I have been sitting on this for quite awhile now, mulling. I think I’ve been in a funk, and I am really starting to believe it’s digital depression…if there is such a thing.
Since the school year started up, I have been working and doing all the things I normally do, except for a couple of things: spending a lot of time mindlessly trolling FB or looking up inane things that I really don’t need to know, and NOT spending much time with real people. It’s insidious, really. I feel so connected! I “like”, I make comments, I write messages. Deep stuff. Not so deep stuff. But really, not totally “real” stuff. Not that I don’t appreciate my friends’ lives, but at some point making comments on a social media site doesn’t equate to being with friends, sitting in lawn chairs at dusk, drinking a glass of wine and having a laugh. Or a cry.
Then I finally read The Circle by Dave Eggers, which my husband gave me last Christmas. It hadn’t really spoken to me, other than I enjoy some of Eggers’ writing and knew I would get around to it at some point. Did you know there is a Japanese word for people who have a lot of books on their shelves they haven’t read? That’s me.
Anyway, a couple of weekends ago I decided to sit down and see if it “spoke” to me. Well, guess what. All the niggly feelings I had been having about feeling disconnected and a little soul-less? Well it was all there in this book. We follow the main character basically get swallowed up by a Google-like company who’s attempting to “close the circle” by connecting all aspects of our daily lives – all online. Things go from hopeful to hopeless pretty quickly, and while I won’t spoil the ending… it certainly wasn’t how this happy ending American would have liked.
Essentially what got to me was the sense of identity this character gets from her online life, which soon overtakes her life to the point that she loses the people in her life who love her most. All in exchange for a falsity that she believes to be “real.”
I started to see a lot of this character’s behavior in me, and none of it was good. Checking social networking because she’s bored or anxious (check), feeling needy when someone doesn’t respond quickly enough via text or IM (check), and consciously creating an “online” presence that, whether intended or not, is marketing a lifestyle or way of being that while authentic is still only part true (and…check).
There’s other stuff too, including the yucky feeling I get reading an article online and reading all the comments. How quick we – and I include myself – are to judge when we generally don’t have enough information. How easy it is to Google something and feel like you’re an expert, when all you have is enough information to be dangerous.
Talk about a constant stream of digital flotsam and jetsam.
So, I put my devices down for the weekend, that book reverberating through my soul. Here is what happened. I:
- read a book, all of it. In less than 48 hours. Just like the old days before I had a damn “smartphone.”
- visited with friends without constantly checking my phone.
- ate meals with my family and could follow the conversation.
- embarrassing to admit, but I heard myself pondering what my status would be if I were to post. Yes, I know…
- slept better.
- overall felt better about myself…when I wasn’t feeling anxious about what I was missing. Wow, that was surprising. The answer? Not much.
- realized my real life needs tending more than my online one does. There are people I love who I need to connect with in real life.
At the end of the weekend, I returned to the usual business, but with another level of awareness. I’ve hardly posted this week on FB because I started to really question why I was doing it. Does anybody really care if Rowan made broccoli nachos, and they were good? Or what I think about texting and driving? Or whether or not I feel lonely or angry or whatever? Maybe.
(And I’m not saying that social media can’t be used for good. I’ve seen friends get instant support during crises, advice, tips, stuff. It IS wonderful to see my past students progressing through their lives fantastically, many graduated from college now, some married or engaged, some with children. It really is incredible that we have this level of connectedness.)
Heck, even the Dalai Llama send out words of inspiration via social media that surely inspire folks in a very real way.
But me? I’m questioning my need to share. I am starting to limit my posts, my status updates, my IG photos to things that really matter to me and reflect a real desire to connect, not just to make me look good or feel good about myself. I want to spend most of my time and energy connecting in real life. In real life. Right now. Why? Because I’m right here.