My father always jokes with me about technology surpassing human ability;
“Soon we won't carry a cell phone at all, we’ll just have chips implanted in our brains. A cyborg generation!”
I would chuckle at his dad-jokes and roll my eyes. I’ve dabbled in science fiction books like Cinder, which features a Cinderella-esque character who’s half computer. Not my cup of tea, and certainly far from generational reality.
Cell phones weren’t a large part of our family environment till I was 13, and I didn’t have a smartphone till my last semester at university. Computer games were a big deal for us much earlier on- Neopets, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Sims… my sister and I played those games till our little fingers were pried away from the keyboard and forced to practice the other keyboard, piano.
My sister and I couldn’t even join Facebook for the first few years it was popular because we were home schooled, and therefore didn’t have a designated school page to belong too.
There was a huge shift once social media became a major player in my free time. I always loved photos, and became particularly obsessed with Instagram. My painstakingly scrapbooked photo albums laid collecting dust on bookshelves while I agonized over filters.
Over the years, I started feeling like if I didn’t post a photo of what I did online, it didn’t happen. It became normal for perfect strangers to like and comment on selfies of me and my friends, geotagged for the whole world to see. I had become a willing participant in the stalker generation.
Always an obnoxiously loyal friend, whole relationships became 100% conducted online. Today, I even have a boyfriend in Washington. We travel back and forth to see each other; but mostly we text, Google Hang and talk on the phone. If we had met even 10 years ago, this would have been a lot more difficult to achieve.
This year though, I started to experience feelings of sadness and disconnectedness when I spent copious amounts of time on my social media. When I was at college, I was at the center of my community’s social life. Social media was a facilitator for planning in person events and served as a record of those memories. It was, for me, an online diary. I was too short-sighted to realize, though, that it was a public online diary.
The decision to deactivate all my accounts was a culmination of slow building self-doubt, debilitating comparison, and the belief that I didn’t have anything worthy to add anymore. I’ve spoken to friends who’ve wrestled with those kinds of emotions, but I had never experienced them before. I feel like such a “Millennial,” but honestly, I was so happy with my own life that it never occurred to me to compare myself to anyone else. I was me, my friends were my friends, and the outside world was the outside world.
I probably won’t ever stop talking about this; I have amazing friends and family. But growing up also means growing apart. It means life and friends go through seasons, and I’m not strong enough on my own to keep up this image of what I once had in that season.
In the months passed since I gave up social media with no foreseeable end date, God has come alongside me and shown me how to slow down again.
I believe, and the author of The Shallows believes, that technology rewires our brains. It makes us believe that we can multitask, and we crave that feeling of productivity. We all know what that feels like when we’re on talking on our Bluetooth, checking our email on our iPhone, and racking up those steps on our FitBit.
And sure, we can multitask. But I believe clarity of the mind is lost when we do. I remember what it was like laying out on the grass chatting with my friends before we needed to check our phone every two seconds. I remember going to Disneyland before I had to post about it on Instagram as soon as we got there.
And, friends, those pictures aren’t even real. We crop out the crowds, we take the photo before the sunburns we sustain waiting in line for hours, and we certainly don’t talk about the screaming babies that drowned out the fireworks music.
I was afraid that if I left social media, my friends would leave me too. And the truth is, some of them did. But it also silenced the constant noise of busy, and allowed me to remember who I am.
Social media and technology are tools, and I’m not wholly convinced they are nefarious ones. But I do know I will do everything in my power to keep the noise of busy from the brains of my future children. If I wasn’t emotionally mature enough in my 20s to handle the alluring call of multitasking productivity, it’s going to destroy an elementary schooler’s brain.
Clarity is far more important than limitless information for any mind. It takes practice to ground oneself in truth, and then wade through millions and millions of opinions. But at least I know, now, that the truth of myself is not wrapped up in a social media profile. And I pray it never will be.