Listen; we need to talk. Things aren’t the way they used to be. It seems like the more time I spend with you, the more drained and unfulfilled I feel. Where once I felt connected to those all over the world, now you make me feel disconnected from the people sitting right across the table. Sure, I’ve changed over the past 13 years, but so have you.
I still remember the day you were introduced into my life—the first time I received a university email address. Back in 2006, you still required a “.edu” email address in order to set up an account. You were…exclusive. I started an account at the behest of one of those edgy, cool kids in high school of which I was not (I had the edginess of a sousaphone). Upon setting up my account and filling out the necessary details, I instantly noticed…how boring the service was. Initially, I only had about four “friends” — most of whom were high school acquaintances at best. Still, this didn’t matter much as you were but a novelty…that, and MySpace still had my back.
Shortly after this time, you would come up in real life conversation.
“Are you on Facebook? No? You should get on it.”
I remember when the “Like” button functionality was introduced. I thought it was so stupid. “Why can’t a comment suffice? We’re becoming mindless idiots!” Still, I used it. Over time, I started to crave these little bits of social media currency. They provided a sensation that what I was posting was enhancing other people’s opinion of me. It still makes me feel uneasy when I think about it. I’d later discover that the strategy and technology of the “Like” feature were akin to those of a digital slot machine and mostly for you to compile a clearer picture of me through an algorithmic lens. Not cool, Facebook.
I can’t put my finger on when I went from occasionally checking you to having somewhat of a problem. I don’t think it officially became absurd until 2010. This was when I upgraded from a flip phone to a smartphone. Any friction that existed between me and checking you was removed.
It’s such a bizarre sensation to think back to when I first observed someone using social media from a phone. The year was 2005. I had arrived early to a venue where I was set to perform in the rhythm section of a band. One of the sound technicians was thoroughly engaged with his cell phone. Not even owning a cell phone myself yet, I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m checking MySpace.”
“From your phone?”
This behavior seemed completely absurd to me. Can’t he just wait to check it at home? Little did I know that just a few years later, I’d be checking my notifications first thing in the morning before even rolling out of bed and often before going to sleep.
For many years, using you from my phone seemed completely harmless. I would surf a bit or post an opinion I had at the time that I thought was genius or uplifting. Scrolling through most of these posts years later via the Memories feature, I would quickly change the privacy settings to “Only Me” out of cringe-inducing embarrassment.
I should have known that my using you wasn’t always healthy when I started deleting my browser history from work computers. Though I wouldn’t have acknowledged it at the time, I now know it was hurting my job performance.
Over the years, I experienced a functioning addiction to you — like a smoker who only smoked two to four cigarettes a day. It didn’t feel like a problem. I was even making new “friends” online who shared my interests and beliefs. Even though I spent more time “with” these new “friends” than I did with many of my closest friends, I began to feel lonelier and disconnected.
At one point, I physically met up with an online community I had first met through you. I spent several days with these people. People from all over the country and even other countries, people I had messaged with back and forth for over a year, were suddenly before me. I saw their quirks, heard their voices, and truly bonded with them for the first time. After the few days were over, we all returned to our lives and online personas. I continued to have “community” online with these folks for years…but it stopped feeling like a community. It just felt a bunch of icons that occasionally emitted textural replies. The magic of that first interaction would only return upon seeing these people in person again.
It wasn’t until I replaced this online community with a physical one that I began to see how much I had been attempting to replace the physical community with a digital version and how much the digital version had fallen short. Suddenly, a digital hello meant little in comparison to a physical handshake. I had been fooling myself all along.
Scrolling through your infinity pool of posts from acquaintances I probably wouldn’t bother to greet in person grew even more unfulfilling. I felt less like a “friend” and more like a voyeur. I would log onto you in expectation of a sensation of connection and leave feeling disoriented, disenchanted, and even lonelier than I had before I started my scroll session.
You also seem to be intent on ruining a new story. Person-to-person “wow, that’s crazy!” moments became devoid of excitement. Suddenly, a story a friend or I would impart was old news even before the chance existed to mention it. “Oh, yeah — I saw that you had posted about that” would quickly deflate the excitement of hearing about something. I’d find myself going to catch up with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while, only to find that we didn’t have anything new to talk about. Our “news feed” had already fizzled the spark. No story was fresh. Every in-person telling was but a retelling. Every get-together was but a review of posts on our timelines.
One day, I looked up from my screen and noticed that my life was passing me by. I felt like the train I was riding was now moving much faster and I hadn’t even looked out the window to enjoy the scenery.
I don’t regret my time with you. I made initial connections with people I now call dear friends. But the time has come for us to go our separate ways. It’s time for me to appreciate the scenery.
Sure, I may miss out on certain things by leaving you. Still, these events pale in comparison to the events I could miss the longer I keep my nose to the screen. Moments with my wife, my growing son, spending time with my wonderful family, catching up with a buddy, making music with my friends, reading books that help me grow, exercising my body, or reconnecting to my God and community — these are essential. Everything you provide, however, is not.
So, in the words of Curly Bill:
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