Before I begin let me just say what a joy that was. To hop onto Instagram and WhatsApp and all the usual contacts I have been used to seeing in my feed just frozen. Felt like the first week of the lockdown in 2020 when we were told we would have to work from home. The joy I felt knowing I would not be listening to annoying complaints of certain coworkers whom I had allowed to turn me into their daily confessional. Well, I must admit I did the same so, the moral corrosion was mutual. But back to Facebook. You know, this was not my first foray into having a day without Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp. In fact, that experience was the reason I no longer have the Facebook app on my phone. I had dropped my phone in a bowl of soaked grapes and the brown rice did not cut it. However, one of the most peaceful periods in my life arose from this. And on Monday, October 4th 2021, I was reminded of this. A few of these aspects I would like to share: What I did without and how much I needed them in the first place.
Facebook feeds can be overwhelming. Taking in others’ opinions about life, politics, and meaningless randomness is quite distracting. It’s kind of insidiously invasive. The right to express opinions is important but just like a faucet, after some time there is calcification. The opinions of others on ourselves and our opinions of others slowly solidifies in our subconscious. Little by little the garden of our relationships is rendered barren by our mutually hardened views. Hence, the ensuing decrease in sensitivity as we communicate. Similar to that argument you were having with your brother or sister where one of you is trying to tell the other how to manage money while the other constantly harps on the other’s intellectual arrogance. I digress. But to go a day or, in my case a couple of years ago, going a month, without staring down at a Facebook feed at every free moment was just the break I did not know I needed.
Instagram is Envy Porn. You read that right. The rush of lust one gets when getting a dose of an adult site is pretty similar to the rush of envy one gets when scrolling an Instagram feed. It thrives on the notion that the grass is greener on the screen (the lives of others). It plunges you into the role of a voyeur seeking to obtain pleasure vicariously by watching instead of doing. And the more visual access we are given to something desirable, the harder it is to resist. As was attested by the whistleblower, Frances Haugen, this phlegm of envy has been catastrophic to teenagers. But to be honest, from personal experience, it’s not just the teenagers. Teenagers may deal with body image issues; how good looking, how thin, how overweight, how tall; Are they conventionally attractive? But the adults have their fair share on their plates: Accomplishment as evidenced by their lifestyles. While some are proud of their toys and employment perks, others are proud of their loving families and perfect mates. Everyone is all smiles and all needs restored – or so it seems. In one shot you can both impress the envious and castigate the doubters. Whichever you fall into as you scroll you get to manage these feelings back and forth as you scroll. So, you get opinion overload on Facebook, then the envy or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) overload on Instagram. Tally that. Let’s keep going.
WhatsApp is a succubus. When you change your phone number, if you have WhatsApp, it notifies all your contacts on WhatsApp what the new number is. Which means all those annoying old acquaintances who are hoping to dive into your inbox to sell you their latest pyramid scheme that is not a pyramid scheme but a means to accumulate wealth in a pandemic while you are wondering where your next check will come from. Yes, that b… person. I digress. My biggest issue with WhatsApp is that well-meaning friends and family can slide you into chat groups you had no plans to be a part of and your phone will blow up every minute as two members in the group get into a heated debate about whether or not Jesus was black. Of course you can turn off notifications in the various chats but one thing I began to ponder as time went on has been; How much interaction with old acquaintances from high school and college do I need to maintain? How much can I realistically maintain? So we have an overdose of others’ opinions on Facebook, Voyeurism overload on Instagram and intractable WhatsApp chats.
Upon digesting the above, one could surmise I am anti-social but you couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I am quite more extroverted than introverted but at the ripe young age of 40, socializing for me has moved from the maintenance of a large or bulky rolodex to a minimal reliable shortlist. The greatest realization from the month I went without a phone and thus access to the above social media apps, was that I was too in touch. Too available. Too immersed in everything other than my own life, my own thoughts, my own required solace. It did not help that without access to the Lyft app, I had to walk to work. This walk to work, I must admit was where the magic happened. It was full of revelation. Without having music to listen to or podcasts to listen to on YouTube, I had the sound and smell of the exhaust pipes and the birds chirping at dawn and dusk. A week in, and these went from cacophony to symphony. Then something else arose; my own thoughts. Uninterrupted. Whatever thoughts I had, I got the full shebang. No escape. Two weeks in, it was clear, social media was not about taking a break from the grueling workday. It was me taking a break from my life and what I was supposed to make of it. My very own daily clarity I would shut out to see how “the others” were doing.
So, if you took the time out to read this, I hope this acts as a reminder that while it is sometimes exciting to read on the introspections of others, remember to take to the time examine your own. Sometimes the wisdom we work so hard to obtain from beyond ourselves is accessible from within.