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Back in college I did a case study about something I thought was wild at the time…
It was called Second Life. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It was an online virtual-reality world that connected hundreds of thousands of users from around the globe. You built an entire life — complete with houses, jobs, pets, and spouses — inside this platform. It’s kind of like The Sims, but it’s not a game. There are no fixed challenges or objectives. It’s literally just an online world where people (or their avatars, at least) live and interact with each other.
I was fascinated by the intersection between real-life and virtual reality. I read stories about people on Second Life who played 8 or 9 hours a day — to the point that their “second life” felt more like real life than their actual life.
I read about people whose virtual reality persona married another person’s virtual reality persona … and the legal ramifications that ensued when the real life spouses found out.
I also read about people spending real-life currency on completely virtual products, which was the major question underlying my project: Is there a real-life market for unreal products?
Turns out the answer was yes. Big companies like Coca-Cola were actually considering selling products on Second Life because people would buy themselves (their virtual selves, that is) virtual Cokes! It blew my mind.
Ten years later, my mind is not so easily blown.
To put it in perspective, this happened around the same time that a professor mentioned Twitter during a public relations class, and a classmate and I turned to each other and asked, “Do you know what that is?”
Facebook was a thing obviously, but hardly anyone had it on their phones yet. Instagram had yet to arise. And forget about Snapchat.
It was a simpler time when people’s actual lives and their technological lives were still somewhat separate.
Now I wonder … is there even a difference anymore between “life” and “what happens on the Internet?” Should there be? And where would you even begin to draw the line?
THAT TIME I CALLED OUT A GROUP OF PEOPLE
Kristen and I were on a panel recently, and we noticed something really interesting happening before the talk even began.
Everyone had filed into the room 10-15 minutes before the panel was scheduled to start, so there was a little time to sit and do nothing.
This is what we saw from the front of the room:
Every single person had their head down, phone in hand, silently scrolling. No one was even speaking to each other.
To be clear, this was not a room full of complete strangers. This was a group of people who are all part of the same organization.
At one point during the presentation, the subject of technology came up and I took the opening. I couldn’t help it. I said something like …
“Did you all notice what was happening this morning? Every single person came in, sat down, got their phone out, and started scrolling. No one looked up. No one spoke to each other.
20 years ago, this couldn’t have happened. Unless you were really engrossed in a book or the newspaper, you wouldn’t have had anything to distract you. You would have had to look up and say hello to your neighbor.
And that act of saying hello? That’s how connections are forged. That’s how empathy is cultivated. That’s what makes us human. And it is REALLY important that we not lose that.”
A GOOD OLD FASHIONED RANT
Forgive me, but I’m not quite done ranting about this.
Guys, I am TIRED. Tired of …
- … the fact that everyone — myself included, because I fall victim to this, too — can’t just be bored, We’ve seemingly lost the capacity to just sit and stare into space or be mildly uncomfortable while waiting for someone to join us for lunch. You give us a spare second of unoccupied time, and we’ll pull out our phones.
- … glancing left and right at traffic lights and seeing everyone looking down at their phones.
- … parents who are out to dinner with their kids, and no one’s looking each other in the eye or speaking. The parent is on his phone, and the 4-year-old is playing a game on his iPad.
- … how obvious it is that some people spend 30 minutes taking a bajillion selfies before they find just the right one to post on Instagram (and then filter the crap out of it, anyway).
- … the fact that going to the bathroom without a device in hand makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
- … people posting stuff because of the “likes” they think it will get, not because it’s authentic or true or useful or funny or creative.
- … people comparing themselves to the carefully curated feeds of others … and finding themselves lacking.
- … the phrase “vibes” (Monday vibes, vacation vibes, good hair vibes … if the word “vibes” ever had a deeper connotation, it’s gone for good).
- … the fact that people have forgotten to savor their lattes and their food, because they’re too busy trying to get an artful picture before they ever take a sip or a bite.
- … #sponcon and #ads and shameless self-promotion. I don’t think all self-promotion is bad. I just get skeezed out by celebrities and other people with big followings using intimate pictures of their life to sell people on things like candy bars and questionable detox beverages.
Do I sound like a bitter old woman who can’t “get with the times” and has lost all of her youthful optimism?
Well, if so, it’s only because I’ve been 80 years old on the inside my whole life, and I have a hard time seeing the bigger point of things that feel so lacking in meaning.
THAT SAID …
For all of these reasons and more, I frequently want to throw my phone across the room and quit social media — and the Internet at large — forever.
