“You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.”
― Dave Eggers,
To be alive in 2016 is to be exhausted. The world is literally, and constantly, at our fingerprints and everything (everything) we do is increasingly visible. What we do in our daily lives is frequently, and often purposefully, seen by who knows how many eyeballs that are eager to dissect our each and every move. Quiet scrutiny is the new black.
Imagine this all-too-familiar scenario. You’ve had a busy, very ungrammable week of work and your (digital) life needs a boost. So, cool person that you are, you get invited to a casual brunch midday Saturday to a spot that is admittedly just fine. Nothing fancy about this “event,” just a nice relaxing meal with friends to get out of the house and socialize. Problem is, the scenario really isn’t all that relaxing because it is THE moment of your entire week to prove to the world at large that a) you have friends, b) you have a life, c) your photography is dope and d) you can showcase how clever you are (cuz duh, obvs!). If you don’t post something about this okayish brunch, do you even exist?
Or imagine this scenario. It’s Sunday afternoon and you have the entire afternoon free. No house to straighten up, no work to catch up on and absolutely no obligations. The situation is perfect because of its scarcity. This situation is also terrifying because you have the time to do all of things that you’re interested in. You could go out and do something fun like go on a epic hike or visit that brewery all your friends seem to live at. Alternatively, you could stay in and do one of so many things. The time is now to finally binge-watch Stranger Things on Netflix, or pour through all the new music on Spotify, or read the new IT book (Girl on the Train?) so you actually join the conversation, finally get outside for a run or or or or or or or. Whether you can share it or not, and you probably do, you want to do everything! Or would you simply wax poetic about what you will do later and instead spend the day binge-watching an old show (The Office!) or listening to a familiar album (The Bends!) while vegging out to mindless games on your smartphone.
With so many friends and family continually connected to you at all times through any number of social channels, what you do or seem to do increasingly becomes who you are. Keeping up with the millions of Joneses is quite literally impossible. You simply cannot travel to Peru to hike Machu Picchu AND check out all the best new shows (Mr. Robot, Westworld, Atlanta…) AND go to obviously life-changing concerts (Lucius, Kanye West, Bob Dylan…) AND finally take the time to actually write AND sign-up and train for your next half-marathon AND AND AND AND AND… AND even if you could, don’t you have a job(?), you know, that thing you went to college for so you could make money to finance your amazing life, that thing that ultimately takes up most of your time and energy???
The interconnectivity of our time has given us the terrible gift of knowing way too much about way too many people at way too many moments. With your social world constantly at your fingertips, it is as easy to put yourself on display and always try to impress as it is to become completely stagnant and terrified of action. It’s like that great Halloween costume you’re desperate to wear but can’t actually pull off without it looking like a cheap knock-off; it’s much easier to sit back and NOT try; thereby not risking embarrassment, with the added bonus that you can quietly judge others who do try. What fun for everyone!
There is no quick and easy solution for how to be everything (everything!) to everyone (everyone!). In fact, our digital dependence is only likely to increase. The key is to do your best to enjoy the moments that you are in. When you can and as often as you can, do things that give you fulfillment and make sure to fully enjoy those moments. Socially share them if you have to, but don’t become consumed by them. Don’t do things simply because they look cool or share well, do them because they make you happy. You are the author of your own happiness so make your story a positive one. And, when you need to share it, do so with those who will actually enjoy and be happy for your happiness, not with those who you’re simply trying to make jealous. Better yet, go do that highly unshareable thing that makes you oh so happy and just flat out enjoy it!
“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.”
― Dave Eggers,