This afternoon, I met with a fellow creative for happy hour and to discuss a potential collaboration. What I initially expected to be an hour meeting turned into three hours of conversation about art, entrepreneurship, family, moving to a new city, the creative process, writing, authenticity, being paid what you’re worth, setting boundaries, the meaning of beauty, and travel.
The best part? We were having such a great time that our phones didn’t come out once, other than to exchange numbers. There was no compelling need to photograph our meal, ourselves, or to otherwise document the occasion. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I marveled at the silent agreement that had been made between us: our mutual company was enough.
The conversation was enough.
Being present was enough.
Recently, I read a quote from novelist and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison that resonated with me:
“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph it, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”
I think I may have reached that point.
The last week of December 2017 was an eye-opening time for me. After reflecting on what I had experienced in the previous year, I realized I had thousands of photos to look at — but the majority of these images portrayed only half realities. (There were more than a few smiling selfies in which puffy eyes hid behind dark glasses.)
Further, in selectively sharing only my best photos to social media, I was adding to what I believe is a dangerous clamor responsible for alarming rates of anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and other forms of psychological distress. And research suggests our society’s youngest members are at the highest risk of developing these side effects, particularly when using Instagram.
It seems that, in our widespread use of social media, many people are living within the self-imposed constraints of curated lives. Many of us show our faces only when they’re made up, filtered, and otherwise beautified. (Ladies, please tell me you realize the smoothing function makes your husbands look like Ken Dolls and your babies’ already cherublike faces resemble possessed Cabbage Patch Kids. You and your families are beautiful; please stop turning them into scary dolls in the name of vanity.)
Yes, there are certain benefits of social networking.
I work in this field, so I’ll be the first to disclose: social media is an integral part of my business and my livelihood. The platforms at our disposal have revolutionized and streamlined the way we communicate. News and information can reach millions of people in mere minutes. Powerful imagery can be uploaded to the web and shared with people on the other side of the planet in seconds. Correspondence can happen between loved ones living across oceans.
But at what expense do we experience those benefits? At the expense of our productivity? At the expense of our authenticity? At the expense of our mental health?
As I looked at my year in photos and pondered the disconnect between what I showed the world of an entire year of my life — and the reality of that year (for the record, 2017 sucked, y’all), a part of me — the part of me that craved connection, suffered intense FOMO, and needed constant approval — cracked in two.
It was by no means a trip to the beach or the mountains for a full-fledged digital detox, but I embarked on a brief purge that meant four days without using my phone, watching television, or listening to the radio.
Those four days were both my punishment and my reward.
I missed social invitations, yet fortuitously ended up running into several friends whom I hadn’t seen in months. I missed a few days of working over the weekend, yet that meant I actually took time off for the holiday (like most normal people with jobs and vacation time do). I was absent from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Marco Polo, Strava, Instagram, et al. — but I was, for the first time in months (maybe years) present in my own life.
Something else amazing happened when I realized I didn’t have to publicize every social function, every life event, every happy hour, every toast with friends. I call it liberation. It was only a four-day-long detox, but I felt like I got my life back.
In the weeks that followed, I found myself experiencing my life with newfound curiosity and wonder. My phone’s battery began to last the entire day, instead of just eight or nine hours. I began to notice just how dependent I was on a device — for distraction, for entertainment, and for fulfilment.
And I started asking myself some tough questions I wasn’t willing to answer even a week earlier.
What would happen our society stopped its morbid fixation on documenting every last detail our lives?
What would happen if we truly showed up — with our presence alone as our sole intent?
What would happen if we put… the phone… down?
Social media platforms go away, algorithms change, people get bored, people unfollow. Remember MySpace? You may laugh, but that kind of mass, gradual exodus can (and will) happen again. (Did I mention I do this for a living?)
If you, like me, could rarely enjoy a moment last year without your phone in front of your face, a digital detox may be in order. At the very least, I’m inviting you to join me in committing to connectivity — real connectivity — in 2018. Whether that’s reconnecting with others or reconnecting with ourselves, I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
We still have 11 months remaining in the year to show up, be present, and take it all in — even without the phone. Maybe, just maybe, everything about our lives would improve.