I woke up on December 28th feeling pissy and restless. It’s not usual. I usually wake up feeling sleep-deprived, bearing a deep sense of fear that I have forgotten something.
In this state, it’s best that I get up earlier than I need to in order to acclimatize – otherwise all verbal approaches other than ‘Here is some coffee’, will be met with a growl and a glower.
Part of the reason for my particularly irrational state of mind that morning, was getting offline over the festive season. This is not some crusade telling you that everything will be ok if you follow my handy steps, or an experiment in modern social culture. It’s me getting a breath and being a hypocrite after years of early adoption and leading folks into social media.
High on the list of things that were making me cross was that I had lost my sense of curiosity.
The ongoing torrent of updates and links in my social feed had begun to wash over me and my reaction generally was ‘I don’t care’.
If you think you’re clever, losing your sense of curiosity is terrifying. I admit, I am prone to thinking I am a smarty pants. I like to know stuff and get things right. It’s not my finest aspect, but it’s part of my sense of self. To lose that part of me was a bit of a shock that made me feel rudderless and stupid.
I’d started to look at social media passively. I’d click on links for a short laugh, I’d read half an article and close the page without thinking. I asked nothing of the swathes of images, updates,
reports and one liners and I could care less if they happened at all.
Looking at social media passively means not having to engage, comment or think about what you are consuming. That’s just TV isn’t it? Sit back and let it come to you in a state that you cannot change.
So I decided to retreat. I wanted to test my conviction that I don’t need the micro-validation of a ‘thumbs up’ or a one line retort to my updates in order to feel as though I was achieving the things I wanted.
This naturally leaves a much harder question – What did I want? I started to make a list, with a nice pencil on a crisp sheet of grid paper. 45 minutes later after gnawing at my pencil and leaving coffee rings on my note paper, I came up with a few things that required a bit more focus. I always have plenty to do.
I then looked at the tabs open on my laptop screen and the live apps on my phone. Did any of these things help me achieve the items on my list? In my case, the answer was ‘No’.
I realised that I wanted to better protect my intake. Now the Web, as we know, is a vast place. This is why we have handy-dandy search engines and other means of looking stuff up. The social web has now become so vast that it is easy to turn a social feed into a critical mass of information that no reasonable human being would be able to cognitively deal with in real-time.
So, I shut off all the notifications on my apps and closed the tabs on my browser. The temptation to check was initially strong but wore off once I got into other meatier things to set my brain to.
There’s plenty of books about this of course, slow intake, depth of thought, keeping out of the shallows etc. I had rather cockily thought – ‘I study technology, this will never happen to me.’ Which was frankly bollocks and I had become overwhelmed.
Surprising things occurred. One was the realisation that if you’re not active on social media, some people will think there is something wrong with you. I can assure you that ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ and I do sometimes read things online, I just don’t feel the urge to update as often as I might have before.
I still take a lot of photos, I’ve always been happy to observe my surroundings and find something that I think of as beautiful in a scene. But I’m not doing things in order to add them to my time stream, I’m doing them to be there and the images are a side effect of that process.
The release from micro-validation was pleasant and slightly odd. Following a few nice messages asking if I was ok as I had not reported back on whatever, it felt a little as though I was living a clandestine life. Not reporting in five times a day, was I doing things in secret? Of course not. I am definitely still alive, certainly not up to anything worth keeping a secret, but I now like to think about what I am sharing and why.
I don’t feel the need to pass on all of the videos and skits I see, to prove that I think I have a sense of humour – I’ve been busy working out how to write a comedy script, I think that will be more valuable to me in the long run.
I haven’t forwarded every cartoon I have read – though the recent events did provide art works I felt were relevant, interesting and worth sharing. I did however, need to be offline while drawing my own comic.
The point I am aiming for is one about purposeful conscious consumption. There are books I have not read but I want to. So, why do I want to read them? Is it time well spent in getting to what I want? Or is it sharing things to show I think I’m clever and funny – basically showing off? What am I contributing by sharing something? I sometimes feel that social updates are a digital equivalent of seeing a young man carrying Ulysese or War and Peace on the tube. It’s a social indicator, but he may never get past page 5. (Ok, I’m projecting because I never got past page 5).
If we only consume passively the materials that are being read by everyone, where is the original input to a situation? Parroting the work of others, appeals to me less than challenging myself to be choosy about intake and how I spend my time thinking. Most of all, I find it hard to think deeply about things when I am surfing. I’m in agreement with the idea that cognitive multi-tasking is garbage. It’s not the same as walking and chewing gum, I invite you to look that up.
What I do like is getting to know something in depth, building on what I already know and then finding information which surprises me, so that I can create an informed opinion.
Do I still surf across social media? For sure. But I do this when I’m not trying to achieve anything. Social media for me has become my down-time, bar a few essential updates from close friends, it’s become my TV.
JK – Currently reading a paper book and imagining a near future sci-fi story where this is an act of protest.