It vibrated again. For the fourth time in six seconds, someone who I’d never met had clicked “like” on a comment I’d made beneath a post written by someone else I’d never met. I picked up my phone and cleared the notification but was somehow sucked into the Facebook notifications list. Thirty minutes later, I looked up—bleary-eyed and with a crick in my neck and a bladder about to explode. I knew it was time. I needed to take a long, honest look at my usage of social media and how it had started to change my behavior in ways that didn’t make me proud.
But how? Isn’t everyone on social media? You’d like to think that. It’s easier to rationalize compulsive addiction if you can convince yourself that everyone else is doing the same thing. It must just be the way things are, right? You can’t change the accelerating march of technology.
And then there’s my business. I’m a novelist and co-owner of a publishing company. What would happen to my readers or customers if I suddenly disappeared from the social platforms? It’s almost impossible to be a digital retailer without digital advertising.
Would my colleagues ostracize me? We’re hardwired to stay in the herd. It’s a survival mechanism going back thousands of years. If you wandered off into the wilderness alone, you might never return to the tribe. Becoming an outlier is evolutionary suicide.
I’m an addict. I’m self-aware enough to understand my triggers, even if I’m not always smart enough to deal with them. It’s easier to rationalize your behavior than it is to change it.
If I kept doing what I was doing, if I stayed inside the numbing safety of the herd, I wouldn’t get eaten, but I’d never truly be free either. Staying would mean keeping the protection offered by my social connections while becoming more addicted to my digital compulsions. But at what cost?
The constant interruptions had intruded into every aspect of my life, my work, my family. An act of compliance with the digital overlords would keep me enslaved to them. I would never be truly free to live, work, thrive, love—unless I cut out the cancer.
I can’t remember the last time I logged into Facebook. That’s not entirely true. I recently logged in to place a few ads for my business, but I ignored the hundreds of notifications staring at me from the top right corner of the screen. I had a moment, like walking past a table on a sidewalk during a hot summer day with an attractive woman behind it holding a “free beer” sign. My finger hovered over the notifications, and for a split second, I was tempted to “just take a quick peek and see what everyone is up to.” But I didn’t because I knew what I’d find. Body shaming, political rhetoric, cat videos. That was probably what I had been missing. Adios, bullshit.
So now, my life must be stress-free. Easy. Slow. No, far from it. After walking away from social media and ignoring news on all mediums, I’m not living the life of a Zen Buddhist monk. But I can also say that I’m not missing anything. When there’s a major news story, I hear about it. And if it’s really important, I allow myself a few minutes on Google. But most of the time, the inflammatory news fires of today are the ephemeral ashes of tomorrow, blown away by the wind and subsumed back into the atmosphere, leaving nothing but a faint hint of smoke.
Most of my online friends and real-world friends have accepted my decision to abandon social media, and some have even followed me. The tumbleweeds blowing across my online profile don’t bother me the way they did at first, my FOMO relegated to the same place as my desire to grab one of those free beers from the woman with the beer stand.
I haven’t stopped communicating digitally, but now when I do, it’s with intention and with people who are important to me and my work. And surprisingly, this introvert (INTJ, to be specific) has become more social since leaving social media. I’ve begun to realize the respect, magic, and synergy that happens when two humans sit across from each other and talk without a piece of plastic between them.
I was never one to determine my worth on the metrics developed by social media. I’d never put much stock in how many followers, or reposts, or likes I’d accumulated because it’s not real. Brainstorming a story idea over a cup of coffee is real. Listening to live music in a sketchy blues club is real. Living without being tethered to the social media beast is real.
And if you’re not living an authentic life, what’s the point?
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