A few weekends ago, I decided to try a social media blackout. Not for any particular reason but to see how it’d feel. Like many others, I too am addicted to my phone, social media, the constant pings that reach out to me from distances away and make me feel less like the single, unconnected human that I am. So I gave this a shot. It was hard.
That same weekend, our family friends threw an Easter dinner party. There were two other girls my age and after ten minutes of socializing and catching up, all it took was one single moment of uncomfortable silence and in a flash, like it was our natural human instinct, our thumbs shot to our phones in our pockets.
And as I awkwardly and in a state of conscious self-restraint sat there, I was left thinking. What did this behavior mean? For our relationships? Our bodies, our health? Our MENTAL health? What does it mean for our brain development, our ability to learn and absorb information if we give up on socializing after a second of silence? If a hard question bores us after two minutes and we resort to browsing the web; not THINKING, only doing? If an intricate, some would say “encoded,” text from a friend, acquaintance or crush leads us to search the web for what they mean instead of just ASKING?
Every little thing is accessible to us at the slightest whim, and as much as we like to think it’s connecting us, it is also making us victims of our own impulses. Without mindfulness we’re reaching a state that is simultaneously glazed-over brain fog and over-stimulated anxiety all at once.
So, today I’d like to extend three challenges to you all. Three simple things that, if you open yourself up to be changed by them, can help you re-take control of about 30% of your waking life.
FIRST, our presence on social media is too often substituted for real, live, human interaction. We text and share and snap nearly everything going on in our life, but our online interactions have developed an almost superficial, product-like attribute. We’re not connecting, we’re simply consuming like we do all other forms of cheap entertainment. And the hours we spend thinking we’re catching up with social media, engaging in liking and commenting is doing nothing more than creating an illusion.
Challenge number 1. Talk to people. It can be someone you know or someone you’d never in a million years have even approached. But genuinely talk. No “weather’s nice today, isn’t it?” kind of dialogue. Share something from your life. Ask about theirs. Share memories, experiences. THAT is how we’re supposed to LEARN. Actively BE in that moment of conversation. And really, truly, LISTEN. That’s a powerful thing.
Which brings me to the second issue – our attention spans. Skimming is becoming the new “reading”. Information is served to us on a silver platter and we don’t even bother to try processing it ourselves before, much less question it after. When confronted with something we don’t know the answer to, we no longer feel the thrill of experimentation or hear the “eureka” of independent discovery. We only feel the dull translation of the problem into search engine speak and the sound of a mouse click.
Instead, challenge number 3: let us all question what we take for granted. Question those predetermined paths and rules. Question those news articles; those opinions – even if it seems everyone agrees on them. Before we take the easy way out of keeping our brain active and resort to mindless browsing, let us really think about our options and choose to act with INTENTION not out of instinct.
Finally, our constant companionship to our phones and digital notifications draws out our narcissism and insecurities all at once. The perfect combination to leave us awake at night, pondering our self-worth, relationships, and purpose, in ways that are both unhealthy and based on insubstantial “data” we’ve collected and decoded from our online expeditions. We are imprisoned mentally as well as physically, because we’ve developed a deeply ingrained need to use up every second of free time for aimless browsing. That’s not “free time”. That’s imprisonment.
Hours upon hours spent each day actively surfing. Hours upon hours spent thinking about it. And valuable lost seconds upon seconds spent mindlessly “checking” for updates. The very addiction itself has its own side effects. To truly and honestly recognize this, our only course of action must be to disconnect. Take a step back to recognize how incredibly flat – literally – the online world is. And how round and vivid this other one is.
Now, I’m not an alien trying to convince everyone to go back to the Stone Age where phones, internet, and social media didn’t exist. But I do want to do is extend these three challenges to all of us so that we can all create meaningful conversation, meaningful lives, and all the while be healthier, happier people. 1: Genuinely talk to someone. 2: Stimulate the brain by thinking FIRST before aimlessly browsing. 3: Disconnect.
Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at UofT, suggests that in one lifetime, we interact with thousands of people. And they, in turn with their own thousand. And as much as we’re compelled to think we’re just the equivalent of little dust mites in the greater scheme of things, our actions create ripples in the world more significant than we could ever anticipate. Let’s make those interactions REAL.
I presented this speech at my school’s mental health forum this Thursday. We had an amazing range of speakers and singers; loved the event! Hope you enjoyed the speech and hopefully it helps you on your own personal journey.