Being connected, staying connected, while learning to disconnect
A few evenings ago, I was sitting on my couch. It was the end of another day, home from work, dinner was consumed and the TV was on in the background. I scrolled through my Instagram feed, double-tapping photos and leaving random comments here and there. This was not an unusual occurrence in my house. Despite my resistance and my frequent proclamations to the contrary, I spend far too much time consumed by social media. Whether intentional or not, sometimes mindfully and other times absentmindedly, I find myself with my phone in my hands and my social media apps open.
I have always maintained a tagline that I was not interested in social media. That I utilized the apps and sites as a way to maintain contact with far away family and friends. That the ‘likes’, views and followers were meaningless in my world. Bullshit. I am not immune to the self-esteem boosting power of ‘earning’ more and more likes, followers and views. It would be a bold-faced lie to say that when someone takes the time to leave a comment on my page that I don’t feel a sense of happiness and elation. I find satisfaction when my words are meaningful to someone else. I enjoy that feeling of connection when I perceive that someone else has benefitted from what I have had to say. However, the endless and mindless scrolling and scrolling and scrolling is now more of a habit than it is an intentional or mindful act. It has become a distraction, a way to occupy my mind and my time, rather than engage and be fully present with my family and friends in “real life”.
I have grown used to, and formed habits of, using social media to connect and stay connected to friends and virtual friends around the world. Many of us, having found each other in an online world, are comfortable and comforted by the familiarity of the online community. In fact, it’s not surprising we are finding this habit difficult to break, since having spent the last few years living alone, and using social media as a filler. A way to connect without leaving the comfort, and safety, of our homes. And often just simply as a distraction and something “to do”.
There is no way around social media. It’s pervasiveness is too extensive to be ignored. At a time where people are living alone in greater numbers than ever historically seen and loneliness has become increasingly prevalent, the growth of social media and virtual connectedness is not surprising. Many use social media apps to connect in a solely virtual capacity, while others use those same apps, and the obvious online dating apps, in an attempt to identify others with whom to explore and establish real-life, 3D, love relationships. But what happens when you have found a prospective life partner, how does that change? Should it change? Should we want it to?
As a tool, social media has powerful reach and potential to connect, unite and mobilize individuals into a critical mass. It has and will continue to have the ability to impact the course of history, especially our social and cultural history. A quick Google search on the power of Social Media to influence and inspire change reveals an ongoing discussion dating back many years. There is also mounting evidence pointing to its impact on societal change and its influence in decision making, such as the Ray Rice video and the most commonly trending hashtags (#). These have fundamentally changed the course of discipline, action and overall awareness in many situations that would not have come to light or to the mainstream of cultural consciousness without the power, impact and influence of Social Media and its users. Given the current social context, we have a powerful tool at our fingertips to draw together and connect others globally, across colour, religion, political and gender lines. We have the ability to make a statement and connect like minded individuals to truly make an impact, a real difference. This can take on a personal obligation. And we ought to embrace this obligation. It is on all of us to use social media for good and not for evil. To spread love, positivity, acceptance and a rejection of anything less. It is on us and our obligation to be informed, to be involved and to be a component of the solution. But for me there is a also a need for personal, private and quiet connection.
Relationships take work. All personal relationships can be challenging and all require attention, time and tenderness. There is danger in taking that closeness, that connection and that intimacy for granted. To be comfortable and complacent in my routine that I stop making those ever important efforts to maintain a closeness and unique specialness that sets my closest relationships apart from all others in my life. Relationships take time to develop and take time, attention and tenderness to maintain. It takes commitment from both parties, to stay connected and to give each other a space to be us, without the distraction of the outside world, well, except maybe Netflix.
Although both engaged and buoyed by the abilities of using Social Media for real social change, I have also committed to giving my connections what they deserve. I have committed to the ‘work’ needed to engage in to maintain that connection; time, space, tenderness and nurturance. Part of that commitment and part of the work, that I have determined needs to be done, is to have designated “social media free” time. Essentially, I am putting my phone down and connecting with each other. One on one. Face to face.