A couple of weeks ago, I came very close to swearing Facebook off completely1 after some posts sent me off into a spiral of negativity which included text-message rants to friends like this:
What’s more important: the delivery of the message, or showing the world that you sent it? Obviously, the former. But then why is my Facebook feed filled with spouses and friends publicly tagging each other with messages that pre-Facebook would have been delivered in a far more personal way: direct and deliberate communication.
Is this new public way of communicating an improvement? Or are the posters just so desperate for approval that the chance of a squirt of endorphins delivered from a casual press of a Like button is worth diluting the potency of a nice gesture?
Have you ever seen a Facebook post and asked yourself “What was this person trying to communicate by sharing this?” Every post has a purpose, and when the post in question is basically a private message to one other person, what was that person trying to communicate by saying it in a public forum?
Most of the time, I can’t find a good reason. I usually put that sort of thing in the same camp as frequently posting selfies: obnoxious, and attention/approval-seeking2. And apparently I’m not alone in feeling annoyed. A 2013 study determined that excessive selfie sharing online makes almost everyone like you less.
“Our research found that those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships. This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves.”
“It’s worth remembering that the information we post to our ‘friends’ on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people: partners; friends; family; colleagues and acquaintances; and each group seems to take a different view of the information shared.”
The study, entitled “Tagger’s delight? Disclosure and liking in Facebook: The effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple known social circles”, found that partners who shared more photographs of events led to a decrease in intimacy. Similarly, a close friend who shared more photographs of friends could also expect to it to have a negative impact on the quality of that relationship.
But let’s zoom out for a minute. Facebook’s promise was to help us stay in touch and be closer with our friends, but often times I like people less after becoming Facebook friends with them, due to posts that make me question if we’re even from the same planet, let alone friends.
Which made this recent Facebook post really resonate with me:
Imagine that. Keeping real-life relationships… in real life? Facebook does have a way of encroaching into our actual social lives with our actual friends, wherein we’re given the illusion that we’re staying close with people by being connected with them online, but are we? Is the heavily-edited and glamorized version of ourselves3 that we share with everyone from our real friends and family to our distant former-colleagues and acquaintances the truth? And further, when we’re spending face-to-face time with these people we want to stay close with, how often are we checking Facebook trying to stay connected to everyone else? What’s this Facebook thing about, anyway? Our friends, or ourselves?
What’s more important: actually living and experiencing our lives, or creating a killer 2015 year-in-review video by making sure that Facebook knows that we’re a jet-setting world-traveler who’s in a loving relationship, signs online petitions, and just had the most amaaaaazzzing wedding and honeymoon #tbt to the best day of my life!
Because obviously, I would hope the former. But based on our behavior, it seems like the latter.
I don’t claim to have perfect social media or phone hygiene: I’m guilty of checking my phone too much; I’m sometimes more interested in what’s new on reddit than what’s new in front of my face; I’ve been consumed with editing a photo of a band while the band is still playing. This type of thing makes me feel crazy, because when I go and check a reddit comment for the 324th time to see how many upvotes it got, I can’t help but think about how silly and small that is. Does this matter? What am I doing? Why do I care about this right now?
Can we all stop refreshing our news feeds for a second to think about how codependent our relationship with our phones has become, and how digital messaging and social media isn’t delivering the thing it promised us, and is instead making us crazy?
Louis CK put it really well:
Our deep underlying fear of being alone and wanting to feel connected is sabotaging the times when we’re actually, truly together, as well as the times when we’re actually and beautifully alone. Instead of true togetherness and true solitude, we’re settling for a state of constant stimulation: addicted to that tiny dopamine rush our brain gives us when our phone vibrates.
