It’s been over two months since I broke up with social media.
I wish I could say it was intentional, that it was part of some noble plan to be more mindful.
But it wasn’t. It was apathy.
Honestly, it was a lot like the end of every other mediocre relationship you stay in too long out of habit. Until one day, you wake up and you simply don’t have the energy to care anymore.
Like all relationships, the love affair with social media started out so promisingly.
The idea of being able to stay connected to the daily lives of friends and family regardless of geographical distance was revolutionary, much like email had been 10 years earlier.
And how incredibly useful it was to be able to both disseminate and receive information instantaneously. We were on the forefront of every current event. We could crowd-source all of our dilemmas.
On a more personal level, we shared a lot of things with each other. We became real to each other, even to people we didn’t know in real life. And when people become real to each other — even to people they don’t know in real life — their problems become real to each other as well. I’m no sociologist but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that this phenomenon was fundamental in the rapid social changes that have occurred over the last 5 years.
Unfortunately, just like in all relationships, all the things that were quirky and cute in the beginning started to become irritating.
The building of a wider community that was meant to make people feel more connected? It lulled us into thinking we were tending our relationships with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger instead of real conversations. Social media made it exceedingly easy to turn all of our relationships into virtual ones instead of real ones.
That real-time dissemination of information which had previously exposed us to new ideas and new viewpoints? It has fostered a climate where being the first to share something “newsworthy” is the only thing that matters, even if you’re wrong.
And that sharing of personal stories that broadened our horizons while making strangers feel like friends? It exacerbated our culture of comparison and created an obsessive need not just to be heard but to be affirmed. And that turned an entire generation of people into salesmen.
People were selling actual things of course. But what was worse was the people who felt compelled to sell a fake, filtered, edited version of themselves, of their relationships, of their lifestyles. The people who were selling their opinions disguised as facts. Their activities as proof of their popularity. Their wealth as proof of their happiness.
The problem wasn’t the selling per se but rather the hostility, the aggressiveness, the . . . disingenuousness that accompanied some of it.
The problem was the disparity between what people say and who they really are when no one is looking.
One Tuesday morning, I woke up and just didn’t have the energy for any of it. I didn’t have the patience for any of it. So I pulled the plug. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no nothing. Social media and I went cold turkey.
It was just like any break up. At first, I felt prettttyyyy good. I was riding high on the satisfaction of having purged a negative time suckage from my daily routine.
And I did have more time. I watched a lot of basketball. I played it too (pretty badly). I read words on pieces of paper – books, newspapers, magazines. I arranged flowers.
I lingered with the boys at bedtime when they asked me to stay for 5 more minutes. I painted. I collected orange shells and saw orange sunsets.
I wrote letters. Real ones. On orange and blue note cards. I noticed how my handwriting had deteriorated, but more disconcerting was how my writing had deteriorated.
I am so accustomed to writing contemporaneously, without editing, that I had forgotten how to organize my thoughts in advance of picking up a pen. As painful as those first few notes were, it felt good to force my brain to think and filter and choose words with purpose.
After the initial post-breakup elation wore off, I felt … lonely. I missed it. I missed the feeling of being part of a community. I missed knowing things. I missed people knowing things about me.
Without that virtual connection to everyone I know, I felt a void. I knew I was missing birthdays and anniversaries, medical diagnoses and deaths, school plays and new jobs, vacation pictures and first steps.
It was the ultimate fear of missing out.
But then I took a deep breath and remembered what life was like before we were seduced by the illusion of having 1,432 “friends.” It was smaller, more intimate, more genuine.
It required presence.
Presence is tricky. Social media lets you spread your love far and wide in a relatively short time frame with little to no effort. But presence requires more.
It requires effort. It requires emotional investment. It requires you to make someone else a priority, even if that wasn’t on your to-do list.
Presence requires a lot more than I have been giving. So I’m slowly trying to make up for years of being more of a virtual friend than a real one. There’s a hefty backlog but I’m working on it.
I’m working on phone calls. Sending real birthday cards and homemade Valentines and notes for no reason. Showing up to everything I physically can. Supporting my friends in their endeavors.
I’m working on being present.
Not only did I have to figure out the people and things that were the most important to me but I very quickly discovered whether I was equally important to them.
It is eye opening. It is cathartic. It is incredibly liberating. It’s a lot like being 8 and 10 actually.
Part of writing this blog means I can’t break up with social media forever (unless everyone subscribes and then I really could) but I’m enjoying this sabbatical while I can. If and when we do get back together, the relationship will be different this time.
One thing won’t change. I’m kind of an open book in case you haven’t figured it out. My pictures and stories and emotions are always real, all of the time.
They’re not part of the story – they’re the whole story.
I make mistakes. I burn batches of spaghetti sauce and spill coffee on myself. I say too much and I say it too loudly. My house is always messy and I’m perpetually 5 minutes late. Okay 15. I struggle with how to grade myself in a world where I don’t get report card anymore. I forget important things and I can’t let some things go.
I don’t hide any of that. And I don’t want to.
But I love really really hard, for better or worse.
And I’m trying to do more of it in person instead of just online.