Sometime toward the end of February, I suddenly had this idea to go on a social media purge for the month of March. If you know me at all, you know I tend to make impulsive decisions. I am one of those nutty people who say crazy things, and then actually go and do them. How my impulsiveness in life hasn’t led me astray is beyond me.
I had decided to make 2014 the year of gratitude. I often see people expressing daily gratitudes on Facebook for the month of November, around Thanksgiving. I thought, why not make it an entire year. The exercise has been interesting, and it has made me become keenly aware, and appreciative of my daily life. But, because I was broadcasting my gratitudes daily on social media, my interaction with social media became out of balance.
Since the era of AOL Instant Messenger, circa 2000, I’ve always enjoyed virtual interaction tools. The tools are the only way I’ve been able to keep track of my friends and family around the world. I really don’t even remember what life was like prior. So, I decided to try to remember it. For the month of March, I decided to not use any platform that would allow me to “like” anything. I also cut out and instant messengers such as Google Chat and Skype. I’d only log on if I had a prearranged call with someone. I took my daily gratitudes offline and pause on blogging.
The idea is to live in the moment as much as possible, eliminating opportunities for “lazy communication”, whereby people only think to contact you when you have showed online presence. It also eliminated any desire to constantly check to see if anyone has contacted me via the myriad of platforms. The experiment excluded LinkedIn and any work-related tools. I have to work after all, in the 21st century.
What I find most interesting is people’s reaction when I tell them about my experiment. People seem to still have a negative take on social medial tools. The most immediate reaction that I received often was, “Oh, I don’t really use Facebook much anymore.” People seem to want to somehow disassociate and show their disengagement with something that is now as common as the telephone. The psychology behind this is worth studying.
When faced with these comments, I always give the disclaimer that I am actually a proponent of social media. Heck, I raised funding to build 35 libraries with it in rural Cameroon! My generation is the last one that had lived without social media, but to discredit its usefulness is now as silly as someone in the 1900s denouncing electricity or the use of telephone. The Grandmother in an episode of Downton Abbey had made such comments, which I thought was an interesting parallel.
They key, as with everything in life, is about balance. The month of social media purge wasn’t as difficult as I had thought, mostly because my life is so busy these days. The experiment forced me to reflect upon how I use these tools, and to what degree they are really useful. I realized I rely a lot on social media to get my news, both about the world and friends and families. I noticed I actually use Foursquare a lot, not to stalk people, but to keep track of a list of places that I want to try and enjoy frequenting. I also realized I have no idea when anyone’s birthday is without Facebook…
I didn’t tell many people that I was going on this experiment, and it was also interesting to see that if I suddenly drop off of the face of the Earth, which let’s be honest, is social media these days, whether anyone would notice. Much to my relief, many people did notice and sent email and private messages inquiring my whereabouts. One friend even messaged just to make sure I wasn’t on the mysterious Malaysian Airline flight, because, well, one never knows.
I was grateful to see that I do indeed have many true friends. The experiment made me realized just how lazy we all have become in communication. Just because you see someone’s activity doesn’t mean you are interacting with that person. Clicking “like” on posts should never replace phone calls and emails. It’s a nice tool to express thoughts in between those phone calls and emails, but it should never, ever replace.
2014 is 25% over, and this experiment has allowed me to be that much more mindful in how I spend my time, and how I interact with my loved ones around the world. How is your 2014 going? What are your mindful living reflections?