And that—that little virtual pat on the head—is what we all seem to be chasing when we’re hoping for Retweets, Favorites, Likes, Upvotes, Comments, or Follows, and even when we’re pulling our phones out during a conversation to see if we’ve got any notifications.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong to something and that they matter4, but how much are we willing to pay for it? And is the current subconscious strategy of relying on our phones for that worth sacrificing the experience of being ten feet away from your favorite band and watching them through a 4” screen? Or worth missing the sunset while trying to select the perfect Instagram filter? Or worth missing the universally-human experience of waiting in a line and watching the world go by without instinctively reaching for our phone to pass the time5?
There was a time where I’d leave the house without a phone and not feel completely naked, but that time has long past. Now I feel like I deserve 50 Likes if I go for a 20 minute bike ride without my iPhone. I’m aware of this, and it makes me feel ridiculous.
But what’s interesting lately is that more and more people are becoming aware of how our over-use of technology is affecting our lives, so now we’re talking about what to do about it. Shunning social networks completely is not an easy solution, and going back to a dumbphone is not a solution either. But whatever the solution, the first step is awareness.
I recently read this great little book called Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, and despite its pretty weak title, it had tons of fantastic content around this subject.
There was a chapter on “Using Social Media Mindfully”, and Lori Deschene talked about becoming aware:
In order to change our relationship to social media, we need to understand how we’re motivated to use it and why. Without self-awareness, we are at the mercy of our screens and feeds, pulled toward them for instant gratification when other choices might better meet our actual needs.
We can start developing self-awareness by setting boundaries for how and when we use our technology, and then checking in with our intentions when we feel compelled to use it differently. This could mean signing on only at certain predetermined times and asking ourselves key questions if we feel drawn toward our gadgets between those times. Those questions might include:
- Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
- Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living it now?
- Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
- Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of addressing why I don’t want to do it?
- Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
- Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
- Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
- Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterday’s conversation and join today’s instead?
- Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
I think those are great questions to ask, regardless of the time.
In the chapter about “Reconsidering Constant Connectivity”, Tiffany Shlain shares how she and her family have a regular practice of unplugging they call a “technology shabbat”. Every Friday, they turn off every screen in a very ritualistic way, and they all stay off until Saturday night.
It’s like hitting a reset button on my sense of balance. It has changed my life profoundly. I tell everyone I know to try it. I feel more present with the people I care about, and also more grounded and more creative. Some people say, “oh, on vacations, I unplug.” But when do vacations happen? Once or twice a year. There’s something about the weekly practice of getting into a different mode of experiencing the world back that’s really important.
Scott Belsky, who cofounded Behance, talks about opening yourself to serendipity in the chapter about “Tuning into You”.
I am consistently humbled and amazed by just how much creation and realization is the product of serendipity. Of course, these chance opportunities must be noticed and pursued for them to have any value. It makes you wonder how much we regularly miss. As we tune into our devices during every moment of transition, we are letting the incredible potential of serendipity pass us by.
The greatest value of any experience is often found in its seams.
When you value the power of serendipity, you start noticing it at work right away. Try leaving the smartphone in your pocket the next time you’re in line or in a crowd. Notice one source of unexpected value on every such occasion. Develop the discipline to allow for serendipity.
This is huge. And you know what you’ll notice when you pull your head out of your phone, and just look around? So many people looking at their phones. But now that you’re looking around, you’ll have the opportunity to ask yourself: “why?”
Interested in cutting out mindless social network usage while you’re using an actual computer, i.e. working? Try this Chrome Extension I made: Garlic.
I didn’t delete my account, though. I just unfollowed everything. I’m not sure how long it’ll last, but my news feed is completely empty now, and in order to see what someone is up to I have to go to their page. It’s kinda weird, but it definitely cut my urge to check Facebook considerably, because it’s a little more difficult. ↩
“Dear friends, family, and everyone: things are fucking incredible.” ↩
Did you think this was a benefit of smartphones? Not having to feel awkward when you’re just standing there, existing? What would happen if you didn’t look at your phone and did some old fashioned people watching, or struck up a conversation with a stranger? Bored and Brilliant Challenge #1: Keep your phone in your pocket ↩