Wherever you are right now, reading these words, take a look around. How many people have their necks craned down, looking at their phones? How many people have blurred the world around them and brightened the screen in front of them? It has become a reflex. Our cultural hard drive has become rewired with every ‘like’, every ‘follow’, and every ‘upload’.
Once, I made the decision to deactivate my Facebook account for an indefinite period of time. I didn’t know if it would last a week, maybe a month, maybe I would never come back to it. But some of the things that I became conscious of would stay with me forever. Prior to my disenchantment with the world of Facebook, my online interactions filled my moments of boredom with mindless scrolling and replaced countless opportunities of self-reflection.
Social media has become the meal replacement of human connection rather than the dietary supplement. Forget about writing down birthdays or sending a thoughtful written card, pop-up reminders and wall postings will suffice. Maybe I’m backwards but I appreciate the romantic note taped to the refrigerator, rather than the public proclamation of love through a tagged status update.
Maybe we’ve even become less engaged during new interactions. Are we always really listening when a new friend is telling us where they work, where they went to school, the names of their siblings? Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t But if we aren’t fully present while listening and we forget, it’s nothing a quick visit to their Facebook profile can’t resolve for us. In social settings, I began to notice how reaching for a phone had become an unconscious reflex, like scratching our head or crossing our arms. There was no negotiation of the action, it just happened. And it happened as soon as a person was given a moment alone, when their friends or date stepped away. They didn’t take in the scene around them. They didn’t acknowledge the person sitting next to them. They stared at their phone. Has acknowledging a stranger and making eye contact become that awkward and uncomfortable? Are we really going to look back on that night in the future and reminisce on the great photo we took of our food?
What if we couldn’t rely on social media to reconnect us to somebody? What if we didn’t have the option to “friend” them after we got home? Would we still be brave enough to ask for their number? Would we care enough to keep in touch with our loved ones through other mediums?
My Facebook hiatus went on for four months. My thoughts, my happy moments were heard through my voice instead of read through my updates. My attention wasn’t occupied by incessant swiping and I spoke to people on the bus. I spoke to people in grocery lines. I read more books, I hiked more trails, I made more friends. I appreciated the silent space I had created in my life. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other form of digital communication we have access to should not constitute as a replacement for our connection with people. It should only supplement it. Facebook isn’t a big bad thing that needs to be eliminated, but it certainly shouldn’t take away from real opportunities to connect. Look up every now and then. Unfortunately, if you miss something in real life, the universe doesn’t leave you a notification. Don’t miss a moment that is happening right now while waiting for another to finish uploading. Log back into life and reactivate your spirit.