A Gift that Requires Nothing from that Broken Supply Chain
Give it yourself! Please!
As I’ve written about previously, I’m off social media. I still have the accounts, but I’ve been actively off the socials since Labor Day Weekend 2020.
It’s been in my mind a minute to revisit my choice here and invite you again into it with me. I was just reminded quite powerfully of why.
I opened a friend’s newsletter on my laptop. I clicked a link that I didn’t realize was to an instagram post of his. To my UTTER HORROR I was still apparently logged in on Safari so it not just opened his post, but I got to see all those horrifically, scientifically-created-to-addict-us-as-much-as-possible red notifications.
Here was my experience, told as close to in-real-time as possible (I sat down to write this immediately):
My heart race increased. I wanted to check the notifications. To see what I was missing. Had been missing.
My thinking brain immediately began telling me about all the people I’ve let down with unanswered messages or ignored requests to share [insert random event or post or idea to which I am both unaffiliated, and frankly, unsupportive of].
My blood hummed [is still humming] with keyed up energy. I feel activated. Hyperactivated. I’m looking around my house right now for where the next threat is coming from.
I noticed as I went back to reading my friend’s post, there was a real “oh, I’ve missed this part of his life” and I immediately began wondering if I missed it enough to get back on the apps or if I was somehow missing out on being part of his life by not knowing what he was reading.
There was a part of me that felt behind because I wasn’t reading everything on his list. In the short time I was even looking at his post (the whole impetus for being there anyway), I found myself scrutinizing what he was reading, judging myself for not also having read all of those books, and wondering if I should order any of them (answer: I should not, since I have about 30 books right now in my house that I took a long time to choose and I’m excited and ready to read this month and next).
I feel like I’ve run a sprint with Usain Bolt level energy. Seriously. Not just my heart and blood are hammering / thrumming. My whole system feels like I was just given an electric jolt and I am not in control of it. For my contemporaries, I feel inside what Jessie looked like outside on Save by the Bell on that pill episode. I’m so excited! I’m so scared!
I am not an alcohol or drug addict. But I’ve lived with and been around them my whole life. And from that personal observation, I’m describing myself reacting to my 30 seconds - THIRTY SECONDS - accidental foray onto the ‘gram as they invariably appeared to me coming down from a relapse.
I’m going to come back to this, because like I said, I’ve been wanting to revisit this topic and invite you again to join me in ridding yourself of these destructive tools. But first, I really do need to do some breathing, snuggle with my cats, and go on a walk so that I can write that from a place of grounded, connected, presence and not whatever keyed up, distracted, hyper-aroused, drug-hit feeling absence this is.
Okay, phew. I’m back, a wee bit more than two hours later, and having taken a walk on this unseasonably warm December day here in Memphis, talked with a great friend, snuggled some cats, and done some deep breathing. Every time I get overstimulated like that, I turn to the earth, and I’m so thankful she never lets me down. Today, as you can see, the power of the Mississippi helped to calm my body, ease the stomach ache that developed after all that, and help me come back to myself.
On my drive to the river, I was really curious as to why a thirty second venture into insta would have caused what could certainly be experienced / seen as such an outsized reaction in my body, my presence. And I think that’s sort of the point: when I was actively using social media, I had relatively little awareness of my body, my intentions, or my consciousness. And that was, of course, by design of the companies who make such addictive technology to drive engagement, and eventually, profit. More than a year away from it (and as someone who has spent that year particularly cultivating awareness and choice in my life), I could feel the effects that even such a short time had on my system. It really did feel earlier like I had ingested poison; it was that disruptive to my system (I promise I am not being hyperbolic).
As I’ve been thinking about coming back to this topic and re-inviting you all to join me (if you haven’t already!) to give these up, I’ve been considering how difficult these platforms make it feel to leave them. When I talk to people who share with me how bad these platforms are for us (everything from the destructive impact they’re having on teenagers, and teenage girls, in particular; to the way they’re actively destroying our capacity to engage with one another; to the way they’re profiting from us and that’s the point; to the particular abuse users with marginalized identities too often face; and more), they want to quit. But immediately they’re faced with how difficult they think it is: how many other apps link to Facebook, how much information they wouldn’t have access to, how little they would feel connected to others at a time where connection feels more important than ever, how their work requires a presence of some kind on the platforms, how many random laughs or cute pictures or shared pop culture moments they’d miss out on.
