Addicted To Social Media? Read This.
"I've been clean for eight months," he says seriously. "I'm just beginning to believe I exist."
I recently read My Life On The Road by Gloria Steinem. In it, she shares the story of a rather peculiar taxi driver she once met who hadn't watched television, looked at the Internet, played video games, or read books or newspapers in almost a year. She recounts their conversation over the course of the ride:
“He explains that his girlfriend was taking courses like women's studies and black studies, so she put tape over the names of authors and told him to judge without knowing the identity of the author. He found this so disorienting that he started to count the filters that were telling him what to think. 'Filters let in a cup of water,' he says, 'but keep out the ocean.' It turns out that driving a taxi is just part of a year he's planned, working his way cross-country, doing odd jobs like repairing cars and picking fruit to support himself, all the while going cold turkey on media. He is seeing America without being told first what he's seeing.” - p.82, My Life On The Road by Gloria Steinem
As they pull into LaGuardia, he asks not for a tip, but instead, a bargain:
'Write about my experiment,' he says, 'Explain that you met this recovering media addict who used to dream about people in the movies instead of real people. I never read a book unless some reviewer told me to. I was such a news junkie, I went to sleep with my headset on. I even worried about missing email while I was making love to my girlfriend. I had media-itis, but now I'm trying to see life unmediated.' -p.82, My Life On The Road by Gloria Steinem
For some reason, this particular excerpt really struck me. Maybe it was his phrasing: I've been clean for eight months. When we think addiction, we oftentimes think drugs, sex, alcohol. Or shopping, if we're really getting creative. Rarely do we consider the idea that technology can be a very real addiction. In fact, it may be one of the most pervasive addictions in society today because it’s so easy to keep under wraps. It's almost become acceptable (because hey—everybody's doing it).
Or maybe this passage stuck out to me because lately, I've been questioning my own interactions with media: how much time I spend consumed by it; the role I play in contributing to it.
Earlier this year, I had a bit of a wake-up call. One night—like countless others—I crawled lazily into bed, propping one pillow beneath my head and wedging another behind my back. After snuggling to get situated beneath the covers, I fished my phone up from my bedside to check it one last time before dozing off. And by "check" I mean I probably spent a good half hour scrolling. What did I do the next morning when I woke up? Scrolled, scrolled, scrolled. It had become such an impulsive habit, it was almost as if I couldn't properly get out of bed without engaging in this ritual. "Do you ever wake up without getting on your phone?" my mom asked as she passed my room on her way down to breakfast.
"Yeah," I retorted defensively, glancing up. But we both knew it was a lie. She shook her head solemnly. Truth was, I couldn't remember the last time I'd awoken without checking my phone. But really—how hard could it be?
So I made a conscious decision. The next morning, I would—under no circumstances—check my phone. And I didn't. But what resulted filled me with a slight sense of horror. I felt significantly more drowsy and it took a great deal longer for my mind to "wake up". I mulled through my usual routine: made my bed, brushed my teeth, got dressed, ate breakfast. Ugh, I thought miserably to myself. This is awful. I had an overwhelming urge to just grab my phone, flood my eyeballs with that artificial fluorescent light, and kick my brain into gear. But I resisted. Because I didn't want to be a zombie—forever a slave to the "twitch".
This revelation had an almost domino effect. Not waking up to my phone led me to examine my interactions with technology during the remaining hours of the day. I began taking mental notes and found that whenever I was even the slightest bit bored, I would reach for my phone. If I was out and about and didn't want to appear idle (to perfect strangers), maybe deflecting to Instagram would curb my feelings of awkwardness. Or make me seem…busy?
Honestly, I went a bit mad. I started deleting all of my social media apps. I told myself I would only use my phone for texts and calls, which relegated me to my computer (for email and work purposes, of course). But it wasn't long before that failed, too. I began re-downloading my apps, justifying it when I needed to post for "work". Because that was justifiable...or was it? More times than not, I'd get so sick of having to constantly delete and re-download apps that I would just keep them on my phone, which made it all too easy to slip—to click those little icons—check in; become consumed.
Let me tell you, once you open a can of worms like this, there's no going back. I began wondering: in what ways was I contributing to the "twitch"? All of my statuses, photos, uploads—were they worthy of other peoples’ scrolling time? It's not like many people pay attention to what I do. And sharing a photo of the pancakes I ate this morning is seemingly harmless. But in the grand scheme of things, what is the effect?
I'm not saying we should all be as extreme as that taxi driver and go completely cold turkey on media. But it's not a bad idea to take a moment to question what we do. What are our motivations? What is our impact, regardless of how insignificant it may seem? Media is not all bad. It's about balance.
What could we be doing with our time if we weren't spending it "plugged in"? I would venture to say the average person wastes more than a few hours per day on their phones and computers. And Netflix. And The Kardashians. And that random movie you picked up at Redbox that's probably going to suck, but hey—you were bored. And it was only $1.
This past weekend, my dad and little brother were in town visiting for Chloe's birthday. My brother was playing a game on his iPad when my dad told him he had to put it away and read his book. He grumbled a bit, but said "okay" and drug his feet over to his suitcase, pulling out a copy of Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder with a mischievous redheaded kid on the cover, propelling a soccer ball with his extreme flatulence. I chuckled and turned to my dad.
"You know what's weird? Kids these days have never known a time when the Internet didn't exist. iPads, iPhones, computers...it's all intuitive to them. I'm glad I got to experience a short period of time when the Internet didn't exist." He nodded thoughtfully as I continued, "When I was a kid, if I got bored I had to go outside. Or bike through the neighborhood. Or make up a dance routine to a Hilary Duff song. Or jump on the trampoline. Or rollerblade around the garage. Or get chalk so my friends and I could play four-square on the driveway..." my voice trailed off.
But it's true. When you don't have a device entertaining you, it forces you to use your imagination. To create. To be creative. I think the reason I'm creative stems from a few anomalies during my childhood: I never owned a video game system. Our mom limited our movie and TV time, and when we got a clunky desktop computer she always set a 30-minute timer. When I got bored, I went up to my room, pulled out a bin of empty notebooks from under my bed, and wrote stories.
I can think of more than a few things we could accomplish if we weren't so distracted. We could go for a jog. Pick up that guitar we bought a few years ago that we've been meaning to learn. Finish a project around the house. Cook a meal. Invite a friend over to play board games or have a meaningful conversation. Sew patches on the sleeves of worn out shirts. Picnic in the park. Learn a new language. Garden. Volunteer. Heck, we could write the stories, make the movies, and sing the songs—instead of always being the ones consuming them.
Just like that taxi driver, I'm trying to see with my own eyes.
I hope you do, too.