I never thought this little life of mine would look less like a life of my own and more like a dusty old hard-drive for everyone else’s perfect, pixelated highlights.
That’s just me – I compile and organize the lives of everyone around me. But then I lose a bit of myself everyday.
When I was little, I didn’t expect that every morning as an adult, I’d wake up only to scroll endlessly through the lives of everyone else while my eyes adjusted painfully to the light. I would never have guessed that I would subconsciously start my day with a little less confidence just because of this, and a splitting headache from the screens that take up so much of my vision.
I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d slowly but surely lose my attention span so that I can no longer spend hours upon hours reading. I can barely get a solid fifteen minutes in without jumping out of book-world and back into Facebook-world.
I couldn’t have guessed that every time I see a pretty view, instead of just enjoying that fleeting moment of a pretty view, I have to capture it in the best angle and the best light, and then add feigned light, and cover it up with a mood-altering filter and add a nice caption, and then wait (aka refresh eight hundred times) to see how many likes I can receive.
I would never have known earlier in my lifetime that I’d spend huge chunks of my day checking and rechecking and refreshing and rescrolling through my photos to make sure I hadn’t missed a single like or comment.
When I was younger, the box in my hand had nothing to do with the things I imagined for myself. And yet, here it is, occupying my thoughts and my hands most of the time on most days. Isn’t that insane? I had dreams of reading every book ever written, learning how to paint five thousand different ways, running across the United States, making it to Broadway, memorizing the Bible. But I feel crippled because of this damn technology that has overtaken so much of my life.
And I never dreamed that the good friends I’d have, the company I’d keep, would also be addicted to their own little squares. I never could have fathomed that the people closest to me would still be kept from me because the intangible world of everyone else’s lives would be more attractive than understanding deeply who we are.
Some days I feel so weighed down by the fact that my life seems to be going nowhere, or at least moving at a much different pace than I’d hoped — so quickly, but overwhelmingly fast. Too much is happening that I feel I can’t keep up. And I’ve lost sight on what’s most important because I’ve been sucked into this world of watching everyone else.
I never would have predicted that I’d have an addiction – multiple actually. An addiction to what people think of me and their approval; an addiction to seeing what’s happening with others all the time; an addiction to the sleek, rectangular box that is always in my hand or my pocket; an addiction to not being alone.
That’s the root of it: I think I have truly forgotten how to be alone, and I think the rest of the world has, too.
It’s easy to avoid being alone – you don’t even have to walk out of your empty house now in order to fill your mind with attractions that will remind you how great it is to be connected.
And it is great to be connected, don’t get me wrong. We’re just focused on a feigned version of connection.
How often do we hear that nobody knows themselves anymore? We are lost, confused, young and reckless. Some of that is part of the natural progression of growing up, but some of it we’ve actually put on ourselves.
We know more about the romantic entanglements of fictional TV characters than we do about how we take our coffee.
We can understand the motives of Facebook fights more easily than we can understand our own knotted up emotions.
We analyze statistics of Instagram likes, followers, and followees better than we analyze our own personalities.
We can name every new Justin Bieber song, but we can’t name one thing we did wrong to make our friends mad at us. (It’s their problem anyway; if they can’t handle us the way we are, then they shouldn’t be our friend — right?)
We could state every single date that our new favorite movies are coming out, but we could not state a friend or family member’s birthday (it’s all recorded on Facebook, though, so no need to worry).
We can predict movie and TV show plots but can’t predict our own lives two years from now. Why is that? Are we afraid? Or are we choking out our own potential and desire to succeed because we are succumbing to lives unworthy of what we used to dream of as kids?
I know, I know. Claire’s being melodramatic again.
So what do you do when life doesn’t seem to go the way you planned – aka, life looks like everyone walking around flicking their thumbs against glass screens, eyes down, glazed over and clouded because of the overload of information charging itself into tired heads. What do we do?
Just collapse on the floor and cry? (sometimes I do that. It’s whatever).
Ignore the problems and keep scrolling?
No. We can’t.
