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Belonging to another era

How social media makes me feel

Getty Images/ Clarissa Leahy

A Day in the life, Take 1:

My mind starts racing even before the alarm goes off. My body clock reminds me that the alarm will ring soon and the day will begin. But even before I start wondering what the weather is like or if my favorite dog will be in the office today, I think about my phone. Its in the other room, charging overnight. Did anyone message me something lovely over night? Or something awful? Did something important happen in anyone’s life over night? What did I miss while I slept? Speaking of, how could I sleep when it was daytime in India, so many things must have happened! I scramble out of bed and head straight to my phone. And there I go, scrolling, clicking, tap tap tap.

I can feel my blood pressure rising even before I’ve brushed my teeth. Why does social media make me feel inadequate for just getting a night of sleep? Why does it demand so much of my mind? Why does it define so much of my day, my relationships and how I feel?

I make the mistake every morning. I hop on social media and I get angry.

Cue internal monologue: “Why didn’t he like this picture? Why didn’t she respond to my message? What do they mean by this message they sent me? Did anyone miss me? Oh no, no one has messaged me, no one cares! What can I share so people are jealous of my life and interested in my again? My breakfast? My shoes? My face, maybe? No, not my face, that other girl looked so good yesterday in that thing she put up, I can’t match up to that.”

Recent research has proven the above is a common phenomenon. I’m not alone. Our dependance on instant gratification, social validation, constant praise and unreal levels of affection are leaving us feeling more unsatisfied than before. Many of us have started basing our decisions on the social ramifications they would have from a very literal sense. Will my photograph of this pizza get me atleast 10 likes on Instagram? Will others want to come get pizza with me? Despite the attempt at social media enabling social interactions, how many of them feel shallow, staged or just “for the ‘gram”? But we continue. That dopamine kick, dangerous but unescapable. We scroll without looking, we type without thinking, we tap without feeling. We have become slaves to the feeling of acceptance we get from a screen. For us, what’s inside that metal box has started to feel more real than what is happening in front of our own eyes. 

But what does the alternative look like?

A Day in the life, take 2:

I hear the familiar sound of my alarm and roll onto my stomach. I get out of bed, walk to the window and see that it looks like there are some heavy clouds. I make a mental note to take my umbrella. Just as I start brushing my teeth, my phone rings. It’s my parents, on the other side of the globe. They don’t normally call at this time but some elderly family was visiting and they wanted me to say hi. I hurry the call, put the phone down and don’t think twice about staring at the screen. There’s nothing on it. Just a piece of metal with some buttons. Quite clunky and unattractive. I shove it into my bag and begin to eat my breakfast. I check my watch and realize I’m getting late. I drop my book into my bag, sprint out the door and run toward the subway.

It starts raining so I whip out the umbrella. As I get onto the subway, I see my familiar commuter friends. We smile at each other, our hands dripping with the umbrella we’re all trying to unobtrusively find space for. We even exchange a few words, saying yesterday we would have never imagined it would be raining today. No one is on their phone. Some people have headphones but the phones are concealed in their bags. They’re ugly, clunky objects. Their only utility comes from when they ring. In that moment, we all feel connected just through the routine of traveling together. As people start getting off at different stops, we all wave and acknowledge that we’ll see each other tomorrow morning, same time, same place.

I get off at my stop. Walking toward my office will take a good 20 minutes. Wonderful! Time to stop and smell the flowers, literally. I pluck some for my desk. Monday morning pick-me-up. No app could satisfy the feeling of picking your own flowers. There’s a garden on the way and its become common for those who pick a flower, also come back and put some seeds. The natural circle of life! Suddenly, I hear my phone make an unbearable noise. I check it, it’s a message from my friend in another city. “Call me tonight anytime when you’re home!” I quickly respond, saying of course, and make a mental note. She quickly sends me a photo in response and I shriek. Its grainy, its unclear, but its natural enough that I can tell she’s holding her PhD. program acceptance! What great news for this Monday morning!

Work is busy, there’s lots of writing to do, lots of editing, lots of catching-up, lots of conversations. We do stare at our screens a fair amount but the good old post-it lands up at our desks with a high-five or a sly note. Things feel simple, our minds get to focus and words sound truer. Some coworkers who are working on a digital product invite us all to test it. We do, we share verbal feedback, they demonstrate their thought process and we all leave feeling like we’ve contributed to something.

As the day ends, I remember I have to call my friend and congratulate her. We speak for a while, she’s celebrating with some others and the call in noisy. I miss being there but I know I’lm planning that trip in a few weeks and it will be worth it. She reminds me she misses me, I say the feeling is mutual and we promise to call every day, even if its just for 2 minutes.

Do I feel unconnected? Do I feel I am missing out on things? Do I feel like I’m living in the dark, under a rock? Sometimes, but this is what works for me. The moment passes and I focus on what is happening right now, even if its just making a cup of tea so that I make the best cup of tea I could ever make. I call my friends and family, I hear their voices, sometimes I see their faces and I know I’m sharing that special moment just with them. Its only ours to share, understand and feel. I’m not waiting for an update on their social feed to see what they’re eating or who they’re with – they tell me if its important. If it’s relevant to our relationship. And I do the same, I don’t need instant gratification to feel content. I feel it organically.

Perhaps I belong in another era. Perhaps this isn’t everyone’s dream. Living in Silicon Valley but feeling nostalgic of a time where relationships felt more real and clicks didn’t define my happiness, I know I am not the norm. But maybe we’ll all find a healthier balance and a healthier relationship with technology. I hope I can reign myself in over time, especially when I feel like I’m losing myself to a business-fueled app on my phone. I hope I don’t define my affection for my friends and family with the messages or posts they share about me but instead through the hand-written notes they send on my birthday. I hope they remember my birthday because I am important to them and not because some internet site reminded them. I hope we can all be present in the moment, without that blasted dopamine craving. 

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