Plugged. That’s how I’ve been feeling. The world has been spinning tragedy at breakneck speed, and all of it is delivered directly to my brain via the Internet, which I can’t seem to stop looking at. Even the good sometimes comes at me too quickly to bear.
And this thing? This red tape covered, bucket-of-cold-water-to-the-face, no-do-overs adulthood thing? It has been pulling no punches lately. So when Brooke called last Wednesday to warn me that the campsite we’d be spending the weekend at would have no cell service what so ever, it wasn’t met with the sense of impending doom I would have expected. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. A sense that the weekend couldn’t come fast enough. And I made a decision to dive in head first.
I remember when the woods were a scary place. The stuff of horror films. A place you would go basically only to get killed by some guy in a hockey mask with an axe to grind. And I remember when it switched. When the real live world I lived in, with people to hear you scream and big city connectivity and all, became scarier than an abandoned lake house in the middle of nowhere.
It was just after midnight when we found our campsite (and our friends), but being lost in the woods hours from home with my husband and child in the car wasn’t a stressful prospect. (Foolish, no doubt, but we’re not notorious for our timeliness.) We had gas and food and water and sleeping bags and a tent, and we were never really more than six miles from town. The horrors in my mind no longer lurk in the dark quiet woods. The deranged teenagers with axes to grind flit about in the open now, delivering their dark thoughts to my desktop daily in the form of bloodshed and manifestos (however misnomered), and I drink them in willingly, tragedies big and small, yours, mine, and everyone else’s, all at the speed of fiber optics.
We sat side by side in camping chairs in the dark, the fire threatening to go out, I took my first deep breath in months. Years maybe. It was quiet. Really quiet. No whirring of machines. No alerts faintly dinging from laptops left open in the living room. No apps to idly refresh on our phones. And no news. Not good news, not bad news, not news about what my best friend from summer camp in fourth grade ate for dinner at that trendy new gastropub in Miami.
The only piece of technology that didn’t get locked in the trunk of the car was our camera, and when I did finally see my phone again, the gut-tightening sensation I didn’t realize I’d been missing returned, threatening to rob me of the peace and quiet I’d finally found.
These past few weeks, as a writer, as an incessant analyzer, as a person who can’t shut up even if I want to, I’ve had so much to say. And there’s certainly no shortage of platforms for me to say it. You’d think it would be impossible for a person with a big old clown-footed social media footprint like I’ve left to feel verbally gagged, but that’s exactly how I’ve felt. Everyday it seems I’m grabbed by one of the world’s injustices (or worse, it’s horrors) and compelled to dive down the rabbit hole of information, only to come up wordless and sad and exhausted when I’m done, only to find that another horror or injustice has replaced it’s place in the national (or global) conversation and my thoughts and intentions and frustrations are left unsaid as I begin to soak in information about the next tragedy, the next blindly hopeful catalyst for change.
Perhaps coincidentally, the past few weeks I’ve found myself becoming increasingly active on Facebook. It’s never been my social media platform of choice, I don’t trust their terms of service, I bristle at their photo policies, and I question if they think through the broader interpersonal ramifications of their constant altering of privacy settings. But as the old saying goes…if you’re not paying to use a product, you ARE the product, and for the most part I’ve made my peace with that and come to appreciate, if not rely on, many of the truly useful features that the social media behemoth offers.
My Facebook feed has become the mental equivalent of drinking from a fire hose, instead of taking action, I find myself fantasizing about actions I could take, while ravenously hammering out angry responses to status updates I don’t agree with. I’ve taken to trying to change one mind at a time without ever talking to anyone directly while rendering myself unable to collect my thoughts enough to even articulate them anymore. To paraphrase Billy Corgan, if the world is a vampire, Facebook is its way of glamouring us.
So I came home, and I removed Facebook from my iPhone. I also downloaded an app called Anti-Social for my computer that locks me off the websites of my choice when I need to get work done and still access the internet. And then I saw this video The Innovation of Loneliness — which we should all watch. I’m not giving up Facebook for good. It’s added value to my business and my personal relationships. But I am going to establish some boundaries about how and when I use not only Facebook but social media in general. I’m setting a personal goal to unplug daily, each evening, not just once in a while, or while traveling. I don’t think the constant connectivity is good for me. I think I’m losing the thing that energizes me most: real live human connection.