Has the internet and social media changed the human experience? Of course it has, but how exactly?
The good, the bad, and the ugly
I don’t even really need to tell you about the benefits of social media, do I? We all know it, we all experience them on a day by day basis, which is part of the reason why it is so addictive.
I love that I can stay in touch with far away friends. I love that the internet makes my world so small.
I love that I can access a fountain of free information – it gives me the ability to learn almost anything I want, from how to play an instrument, to learning a new language, to how to bake an elaborate cake.
I love that whatever ridiculous questions about some specific and strange facet of life I may have, I can ask Google with no shame and no doubt that hundreds others have wondered the exact same thing. Examples, lol.
I love that information, knowledge, wisdom, entertainment, art and stories of the human experience can be shared so easily.
….To name a few.
Of course we also have heard about the bad side of the internet and social media. I think our addiction to it has a number of disadvantages to our personal development, and these are some that I have been contemplating recently.
The premise of social media is to connect us with the world, and in many ways it does, but it also breeds a false sense of connection. We put less value on cultivating meaningful relationships and instead derive a sense of self worth and satisfaction from the number of followers, or acquaintances we have, and our brief interactions with them by the way of comments, likes, upvotes and downvotes. Meanwhile, in the real world, we ignore the person sitting right in front of us trying to have a conversation with us, because we are caught up in these short-lived interactions taking place in our internet life.
We use Social media to share the stories of our life. We share narrations and photographs of both the pivotal and mundane moments, and in doing that we weave the story of our life for all to see, to laugh with us, to cry with us, to rejoice with us, to revolt with us and experience with us. I personally love to document the simple moments of life, and I do believe that something profound can happen in the sharing of the human experience.
…But there’s another side to this that I have been thinking about. One of the prime reasons we have real-time meetings with friends for lunch, or for coffee, is to catch up on each others lives and the stories that have happened since our last afternoon spent together. However, after seeing everything you both have been up to by means of facebook, it takes some of the incentive out of meeting up. This of course doesn’t mean that we don’t still meet up, but perhaps it has an impact on the frequency and number of meet-ups. Our stories have been told.
…I have noticed that living online has made me:
Websites like Pinterest provide such a treasure trove of inspiration for crafts worth crafting and the gorgeous tones of a life well lived, and I love it!
And yet, I believe that living online has made me less creative. I once looked at my Pinterest board and I took note of how many of these ideas I have collected that I have actually brought to life. Since then, I have made a very active effort to try to actually create what inspires me, but that had to be a very conscious choice and one that involves a very real and unglamorous effort.
Because a strange thing happens when I pin something I love. On some level, the act of pinning an idea and “collecting” it brings about a sublime level of satisfaction, a sense of completion. It’s almost like internally – I feel like I have already completed it on some level. But I didn’t. And my life is no more full because of it. The idea was simply collected. Sometimes too much inspiration is a bad thing, because it paralyses us. Too many options, the fear of imperfection, mental exhaustion, or inspiration-numbing. There is a time for collecting of inspiration, and there is a time for creation. Inspiration should only be about 10-20%, we don’t need a whole lot of it. We just need something to set our soul on fire and then we have to go and create. The internet has it all the other way around.
Even the most simple decisions of every day life can be googled and this has made me a less decisive person. Often, I am confused and spoiled for choice, and I rely on the internet to make decisions for me. We want to make the “perfect” decision, even when it comes to where to go for dinner with a friend. What about spontaneity? What about making decisions based on what you want, and not based on reviews? What about making mistakes and trying again next time? Why are we so afraid of making a bad decision or having a mildly unpleasant experience? It’s all a part of life.
I am less likely to keep track of special days in a loved ones life (birthdays, anniversaries, milestones) because I rely on Facebook to remind me.
While there isn’t much difference between writing it into your calendar, and then seeing your calendar and being reminded of an important date when you otherwise would not have known, the important difference is that at one point in time, you took the time and effort to learn that person’s special day and you made the conscious choice to integrate it into your life.
While the outcome may be the same, the process makes a difference.
(That being said, I think it is lovely that facebook reminds us of the birthdays of all kinds of friendships we have so that we may wish them, because it may make their day that much more special for them. In this example, I’m talking specifically about our inner circle friends and family.)
When was the last time you were able to do a task without checking in on your internet life? How frequently do we check our e-mail, or various social media platforms? Some people can’t even make it through a 5 minute drive without checking their phones, which in my humble opinion is both idiotic and cruel.
This level of interruption is catastrophic to our productivity. We forget how to focus on just one task at a time, and are distracted so easily. Imagine what we could accomplish if this was not a ruling factor in our life?
The internet is a breeding ground of extremes. It cultivates complete anonymity and simultaneously a wicked loss of privacy. This sense anonymity leads to so much unkindness in the way we interact with people who perhaps have a different view to us, or represents something we do not like. There’s a feeling that we can say whatever cruel things we want, and we forget there is a real human being at the other end, who is reading what you say, and is not in the right mental state to process it. This can lead to cases of profound cyber bullying that can have devastating consequences.
