On a particularly cold Saturday evening, two winters ago, and I was suffering from PMS-induced sadness. Wanderlust Juniors were tucked into their cosy beds and I sat on the living room sofa beside Mr. Wanderlust. Instead of breathing through the sadness, as I know I ought to have done, I sought to escape the dark feeling by averting my attention. I feel embarrassed to admit this now but there I sat, mindlessly eating pretzels while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on my smartphone. I suspect I’m not the only one to have done that in the (possibly a very recent) past. It occurred to me only later that I was mindlessly checking my social media account not because of a genuine interest in what my contacts were doing at that time. It was merely a method of distraction that did not make me feel any better. Instead, it highlighted the fact that I was sitting on the sofa, snacking, while ‘everyone else’ appeared to be having a great time. Here’s a not-so-hidden secret: If we allow it, social media has the power to make one feel like the most popular person (particularly on our birthdays, provided that we keep that information public on our profile), then several days later squash that feeling with no remorse.
When later I snapped out of the delirium and plugged in my phone to be recharged overnight, it occurred to me how much time I had wasted ogling other people’s selfies taken at concerts or pictures of the meals they ate in upscale restaurants. And then, there have been times when I was the one posting photo after photo of my carefully styled display of freshly baked muffins, or of a fun day at the beach. That’s the game of social media participation. We either share photos of impeccably crafted moments or we spend time looking at similar images posted by others. Sometimes, those pictures serve as inspiration. At other times, they can contribute to a fear of missing out (FOMO – not that I need to provide this acronym, since I suspect the majority of you are well familiar with it and have probably experienced it at least once). When we share pretty, staged photographs on social media, we do not disclose the behind-the-scenes mess that might have occurred before, during, or after the photo was taken. We also don’t share how many tries it took to finally get the perfect share-worthy selfie.
Shortly after that sad experience of Saturday night FOMO, I made a decision to spend less time on social media. I chose to do so for myself and my family. I stopped touching my phone before 8 a.m. on most mornings and after 6 p.m. on weeknights by leaving it to charge downstairs in a special basket that I set aside specifically for that purpose. Sundays became tech detox days during which I did not open my laptop or touch my phone, unless absolutely necessary to do so for a few minutes. After starting to practise a more mindful method of social media use, it became apparent that a joy of missing out (JOMO, as coined by Christina Crook in her book by the same title) started to replace FOMO. I reveled in the beauty of going out for a walk without checking my phone for updates or sharing a picture of the sunrise. Instead, I remained present in the quiet, cherishing every nuance of the experience as it unfolded. I have been practising to stay with the experience, facing what is before me, acknowledging the moments when I don’t feel joyful, without seeking distractions.
I found an almost secret pleasure in going out for dinner and not posting a photograph of the food. I felt a rush of excitement at the realization that I could travel anywhere in the world and if I did not share any updates on social media, no one had to know where I was at the time. Then I realized that most likely, no one cared in the first place, and I am perfectly okay with that. As an introvert who values privacy, this notion felt liberating. Missing out? Not really.
The less time I spent on social media, the more odd the thought seemed to me of documenting for others every outing, every meal, and every funny saying overheard throughout the day. In fact, I started to feel a pang of sadness each time the idea of logging into my Facebook account merely crossed my mind. I continue to document my experiences, but I do it for myself, in my journal, and I share stories selectively in person and via email with my family and friends.
A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and deleted my personal Facebook account, keeping my business page, which I visit briefly several times per week. I also post photographs on Instagram from time to time. I do not miss sharing and seeing what others have shared. Instead, I choose to meet with my friends face-to-face and communicate via old-fashioned email or phone calls in-between in-person meetings. When I sit down with a friend for coffee after two months, we often feel we have plenty of catching up to do because we haven’t been seeing each other’s frequent updates via a screen. Our conversation can then run deeper. I would guess that not many people share their not-so-positive news on social media, because such updates tend to be considered a drag. Yet, when we meet with close friends, we feel comfortable and supported to speak about what is on our minds and in our hearts instead of needing to filter the message before posting it for hundreds of contacts to read and judge.
I do not discount the merits of mindful social media use. I continue to publish updates about this blog and also enjoy reading news from other bloggers via their pages. When it comes to friends and family, I prefer to connect with them through more direct and intentional pathways. I take photographs for myself and my family. I write stories about our travels. From time to time, I selectively choose to be brave by sharing with the world some of those photographs and snippets of the stories, if I feel that they reflect who I truly am and serve to inspire others. The rest of the time, I continue to pursue life with all its messy and imperfect fleeting moments, seeking joy in what is before me.
Do you wish to contribute to the conversation? Please leave a comment below. Thank you, as always, for reading, and for sharing this blog with a friend.