Two weeks ago I decided to virtually unplug on Mondays. That is to say unplug from anything internet related. No surfing, facebooking, instagramming, tweeting, any participation in any social media then I decided that while I was at it I wouldn’t check my e-mail either. I decided that I would close my office and only use my phone for personal calls to family and friend but even then on a “need to use” basis.
The first Monday had a few hiccups and I had to figure out the business calls, change my voice mail message, be sure that I had all the “important” e-mails replied to and how to make sure that I wasn’t setting myself up to being in a position where I had to reply to anyone on Mondays.
No change is ever smooth and instantaneous though. So instead of beating myself up about the infraction of the rules I gave myself a warning. Yesterday I had a similar issue in that when I picked up my phone I noticed it was very easy if not absolutely habitual to click on the facebook icon.
I have to believe that I am no different than other people when it comes to establishing new habits and killing old ones. We are creatures of habit and those actions become automatic reflexes.
Having Mondays unplugged has already started to help me slow down a bit to the speed of life.
Yesterday I was able to dive in to clean and organize my office. I was able to walk the dogs and see my neighborhood a little, take a short nap, take my wife to lunch and talk about stuff that was bothering her. I did not design my Unplugged Mondays as a way to get out and go fishing but certainly there is the opportunity. The day is my own to work on things (other than business) or to spend time with people face to face.
The internet is and can be a valuable tool but we need to remember that it is not “real life”. Not everything we see on it is reality or the reality we have to live into. Facebook and social media have probably become far too large a part of most of our lives as a society. One thing that my wife and I have noticed about facebook specifically is that everyone seems to use facebook like a public relations advertisement for their lives. Slightly narcissistic at times as well as overtly self affirming. You generally see the positive things going on but only occasionally see the trouble and challenges that we all face. It becomes a façade identity. We have to take what we see with a critical eye.
We have learned slowly with the advancement of social media about "over-sharing" and in the process how to edit ourselves to a degree. In the process we create these very abstract stories and perspectives of who we are and what is actually going on in our lives. We want to be seen as successful, happy and living our lives to their fullest. This is easily done with a few photographs or location tags showing you in cool places with cool people etc.
As a result of these false images we get a strange outlook on our own lives. We start to play the comparison game and compare our lives to others. We are begin to doubt ourselves a little. The definition of what it means to be a happy becomes a false set of standards that can make us feel inadequate or off track in our own lives.
Comparing our individual lives to others is never a good idea. Comparing it to the versions we see on social media is an even greater mistake. Instead I recommend looking at your own life and taking a proactive approach to determine what makes you happy and doing that. Forget social media a little. I think we all know deep down that experiencing life “live” is a better and richer experience.
The convenience of seeing life through social media is addictive though. We as a species love stories. We like to get acknowledgement of our lives through likes and comments. We like to feel that we are being activists and supporting causes and movements. Every meme we share makes us that much more right in our own points of view. We like to believe that the graphic we share will change someone's mind and the world will be a better place. The truth is only taking action in real life is going to make our world a better place. We've become a "me too" society. It is simpler to do something with the click of a button than to actually do something meaningful. We can pretend all we want but it is time to be honest with ourselves.
I am trying to rewire my brain in how I use and look at social media. I heard an advertisement today that literally said “Life is digital”. I virtuallly threw up in my mouth a little about the idea. I remembered immediately the detail that I was able to admire in the last fish I caught. I relived that moment of appreciation at the beauty of nature. By comparison, the photo that I posted of the same fish seemed flat on the screen. It didn’t shimmer as much nor was it as vibrant. Life is about reality and being in it. The digital world cannot replace our actual experiences. Will our children and grandchildren talk about how much we shared on facebook or will they tell stories about the times we took them into the wilderness or sat down with them every Sunday to read a book, build a model or go outside for a game of catch?
As a father I have to be responsible as well not to let the screens in my life set the example for interaction. I realized that my world has changed to spending so much more time looking at and interfacing with screens. For a 6 year old it may be difficult to understand that “I am working”. Those screens are not more important than giving him my attention or time.
I enjoy the recreational side of social media and appreciate the internet as a place to communicate. I have made new friends and reconnected with others. That said I still really enjoy more those face to face and shared experiences with people in person. We have come quite a ways with our technology but to quote Darth Vader “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you‘ve constructed”. We need to keep it as a tool for our lives for communication. It cannot replace our real life experiences. There is a conscious effort we all must make.
Ironically I was inspired to write this blogpost today from an article I read on another blog. Again I make the point that the internet is a valuable tool if we choose to use it as such. I recommend this article at the “BE More with Less” blog very highly. All of the blog posts there have something to offer the individual who is trying to live their lives a little closer to reality with value and attention to what matters most.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.