Lack of privacy
The other side of the coin, is lack of privacy. You can never be sure where anything you put on the internet can end up. The concept of how much you share has to be a conscious decision that we come to, and we shouldn’t let it happen passively. That might mean looking at your various “internet homes” and think about your purpose and intent for them and what you are comfortable sharing on each one.
The Clickbait epidemic is more rampant than ever! There is just so much useless information all across the internet, and we read it, because it’s there, and because it’s eye catching. But the majority of what we are exposed to on the internet adds no real value to our life, in fact, some “news” pieces thrive simply on shock-value, underlying negative tones and outrage, half truths and untruths. We lack the filter to process through so much of this kind of content that we subconsciously let this garbage linger within us for days.
Instant Gratification Nation
One thing faster internet speeds have taught us, is that we like things to be quick. We don’t want to just reach our ideal body weight, we want to reach it in 2 weeks. We don’t just want to learn how to play the guitar, we want to learn to play like Jimi Hendrix in 30 days. We want to get a response to our text message within 2 minutes of us sending it, because….well, texts are instant, and we know the recipient has read it (I mean, they check their phone every 3 minutes like we do, and we know it.)
Without the promise of a result in a brief time span, people used to do things because they wanted/needed to do it. But the prospect that we could try playing the guitar for one month and still be no where near good, it instantly makes the pursuit not as worthwhile.
Living life online vs Real life
Our online life is not real life, it might be a part of it, but it is not it. And I’m glad I realize that now because I don’t want to spend my life putting all my energy into simply a projection of life. I want to know life itself.
We look at a beautiful photograph of a man who has climbed to the peak of mountain and stands in his air of triumph and oneness with the world. We like that photo and collect it mentally. We feel good about that photo, it has touched some part of us. Within a split second, we continue scrolling and find the next photo that invokes a similar but numbed sense of awe in us. But the reality is that we are looking at the photo of a man who has climbed a mountain, but the reality is that we have not. We are not even one step closer to climbing a mountain. We watch other people live life, but we are paralyzed in our own.
When we live through a screen, we get a ripped of experience of what life is. That’s why we should more of our energy into interacting with life, and not a computer screen.
Boredom and the need for constant stimulation
Boredom; It’s not something we experience much of these days, and yet we are more bored and more boring than we ever have been. As soon as an inkling of boredom even creeps into our subconscious, we have instantly reached for our phone and we have access to so many different ways to not be bored.
The sensation of boredom: Well, imagine having nothing to do, with nothing planned to do, and no form of technology to distract you from yourself. Sounds like hell.
And it’s one of the first things you notice when you go on an internet detox.
Finding the magic of life again
The problem is we are constantly on the search for, and love to surround ourselves with things that entertain us. If we are looking for life to entertain us, then without technology, we will find ourselves bored a lot.
But if we are looking to experience life, then nothing can bore us.
The warm breeze that flows against our cheek is not here to entertain us. It is something to be experienced.
If we look at a flower, it is not entertaining. The flower cannot tell us a story, or a funny joke. But a flower is a flower, it grows, it opens in the sun. We can experience the flower and we can know life.
How to live life offline
Use the internet and don’t be used by the internet
The internet is not a bad thing.
It’s just that we are supposed to use the internet and not have the internet use us.
How do we use the internet? By using it as the resource for life, but not as life itself.
I think about how my mother uses the internet. She checks her e-mail, respond to e-mails, e-mails me about something new she wants me to do (lol), look up something she needs, order that thing on amazon, like and comment on her friend’s facebook photo album, log off, and return to her life and creation. She’s probably spent about an hour or an hour and a half on the internet doing all those things. It has a beginning and an ending. It doesn’t seep into every moment of her day.
I appreciate that we are different to my parent’s generation, and many of us have blogs and businesses that revolve around social media. But that doesn’t mean we can’t log on, do what we need to do, and then step away and let the rest happen on it’s own. A beginning and an ending.
Bring back old forms of connection that you value
Things like writing letters, making a phone call, a surprise visit to a friends house, or printing photographs. It doesn’t make sense to live like people lived 60 years ago, because there are so many advances and streamlining in our world now that would be just silly to ignore. So just pick a couple of old-school methods of connection and make an effort to bring them to life again.
Build a Community
One of the things we love about the internet is that it is a place that we can find our people, our community. And guess what? We can find them in the real world too. They exist.
“The opposite of addiction is not abstinence. It’s connection.” Sarah Bowen
Just going cold turkey off the internet and your social media communities alone is not the key to happiness and freedom. You have to find the aspects we love about it in the real world with real people too.
What do you love to do? Join classes, groups, seminars, workshops, start a meet-up group and bring like minded people together! Who are your people?
I remember a few summers ago I stood on on my neighbours front porch with a cake that I had baked and wanted to share with them. I didn’t know if they were home or not, and I had not called in advance. I started thinking about how long it has been since I have stood at someones doorway without prior arrangements, without knowing if they would be home or not. I have to admit – it felt strange and a little bit awkward. I am so used to reaching someones drive way and sending a quick text “Here.” or “Outside.” to which my friend would come out, or the other way round.
