It’s Tuesday, which means tomorrow will mark end the first week into Lent, which means that I’ve been without social media for six days now- not that I’m counting. Luckily, this is my second year doing this so I know exactly what I signed up for- a feeling of complete alienation from people around me and being bored a whole lot. Seeing as you are reading this on a social platform- Medium is inherently part of the social media fabric- I’m guessing you didn’t take a break from social media… and there’s a chance you never have for more than a few days. I don’t know, I’m actually guessing here. So partially for you and mostly for me, I wanted to share my thoughts on what this break from social media looks like right now.
Thoughts on Social Media and How We Need It, or,
My Reflections on the Cafeteria Lunch Table Scenario
In college, way before most of my friends were on Twitter, before I was on Instagram, back when Facebook was the primary way to chat, stalk, talk, and do any other basic interaction on a computer that could be either great or creepy- before all that, we used to hang out face to face. We had a table in the dining hall at which we’d sit and talk life on a regular basis- “life” being homework and fraternity formal dates and some pedantic and juvenile drama that had earned our attention. But the larger picture of this social phenomenon is something we called “peripheral friends”- the people you see every day, the people you know and love, but at the same time, the people who you wouldn’t invite to a small dinner at your house.
Peripheral friendship is what makes us function, socially. We need it to stay alive. We need it to feel connected to people. If you just had three friends in the world, it would still be awfully lonely. Add in fifty people on the fringe of your contact list, and you’re feeling pretty good about life. Not that you ever text any of those peripheral friends. Let’s be honest.
And in today’s society, this peripheral looks entirely different than it did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. With the constant barrage of social media, the group of peripheral friends is now who you follow on social media, not who you see every day. It’s why we’re addicted to social media, in part- not only does it ping us notifications (in the same way that walking down a familiar hall rewards you with people saying hello to you), but it also allows you to keep tabs on people without actually establishing contact. It’s phenomenal how you don’t have to invade into someone’s life but you can still feel like you are connected with them.
Social media is the modern day lunch table, and you’re sitting with whoever you choose to follow. Welcome to the world of twenty-first century peripheral friendships.
The issue with fasting from social media is that you’re leaving the lunch table. You’re intentionally unplugging from the best and most efficient way to stay connected with people. All the sudden, you become that person who doesn’t have a cell phone or a car or someone that only talks to people via post mail. You become a burden onto others in your social peripheral. Your close friends, the people you already are intentional about talking to, might see a difference- but as a whole, you still talk to them, you still connect with them. After all, they’re your good friends.
Not surprisingly, unplugging from social media feels a lot like disconnecting from everyone you know. It feels a lot like not sitting at the lunchroom table with all your friends.
Thoughts on the Thoughts We Post, or,
How We’ll One Day Regret Every Tweet Ever
Perhaps one of the weirdest things about our culture is Twitter- not the service of following people you want to be aware of, but rather, the service that allows you to instantly document and share your fleeting insights with whoever is willing to listen. It gives an intrinsic value to your thoughts that are 140 character or less. It makes you celebrate witty puns and think of inspirational one-liners that are bound to get a hurricane of favorites and retweets- but at the end of the day, you’re shouting into a room full of nobody listening. You’re broadcasting on a station that no one is tuned into. You’re left with a feed of abbreviated thoughts that you thought were worthy enough to share with people- and for what? Maybe a few notes of affirmation, and probably a lot of embarrassment in six years when your future spouse finds that tweet about your reaction to that one news event that no one remembers. Or even worse, the inevitable tombstone that we’ll all have, with a bright LED marquee with a constant feed of all of our tweets throughout our lives. Yeesh.
Truthfully, I have had the urge to write down funny thoughts that would be world-class tweets-surely, as most of whatever I pen is brilliant and infallible and never something corny or awkward-keeping a log of quips in my phone for future use. But sooner or later, I realize how stupid that desire is. Why should I share a thought that I’ve been storing for six weeks? What is the benefit of sharing a joke that’s been camping in my notes for over a month? With incredible self-awareness and an ounce of self depreciation, I try not to document these thoughts and just keep moving on with my life. But still, my 140 character joke about a Starbucks-themed restaurant serving burnt food and getting your name wrong would probably be hilarious.
There probably is some good in sharing a feed of thoughts on Twitter- after all, it does help us feel connected to one another. And remind us that peripheral friends exist. But at the same time, my life has never been changed by a tweet or by following someone. I don’t think my life has been changed by Twitter- it’s just a game I play sometimes. It’s a fun game that we all play- How Culturally Relevant Am I? or, maybe, Do People Still Like Me? and sometimes it’s I’m Alone Tonight and All My Friends Are Hanging Out With Cooler People Than Me, which normally results in a fun but risky bout of Let Me Subtweet The Crap Out Of My Unhappiness Because Of You. I don’t know why we do these things. Probably because we’re human and we’re also prone to doing the stupidest things that stimulate our dopamine triggers in our insatiable short attention spans.
So This Is What Free Time Looks Like, or,
I Never Realized How Much Time Social Media Fills
One of the awkward parts about giving up social media is that all the sudden you realize how many little pockets of time you have in your life. Whether it’s bathroom time (ahem), or waiting for your computer to restart, or in line at Starbucks- we have so much lag time in our days. And how should we fill it, if not with social media?
I honestly don’t have the answer. It’s not like you can read a page of a book in 30 seconds, nor can you play a level of a game. I’ve started playing lots of 2048 again, but that just leaves me frustrated by 7:45am, which is probably the worst way to start your day. When I’m on my computer, I check the news- but typically news is slow and headline stories don’t update that often.
But I’ve learned that it’s okay to be bored. It’s okay to feel silence, or be stretched by a pause. That’s human, and until about five years ago, I think that’s how 100% of alive people were forced to live. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the art of wanting a distraction is a new desire subject to people born after Reaganomics.
How I Plan On Surviving The Next 5 Weeks, or,
What Lent Is Actually All About
I gave up social media because I wanted to reduce the amount of noise in my life. The side effect of it all is that I get to reconnect personally with people that I actually care about. If you remove the peripheral in your life, you learn how to focus on what matters- whether it’s friendships or not. After all, if I can start making my bed every morning, I can hopefully have the willpower and dedication to make good decisions when I’m not half-awake and barely conscious.
I still don’t know how I’m going to fill all those little gaps in my day- but I also am looking forward to days without focusing on documenting my thoughts and subsequently checking on how people are reacting to it. It’s a little bit old fashioned to unplug and actually reach out to people to see how they’re doing. It also kind of feels like a party that all my friends are at and I’m missing out- after all, they’re all about sharing their lives and being funny and connecting with each other, and I’m missing all of it. So forgive me if I reach out to you at 11pm- I’m not lonely or bored, I actually want to connect with you and see how your day was. It’s probably something they did in the early 1990's- which I hear are back in fashion right now, anyway.