(I do realize how hilariously ironic this is, considering I run a completely virtual business and would have no job without the Internet.)
But try as I might, I can’t be an all or nothing kind of person. Because there are really great things about being constantly connected to the world.
I can follow in-depth photojournalism on Instagram and find out about cultures that I would have known nothing about.
I can listen to podcasts that give me deeper insights into every topic imaginable.
I can see pictures and videos of friends and family that I don’t get to visit very often.
And some of those beautifully curated Instagram feeds? They’re not skeezy or inauthentic. They actually bring the user a sense of artistic fulfillment and joy.
There are a lot of good things about our lives — online and otherwise — these days. But even so … I think most of us have lost sight of where the line is between life and our devices (our second lives, if you will). And that’s not good for humanity.
I DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
I’ll tell you what I’m doing, so that you can decide for yourself where to draw your own line.
- I have ZERO personal social media presence. Just business. And it feels AMAZING.
- When it comes to business, we post things only if we really have something to say or share. Most of the time, I don’t care enough to post. And that’s fine. There are other ways to build a following.
- I try my best to keep my phone in my bag when I’m waiting for something — a meal, the dentist, my car, etc. — and I take the time to look around at other humans. Often I bring actual paper books so that if I want to read, I can.
- I try not to look at my phone while someone is talking to me. If I’m there, I want to be there, you know?
- When I feel bored or uncomfortable or vulnerable, I try not to reach for my phone right away. Sitting with the discomfort is part of what it means to be a human, not a robot.
- I leave my phone in other rooms so that I don’t have the temptation to start mindlessly scrolling.
- I usually don’t reply to emails on my phone. I wait to read and reply until I can actually sit down at my computer and crank it out.
I haven’t felt so strongly about something in a long time. I deeply care about this stuff, and I’ll leave you with one last request:
Care more about your humanity — and the humanity of others — than you care about your notifications and your newsfeed.
Be willing to be bored. Accept the discomfort of just sitting there sometimes. Acknowledge that there’s no room for creativity or good ideas if our minds are already occupied 24/7.
If you want a safer, happier, healthier world, then realize that being able to look someone in the eye or converse with a stranger is the very least we can do to head in the right direction.
If we’re constantly connected, we can’t connect to what’s actually happening in our real lives. Let’s make sure we understand which is our actual life … and which is the second life.
Can you relate? Or do you think I’m overreacting? Share your thoughts, in the comments!
Rachel (& Kristen)
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IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL ALSO LOVE…
Breaking your phone addiction with Kristen Kalp (May 2018)
Side Chat: Honing your intuition (& knowing when it’s really fear) (June 2019)
Blog: What to do when you’re bored with life (March 2019)
Submit your question for a future episode of Dear Krachel
I love this post. I’ve been thinking about quitting social media for a while now and i don’t know what to do. I also feel very strongly about it and honestly wish instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist. I do try to put my phone down in public places and leave it in my purse. I’m not sure if I will delete my personal accounts all together or not, because there are pros and cons. And I just can’t decide. I’ve actually made 3 instagram and deleted all of them and I have one now and I feel like I should keep it. I want to purchase a phone like the Nokia 3310 that has no apps and no front camera so I can just do texting and calling and live real life.
Maybe delete one social media app and then see how it goes? That’s how I’ve done it. I deleted one at a time and then got used to it before moving on to the next app! The only one I have left is Instagram for our business account. It’s great!
I seriously LOVE the idea of downgrading to a non-smart phone. I actually heard about an interview with Chris Pine (the actor) where he was talking about his decision to just have a flip phone, for a lot of the same reasons. I think this could be a burgeoning revolution!
This part is really spot-on (lol:).
” the phrase “vibes” (Monday vibes, vacation vibes, good hair vibes … if the word “vibes” ever had a deeper connotation, it’s gone for good).”
Its a pet peeve of mine as well:)
The wisdom in this line is profound.
“Acknowledge that there’s no room for creativity or good ideas if our minds are already occupied 24/7.”
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kiren! If you resonated with that second line, you would love the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Making space in our lives, especially for creativity, is something that he talks a lot about in that book!
I relate to this 100%. It’s all I talk about with my wife and friends. It’s a good thing though that people are slowly becoming more mindful of the problem and trying to find a sense of balance and real purpose in their everyday activities. Thanks for the post!
Hey Chase! It’s validating to hear that I’m not the only one talking about this with her friends and family! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I agree with the points you’ve made here since I’m experiencing the same emotions.
One item I started to realize is that whenever I was uncomfortable about something, I would turn to YouTube and search for ‘how to’ cope videos. While this can be great at times, I realized the one person I wasn’t listening to was myself.