That was the first time I started thinking about how much my world had closed in around me since childhood. When I was little, I remember running to all my neighbours house, ringing their doorbell to see if my friend could come out and play. Sometimes no one was home, sometimes they could play, sometimes they couldn’t. I wasn’t afraid of rejection, I wasn’t afraid of uncertainty, I wasn’t afraid of waiting, and I wasn’t afraid of standing on someones porch.
Get to know the people you interact with on a daily basis – the barista, the cashier at the grocery store, all the girls who work at the salon, your next door neighbour, the person who always seems to be at the gym at the same time as you, your yoga instructor. Make a heart connection with everyone you meet. Say HELLO, Good morning! to people you see on the street. Smile.
This is how you build community.
Create, practice refine: Practice your trade, talent and skill
Use your hands, your body, to create something. Create music, art, food, build something, write a book, dance, run.
If we want to become good at something in life so that we may share it with the world, then we must practice. We must dedicate our life to our trade, our talent, our skills. We can better ourselves this way. A labour of love.
I remember a few years ago I did not know about TV shows. I mean, obviously I knew they existed, but I never watched any and I certainly didn’t know about how to watch them on my laptop. So during my study breaks, I would read, I would reorganize parts of my room, I would practice knitting, or I would draw or write. And then my roommate introduced me to TV shows and TV shows from the comfort of my laptop while laying in bed.
And that was the beginning of the end, lol.
I started spending my breaks and before bed watching shows, enjoying the mindless, effortless entertainment they would give me. It was much easier than reorganizing, or reading, or knitting, or drawing or writing, but far less rewarding.
And now I want to go back, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy. I feel like when I am tired, I only have the energy to watch something, and not the energy to create. But I know that is not true, because I used to do it and it never felt like work. It felt like pleasure. So now it’s a process of unlearning, and remembering what came naturally to me in the very beginning.
Ps. But I will always love The Office.
Live your stories, your legacy
Live your life boldly and have memorable adventures.
I remember a story my grandfather told me about how he left India on a ship to to the US to study Botany, with nothing but 100 dollars in cash and no way to reach his family other than to write a letter that would take over a month to reach home.
I don’t want the majority of my life stories to revolve around the internet. I don’t want to tell stories to my children that start with “and one time, mommy went on the internet and….” Lol.
So don’t be afraid to go into the unknown, to do something that frightens you, to be a little bit uncomfortable, to chase your dreams, and go on some adventures.
Going offline won’t make you a happier person.
…Or even a better person.
There is no promise of happiness from simply disconnecting with the online world. In fact, once the novelty of having “more time” (as an example) wears off, what matters is what you do in that time.
I read a very fascinating article by Paul Miller, a man who went off the internet for an entire year. He writes about his experience here. In this honest sharing, something that struck him was that the first few months offline were blissful and he felt like he was on some kind of natural high with a fresh, new affinity for life. However, once the novelty of “I don’t use the internet” wore off, he found that he was not really different to how he was when he was online all the time. He still found ways to waste his time, to be anti-social, to be unproductive – just in different ways now.
So the most important thing is what you do with your time. Bad habits and tendencies will always lure us in with their ease of nature. But if we become masters of our time, and creators of our life, then we have some influence on where we go from here. So it’s important, internet or no internet, to be conscience of our tendencies and habits that you create for yourself in your life.
Burst into life
A passage I shared on a previous blog post:
I love to create. I have a lot of ideas inside of me. But most of my creations and interests are things like writing poetry, prose, and my blog, reading, creating music, yoga, photographs, meditation, contemplation. It involves a lot of internal and quiet work. I know this is a big part of who I am and I am glad for it. But lately I feel a strong desire in me to really BE in this world. To get out and get comfortable with this earth. To engage physically in life. To be active, to create, to build community. To use my hands to make something special. To learn new skills. To always keep creating. To live more human and less digital. I love and respect the part me that is internal because I know that it is sacred and true. But there is a part of my spirit that also wants to burst into LIFE!
To burst into life means to channel your internal energies to create something. To get to know life more intimately. To know what it is to be alive.
Be prepared for boredom
Without the internet, once the first pangs of boredom start, one of the first things we realize is that we have nothing at arms length to relieve us of this boredom. That for us to be fascinated again, it will require a considerable amount of effort. It may require us to step out of our comfort zone, to step out of our home, our neighbourhood. It may require us to try something new, try a new way of being, to meet new people, it may require us to startle ourselves a little bit.
We have to know what it is to be comfortable in our own company. We have to know what it is to create something to pour ourselves into.
Think about your internet usage and make your own decision about what kind of changes you could make.
Do you need to go all out and be completely internet free for some time?
Or are there certain websites that you want to deactivate from – that are just too much of a time suck and add too little value to your life?
Or do you need to give yourself a certain amount of time to check on your online life, and limit it to only that time?
I hope you enjoyed my musings on the internet and social media and that it has given you some food for thought.