We have to take humanity back. Call me crazy, call me dramatic, but I truly believe we have to take a stand against all of this madness.
And it starts with the tiniest, smallest steps.
Turn your phone OFF during dinner.
Put it AWAY when you’re with friends.
Don’t prioritize a box of information over a person with a heart and a mind worth listening to and understanding.
When you’re waiting, when you have an “in-between” moment, don’t look down and scroll. Look up and observe. Remember what it used to be like to have to entertain yourself in the waiting places of life. Count birds, recall the last time you were in that location, write a song in your head. It sounds so silly, so childish, but we have to remember what life was like before phones established dominion in our heads.
Think of your memories and photos as sacred parts of your precious, beautiful life, unfit for the world to see and criticize. Keep those close, think before you throw them out into the void of the Internet.
Commit to only checking Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest an hour total a day (did you know that the average American spends close to FIVE hours a day on social media?). Then 45 minutes, then 30, then 20, then 10. Then try a day without checking it all. Unshackle yourself from the obligation to check in with the entire universe.
Instead of reading articles about celebrities and people you don’t know, try to understand more and more the people you do know. Seek depth, not breadth. No one needs to know how much Kim Kardashian’s baby weighs. Ask your friend how their day is going, what you can do to help them.
Instead of scrolling through pictures, feeling your envy and discontentment rise with every double-click of a photo, practice a skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Go for a walk – have you SEEN the outdoors in awhile, like more than just the walk to your car and into buildings, back and forth every single day?
Just sit. Just breathe. Close your eyes. Meditate, pray. Don’t just compartmentalize meditation for a moment of your morning – make it a life practice for any moment during your day. Don’t fill your mind with more useless, clickhole information; cultivate thoughts and ideas already planted in your mind.
We’re going for depth, not breadth, remember.
Look people in the eye as you walk by. I know, it’s scary — people are frightening, messy, untrustworthy screw-ups who hurt each other and make fools of themselves. Let’s look at each other anyway, and remember we’re not alone.
This one’s hard for me — don’t be so quick to end conversations with people. What’s the rush? Connection is the reason we’re here, why force it to a close so fast? Answer questions honestly, ask great questions back. Small talk is scary because we think we have to stay on the surface. We don’t have to. Dig deeper.
Depth, not breadth.
Breadth may be attractive. It might feel like the right thing to do, culturally. Spread yourself long and wide, to as many people, as fast as possible. Be open and available to all. With breadth, there are no rules except more, more, more. Spread, spread, spread. Shine up your facade, make sure it looks perfect to everyone who sees it.
But what’s underneath? Nothing. Sidewalk chalk is fun but if you color the whole street, underneath is still cold, hard concrete and pavement.
Depth is harder. Depth requires work, getting your hands dirty. Cultivation. Discipline. Depth is a garden, filled with rich, nutritious soil. And the rewards that surface to the top, the ones you see finally appear after all the hard work, they’re so much more rewarding because you know their roots grow deep, deep, deep. There are rules to depth – recipes for success — like too much water will drown the crops, and too much sunlight will dehydrate them, and a lack of picking weeds will choke them. Why do we feel like we always have to break the rules because they’re so restricting? Sometimes we forget how helpful rules can be, and how much life can be created because of them.
Today I challenge you to unplug for just a little while. Emails can wait, Snapchat stories don’t always have to be viewed, notifications won’t disappear by tomorrow or an hour from now, you’ve already missed millions of Instagram photos so you might as well miss a few more.
Unplug. Close your eyes and breathe. Or open them and breathe. Take in life — true, real, raw, in-your-face life, not life behind a screen. Just for awhile.
Social media is not the root of all evil. It’s just a tool that can be too distracting, too draining, too overwhelming for goodness in your life. Don’t let it have control, don’t let it win. Don’t let it have control over the way you spend your hours every single day. You’ve got this, I believe in you.
Put your phone down, pick up a book or write your dang paper or go for a run or bake something.
And then send me a Snapchat of your progress, and post a photo to Instagram.