It was important to sit in my own silence, feel the feels, and listen to what the voice inside was telling me.
Thank you for a great post :).
That’s such a great point, Christina! With so much noise, we tend to tune out our own intuition, which is a huge disservice to ourselves.
I am 57 and have definitely seen a lot of change in technology. I remember an example of this issue. My father took my brother and his family out for dinner. Everyone was busy on their phone and of course looking down. My dad was sitting there not able to talk to anyone. He spoke up and said, “I took time to meet for dinner with my family to connect and have conversation. Please put your phones away so that can happen.” I frequently see families and couples never make eye contact or speak to each other during a meal when I’m out to eat. I is a very sad disconnect that is happening because of technology. Keep life simple, be mindful, grateful and connect with those around you.
Totally agree, Charise! It’s wild to me how few people are having meaningful conversations while out to eat with each other. It makes you wonder … if this is how people are in public, how much worse is it at home?? How often are couples actually deeply connecting? I suspect divorce rates are going to go more and more up, and this will be one of the contributing factors, unfortunately.
Deleting social media last Nov. has had a wonderful impact on my mental health.
I do miss seeing what my framily (friends/family) are up to on a regular, but it strengthens our relationships to actually connect and visit.
Great message 🙂
Good for you, Jenn! I also love your point about the fact that it motivates you to see your family and friends in person … that’s so great!
This definitely hits home for me. I’ve noticed my muscle memory opening Instagram and Twitter before I even really realize what I’m doing, just because there’s a pause in a conversation or I’m bored while waiting somewhere. I actually rearranged my apps so that instead of knowing exactly where to swipe, I have to think about what I’m opening (and why!).
I like your point about posting things that are truly meaningful rather than just doing it for the likes. Technological companies are so good at marketing their networks as a measurement of worth, so that even the apps where my profile is limited to actual family and friends, I still find myself wondering why certain posts get more likes than others!
Such a great point about the “muscle memory” thing, Grace! I agree — most of us have gotten so unconsciously used to logging in to certain apps that we find ourselves doing it without realizing it’s happening. Kind of scary! Your idea to rearrange your apps to insert mindfulness into the process is a great one.
And you make another great point about the algorithms that determine what posts people see, and how many “likes” we get. It’s so important to remember that “likes” are SO arbitrary. Determining our worth based on who clicks “like” on something is bad enough; but it’s worse when you think about the fact that we’re not the ones who have control over who does or doesn’t see it. It’s not even a level playing field.
Bravo! Very well said, and I couldn’t agree more. Having witnessed one person too many walking across a busy downtown street, head down engrosssed in something on their phone; seen one person too many shush the hostess at a restaurant who was trying to give the appropriate greeting; had the experience of sitting next to one person too many on the plane, metro, even the nail salon who couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge my presence with a simple “hello” or lower their voice so as not to make the rest of a third party audience to a private conversation. I have been lamenting the increasing decline in social graces and civility for several years now. It didn’t take me too long to realize that a lot of the connections we make with our many “friends” on Facebook are relatively shallow. Or to figure out that the pictures posted only tell the part of the story that the individual who posts them chooses to share. Perhaps the reason no one was talking to each other in the example you describe is because they had already posted what they wanted to share of themselves on Facebook for that particular day. Yes, I know; I’m ranting too????!
Rant away, Jolisa! I obviously feel the same way. 😉
The decline in social courtesy makes me sad, too. It makes me worry about the things that young kids aren’t learning — empathy, chief among them. It’s hard to have empathy when you aren’t actually looking other humans in the face and having conversations with them.
I was thinking this yesterday on the subway and then headed to a coffee shop. At all stops everyone had a device. Most of the time I just saw candy crush.
I watched an interesting article on media and it was talking about being a broadcast nation. People are becoming more and more used to just receiving information. Tv. Radio. Podcast. Blogs. Photo feeds.
We have less and less spaces that are curated for social, on purpose. I wonder about your talk if you were at the front of the room. Rather than everyone in a circle. How we design apps and websites is just as crucial as we design spaces.
Like for instance there was an on purpose area for you to ask for comments. So I started typing. Thank you. And thank you for sharing what’s going on
This is so true! We’ve becoming a society of broadcasters and receptors of broadcasts; but we’re not really *sharing* anything. And your thought about intentionally designing spaces — online or otherwise — for people to actually *gather,* rather than just broadcast and receive, is really astute, and true! Thanks for sharing, and for being part of this circle. 🙂
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