And undeniably, that is all true.
My world is smaller than it seemed to me when I was using socials. If I want pictures of someone’s babies, I have to text and ask them to send them to me. There are jokes / storylines / whole dramas I have zero awareness of that my friends talk about in group texts and real life. I don’t know what random fad a tiktok-er is asking me to try (fun fact: I even had to google how to spell tiktok just now). I don’t just know what We’re All Supposed To Think And Say About That Thing That Just Happened because everyone is tweeting their version of it. I don’t automatically know the rundown of all the things, people, and places that people are protesting right now and how.
But here’s what I’ve gained that I didn’t touch on in my first post:
I’m noticeably kinder and I’m noticeably more affected by unkindness. This one surprised me, though I’m not sure why. The Internet is not a notably kind place; in fact, it’s a cesspool of hate, derision, and judgment more often than not. But I find that as people tell me stories - about what’s happening on socials or off of them, my initial reaction is to feel how sad it makes me, how intense I feel the hateful energy that people are exchanging. Sometimes, it really does take my breath away for a moment. As a result, it’s pulled me into creating more kindness around me and stewarding the energy of love and grace toward others more often than not.
I have to practice being in community and relationship with others. I am no longer in any delusions about how small my world is. I don’t have a belief that I have 500+ friends simply because that many people viewed my story or that many people liked or shared a post, or that’s how many different feeds I viewed that day (or hour). It’s hard and I’m not always good at it. I have absolutely sent some awkward texts and emails to people whom I miss and want to stay connected to, but for whom, right now, getting close enough to call each other randomly would feel out of place to both of us. It’s a practice.
I think for myself. Again, this one wasn’t on my list of things I was necessarily craving (I would have told you before quitting that I was a free thinker; I can tell you clearly today that was a delusion), but it is such a welcome gift. As a result, I don’t tend to find myself agreeing with the people in my orbit's views wholesale. It takes me longer sometimes to think about what I think about something, to explore it, to open myself to and seek out views on it to think about what I think. It’s slow. I have a lot more questions than I used to. I am a helluva lot more open to people with whom I disagree than I used to be (this one is not just because of being off of socials, but definitely aided by this choice).
I am more skeptical and attuned to when I’m being shepherded to view / consume / think a way by other platforms. I love reading fiction books digitally; and damn if I don’t find it REALLY WEIRD that we’re all reading the same thing. I’ve started to imagine what it would take to really choose my books for myself - truly - and not rely on some carefully curated list or (more likely) the high price a publisher was willing to pay for its placement on said list. See also: Netflix. Y’all know I love a K-drama. Squid Game was, in my opinion, just okay. I’m fascinated by why it took the socials by force and I don’t have a lot to offer as to why, really. The new Adele album is not remotely of interest to me, but damn if Apple isn’t trying it’s hardest to get me to listen to it repeatedly.
Mostly, though, I have an experience of aliveness that I didn’t have when I was on the socials. If I find myself looking up and fascinated that hours have passed and I’m surprised by that, it’s because I’ve lost myself in a book or because I’m gardening or I’m writing or I’m cooking or…. I have the time I used to complain about not having to meditate, exercise, sleep, or do the other errands or tasks that need doing to take care of myself in the world, and I don’t feel utterly exhausted by doing them.
So, here’s the thing. There is increasingly little room for doubt (if there ever was) that the companies behind these platforms are interested in anything helpful for us individually or collectively. Instead, there is ever growing and ever compelling evidence that they are actively causing harm. And yet, we keep making a choice to use them. We are willingly giving up our time, our energy, our thinking, our hearts, our societies to these platforms.
I am committed to my and our liberation. Every last one of us. There is nothing liberatory about these platforms and everything extractive about them.
From that place, I’m inviting you to stop using them. Give yourself the gift this season of trying your life away from them. See what is on your list of what you have to give up and what you get and see, from a place of your lived experience - and not your imagined fears, worries, concerns or excuses - if it’s worth it to stay gone.
For me, it’s not even a question - what I gain means everything to me and what I’ve given up, I’m creative enough to get in action around to get back if I really want to. The cost is too damn high to even consider going back.