Being connected, staying connected, while learning to disconnect
A few evenings ago, My Favorite Weirdo (MFW) and I were sitting on our couch. It was the end of another day, home from work, dinner was consumed and the TV was on in the background. We sat side by side, occasionally chatting about this and that, while we both scrolled through our Instagram feeds, double-tapping photos and leaving random comments here and there. This was not an unusual occurrence in our 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 at home.
MFW and I just had this very conversation. Both of us have grown used to, and formed habits of, using social media to connect and stay connected to friends and virtual friends around the world. Both 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 we both have 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 or, in my case, MFW, 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, at home, with my family, friends and most of all, with MFW.
Relationships take work. All personal relationships can be challenging and all require attention, time and tenderness. But none more so than with MFW. “They” say that falling in love is easy, staying in love takes work. And that work is a labour of love. In day to day life, MFW is my constant. He’s the first one I see in the morning, even before I see myself. He’s the first one I think of when something so crazy happens, like when I saw Richard Simmons’ doppelganger running down the main street with the shortest short shorts I have ever seen, in the snow. The danger is 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 MFW apart from all others in my life. What makes MFW, my MFW is our connection and our commitment, to each other and to our life together, including all of our individual and joint hopes, dreams and plans. That takes time to develop and takes time, attention and tenderness to maintain. It takes commitment from both of us, 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 we are both engaged and buoyed by the abilities of using Social Media for real social change, we have also committed to giving our connection what it deserves. We have committed to the ‘work’ we both need to engage in to maintain that connection; time, space, tenderness and nurturance. Part of that commitment and part of the work, that we have determined needs to be done, is to have designated “social media free” time. Essentially, we are putting our phones down and connecting with each other. One on one.
Social media and social influencing has its place. It is important. It is a job. Therefore, work hours are 9 to 5. After 5 pm…Chalkeman’s out!