About a month ago I found myself at a diner in downtown Denver at 3 in the morning with a healthy buzz and a plate full of bacon. I had spent the evening at Lost Lake Lounge hanging with my friends Wiredogs, who were playing the after party for Bad Religion’s show, and Nerf, from KTCL.
After the show, while saying goodbyes, I met this girl. Spontaneity took over and we decided to grab a bite at the diner down the road. We were both having a good time, and at some point, we exchanged Facebook information. When she excused herself to wash her hands, I had this overwhelming urge to ‘Facebook stalk’ her profile to quickly learn a bit more about her.
It was in that moment that something struck me. What type of society have we become where it is socially acceptable to spy on someone we’ve just met? I put my phone into my pocket, and took another sip of coffee. My mind began to churn on all the changes that have happened to our culture since the beginning of the social media explosion. A somewhat curious unease began to come over me.
I’ve been a proponent of online networking since even before the MySpace days, having run a few groups and discussion boards as a teenager in the late ’90s. Nowadays, it’s become a regular daily activity, and I’ll admit, until that moment in the diner, I’ve never seriously considered any repercussions of it. With those things bouncing around my head, which were more than likely enhanced by the lingering effects of whiskey, I decided to give it all up for a month and see what really was at the root of this newly discovered unease.
The first thing I did when I got home was delete all the social media apps on my phone and tablet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… I removed them all. I also logged out from all the sites on my laptop, then went to bed, wanting to fall asleep before the sun came up. I closed my eyes, feeling good about my experiment.
I awoke mid-morning, and as habit, reached for my phone with the intention of checking my Facebook. Remembering my previous night’s decision, I chuckled. Facebook has become my newspaper. It’s my go-to for news, current hot topics, and the general knowledge of goings on of friends, acquaintances, and specific personal interests. The early morning routine was going to be the hardest to break.
Throughout the first few days I was surprised how many times I reached for my phone to check my feeds. The habit of spending my time reading digital nonsense was thoroughly ingrained. In its place, I began to read quite a few more news and special interest articles. One thing that I noticed almost immediately was that I began to have even more things to talk about with people. Throughout the day the conversations that I had felt more meaningful and lively.
The urge to check my feeds subsided after about the first week. I found myself on my phone for shorter periods of time, becoming lost on the internet far less than before. I took pictures without feeling the need to upload them to Instagram. I got a cup of coffee without the desire to ‘check in’ just so that I could play my part as a cog in the machine, for the sole purpose of giving other people fodder for doing the same exact ‘vicarious living through others’ that I had been doing for years.
I came to realize that, as a time waster, Facebook is king; a maelstrom of information that sucks you in, where seconds turn to hours in the blink of an eye. Time is the only equal currency that we all have, and the idea of how much I’ve been wasting was a bit staggering.
It also came to mind that the time that I had been spending looking at social media feeds was probably 75% scrolling past stupid memes and play-by-play posts from my friends about their daily happenings, with a good majority of those being complaints and rants about things going wrong in their lives. The 25% of the posts that I actually liked seeing were buried in the midst of these, and finding them was like panning for gold in polluted waters.
Throughout the month I kept in contact with my friends through text and messenger apps, and also a bit more than usual of old school talking on the phone. Not knowing people’s day to day schedules actually made talking to them that much more of an adventure. I think social media, while at its core is about making the world smaller by putting our friends at only a fingertip distance, is actually changing the dynamic of friendships in a less than positive way. We no longer have a chance to miss people. Their lives scroll before our eyes, so that when we actually do see them, we have very little of substance to talk about. Thinking back, I’ve found that more often than not I exponentially enjoy the company of those friends who hardly post on social media, when compared to the chronic over sharers.
While being out of the loop was very refreshing, there were elements that I missed, albeit not many. (If I missed your birthday, or such, I apologize!) Stepping back into the digital world with a clearer vision how using this technology is actually affecting me will allow me to set up personal parameters so that I don’t get sucked back into the pitfalls of over consumption. My plan is to create groups of friends within the social media sites. That way, I could populate my feeds with those people and pages that are most likely to post things that I’d actually be interested in spending my time reading.
There is no doubt in my mind that social media is a powerful, and very useful tool. As with any tool, if used improperly, it can be dangerous. It’s like they say, “Sugar ain’t poison, but sugar will kill you…”
Oh, and the irony of the fact that that I’m posting this on social media isn’t lost on me, in case you were wondering!