After reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work, an eye-opening read on how our brain’s are being hard-wired by distraction for shorter attention spans (and what to do about it), I decided to “quit social media” for a while. I went about eight weeks with no Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. At first, it made me fidget every time I had a spare moment. What was I supposed to do at the stoplight?? But in the end I found it very liberating.
Obviously, you probably found this post by clicking a link on social media, so I do still have somewhat of a presence on social media, mostly so I can share blog posts. But my experiment has left quite an impression on me, one which still has me “surviving” without Facebook, Twitter or Instagram apps on my phone. I find that these apps (and sites in general) are real time suckers which add little to no value to my life.
I have found that the absence of Instagram has been especially interesting. First, I don’t have to risk thumb arthritis scrolling the endless tripe of throw-away photos from people I barely know. But I’ve noticed that when I’m not preoccupied looking at scenes through my phone’s screen, I stand out. I took a walk on the beach the other day and saw an incredible contrast between those who were trying to get a picture to post and those who just…walked and enjoyed themselves.
I think, in our obsession with pocket photography we’ve devalued the photograph. It used to be a monumental family event to “get our pictures taken” at holidays. I would hate to be a photographer these days, simply because EVERYONE thinks they know how to take great pictures because they know how to apply a filter on Instagram (not even close).
Here’s what’s tragic: When we make every moment an “Insta-moment,” things that are meaningless are exploited as if they have meaning, leaving us really confused. We start to think that everything is important, which means nothing is. I hate to break it to you, but your burrito isn’t that awesome; Your hair is just as good as it was yesterday; That shirt you are so proud of today will be hated tomorrow. And why should I care that you got a pedicure?
Not only are un-important things deemed important, things that are meaningful are exploited as if they are only useful for getting attention. We immediately cash out the value of a moment by throwing it onto a self-glorifying web page. How many meaningful moments have you missed by framing the right shot on your camera? Have you just sat and taken in the deliciousness of your steak instead of pausing while it cools to share with the world that you’re “having a great time”? Have we lost the ability to just enjoy things? What if you just told people what you had for dinner?
I was recently at a conference where some “famous” pastors spoke. After each session, several people lined up to meet and talk to the speaker and to (I hope) share how his message or ministry was especially impactful. I usually avoid these lines because I know that, if I were that guy, I’d probably be exhausted and hoping the line would end so I could go get some dinner. But because particular speaker has made quite an impact on me, I decided to wait in line to shake his hand and thank him for what God has done through him. Do you know what almost every person in front of me asked to take a picture with him?
Now I’m not trying to assume a bad motivation on their part or a superiority on my part because I didn’t take a picture. But don’t you think it makes that brother feel a little more like an artifact than a person, like a tourist destination or famous building? If I visit the Washington Monument or the Eiffel Tower I may take my picture in front to show that I was there. But don’t you think that meeting a person should be about more than who will be impressed or envious that you shook their hand? Isn’t it more about getting face to face and having a real interaction with another human? A sincere “Thank you” or a thoughtful question seems like a great way to honor that person and get to see a deeper level of who they are. All a picture gets you is a few likes and comments from people who barely care and won’t remember that it happened in ten minutes.
I guess what I’m getting at is that, in addition to sucking away our attention and stealing our enjoyment, our social media obsession can make us forget our humanity. It can make our brains think that connection is about likes and photos and not about words, hugs, listening, smiles and all the things that only us humans can do when we are face to face. You are not a machine, and your life consists of more than the digital inputs and outputs across however many hundreds of wires and servers.
I dare you to take a risk and start to enjoy the steaks, sunsets and smiles on a soul level. Start slow, and see what happens when real light breaks through.
(If you want to watch a Tedx talk from Cal Newport on this subject, click here)