A good friend and fellow creative and entrepreneur recently eliminated all social media from his life. About his experience, he wrote the following:
It’s really eye-opening just how much of our lives many of us “live” on social media, trapped in an alternate reality we don’t even realize we’re in most of the time. I don’t say that as an accusation but as more of an observation from someone who was in it for years and has been on the outside for about five weeks now. Many of us rely on social media for so much: information, inspiration, entertainment, connection, commerce, promotion, validation, communication, and the list goes on. And don’t get me wrong, some of that is beneficial and/or worthwhile, but many of us become so wrapped up in it all that it can be a challenging labyrinth to navigate. In some cases the lines get so blurred that they all become one in the same and we end up spending a good chunk of our day in a trance staring at a screen thinking that whatever it is that’s consuming us in that moment is what’s really important.
This reminded me of Erich Fromm writing in 1955 in The Sane Society about how cameras alienate, or remove, people from their own lives. It’s wild how much has changed and yet how little has changed.
The Kodak Slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest,” which since 1889 has helped so much to popularize photography all over the world, is symbolic. It is one of the earliest appeals to the push-button power feeling; you do nothing, you do not even have to know anything, everything is done for you; all you have to do is press the button. Indeed, the taking of snapshots has become one of the most significant expressions of alienated visual perception, of sheer consumption. The “tourist” with his camera is an outstanding symbol of an alienated relationship to the world. Being constantly occupied with taking pictures, actually he does not really see anything at all, except through the intermediary of the camera. The camera sees for him, and the outcome of his “pleasure” trip is a collection of snapshots, which are the substitute for an experience which he could have had, but did not.
When I first read the above passage, in the margin of the book I wrote, “Social media is far worse; it alienates us from our entire lives.”
I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I do have a Twitter account. I don’t plan on getting rid of it anytime too soon. That said, I do think it’s worth regularly and closely examining our relationship to social media—and really, to all of the technology we use—and asking: Is this alienating me from living my real life? If so, is it worth it? At the very least, can I lessen the alienating effect?
For my friend this meant completely eliminating social media. For me this means having only one active account and accessing it only on my computer. I took all social media apps and the internet off my phone; not because I’m some kind of enlightened person, but the opposite: when it comes to social media I’m like a junkie with no willpower. (Case in point: I eliminated the internet from my phone too because I was using it to log into my Twitter account.)
My phone is with me often, and my use of it was alienating me from my real life. So I tried to solve that problem. It’s been quite effective. But if I’m being completely honest, sometimes even though I don’t have access to the internet or social media, I’ll be out in the world and have a thought or see something and think to myself: That’d make a good tweet. Or, I wonder what so-and-so said about such-and-such topic. For now, it’s manageable. In the future, who knows.
My consumption of information is increasingly coming from two sources: books and newsletters. (I skim the front page of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in order stay abreast of major news, but that’s it.) The reason for this is simple: I, and many of my coaching clients, too, find that books and newsletters allow me to engage with material in a deep and present way, and then get on with my life. After I’ve spent an hour reading a book or some of my favorite newsletters I feel content, nourished, and energized. After I’ve spent an hour on social media I feel excitable, restless, and anxious. And I know I’m not alone.
The take-home point is this: We are living amidst a whole lot of noise, much of which is alienating us from our own lives. The one thing that we do control is the ability to turn the dials. It’s worth remembering this, and intentionally creating a sound-system that works for us.