all. “I need to be on my phone anyway to check email so I might as well take a look” morphs into looking at the screen in every line you wait in, at a family celebratory dinner while waiting for the table, in the grocery line and pretty soon, during a movie you wanted to see, really bad. Like an adult pacifier. The second question is really, what is the benefit? And more importantly, who/what are you ignoring while your busy sifting through a few happy and a lot more negative posts?
Ignoring friends, family and even my husband was not a big enough reason for me to even question this much less modify my habits. (I proudly considered myself a master multi-tasker, but more on that later) No, finally, it was ultimately realizing how much I am hurting myself. Beyond the mildly annoying physical twinges, I read and read and read, posts and then the stories attached to those posts and then the comments. I despaired at the negative discourse, started to believe this snippet of society is representative of everyone, except me of course. Lamented my inability to fix well, the world. If I wasn’t reading about it I was talking about it, to my poor husband most of the time, my family, then to friends and even some co-workers. If I was in a conversation about something important, something real, that impacts my life, I was only half listening. This annoyed many and I trucked on with it anyway. (thank goodness for the love of my family). Deep inside I knew, and what I knew began to take shape, and the knowing became pervasive. It started with a story I read (on Facebook of course) about the damaging effects of going to bed with, and waking up with your phone. Next, in the glaring light of self-observation I realized the obvious. Ding! Epiphany ahead! I spend a lot of time planning and curating travel and experiences, purportedly for my family’s enrichment and enjoyment. But, buried somewhere at the bottom of my intention is the insidious sentiment, “this will make for great photos for….” gasp! Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat? Well fine, okay, they are the modern version of the old photo album but it gets worse. Much uglier in fact. I finally realized that while on said adventures and experiences it isn’t the posting or sharing that is the problem. I don’t stop, I don’t stop consuming, reading and absorbing the black hole of information long enough to actually be present and enjoy the moment. I finally learned or re-learned, waiting is okay, a quiet moment is okay. I don’t need to be entertained or pacified every minute of my day. Phew! It’s a long post I know, but I had to get this out. Recovery is slow going and habits hard to break. Initially I stopped following any negative pages and accounts. I watched a whole concert without posting anything last week. Now, I leave the phone in another room or in my bag as much as possible, especially observing a complete ban in the evening, before bed and before I leave the house in the morning. Mostly……..