On(line) Intention

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In December of 2013, I decided to quit social media cold-turkey after nearly a decade of non-stop use.  I deactivated my Facebook account and deleted whatever other accounts I could (Twitter, Strava, Goodreads, etc.)  I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in from my various feeds, most of it noise taking up my time and energy.  Moreover, I felt increasingly burdened by the compulsion to check and respond to everything that happened online.  The last straw involved me engaging in a ‘debate’ with a troll in a comment thread on a friend’s wall post. I asked myself, “what the Hell am I doing?” I decided to pull the plug on social media and live more of my life online.  At least for a while.

What did living life offline mean?  Well, no longer would I post about whatever the hell just transpired to broadcast it to hundreds of people.  I would let the moment come and go and take enjoyment in the fact that it happened at all.  If other people were around in the moment, I’d share my pithy observations of the experience purely with them.

The time offline did me wonders, but not in the way that I expected.  Of course it taught me the value of living more in the moment (which it did, and will be explored in greater detail in a post down the line). But it also taught me the value of social media when used with a purpose.

In the days after I quit Facebook, I found myself picking up my phone reflexively.  I was repeatedly unlocking the phone and flipping through apps aimlessly.  After a while, I finally wondered what I was doing.  I realized that my use of social media had become a deeply engrained habit, if not a full-blown addiction.  I wasn’t checking Facebook with any particularly objective, I was just checking Facebook just because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.  The implications of this realization were huge.  It caused me to reevaluate my relationship with social media and my online information usage in general.

I resolved to not go online or pick up my phone unless I was doing it for a specific purpose.  I would pick up my phone to put on a music, respond to a message, or pay a bill.  But I was not going to pick up my phone just because I can’t bear to be in the moment.

The weeks that followed brought me more peace and my inadvertent reaching for the phone gradually diminished.   I would put the phone away or close the laptop as soon as the goal was either achieved or sufficiently progressed enough to continue later.  I would then get up and do something else instead of lingering online, trying to drink more and more from the information firehose that flows at an exponentially increasing volume by the millisecond.

At last I decided I could return to social media.  My use of it would be quite different.  I would post, like and share posts with intention and not out of habit.  Before I do anything online I would ask myself “What am I hoping to achieve?”  If there is no clear answer, then I would power down the device and do something else.

So what do I hope to achieve in my use of social media moving forward?  I hope to share my insights as I grow spiritually, athletically and professionally.  I will be sharing my thoughts as I practice mindfulness in my daily life, discover (actually) amazing things, and my personal and professional experiences.  Look forward to more posts about those subjects, and more, on this blog and relevant social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

Lastly, I’m bearing my soul about my struggle with technological addiction because it’s painfully obvious I’m not the only one.  Everywhere I go, I see people immersed in their phones.  Many of them while driving. Werner Herzog (who only lends his artistic efforts to exploring the human condition) thought the issue of texting while driving was worth his time.  A couple weeks before this post I heard a story on Marketplace dealing with this issue, using the exact distinction between habit and intention that I had come to realize.  This is something we really need to come to terms with, individually and as a culture.

We are the first generations to live in this new environment of ambient awareness.  As a result, we have to personally discover what our “healthy” relationship to information technology is.  There is more I can write on this topic, and I will.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear any of your experiences with dealing with this newfound ubiquitous and mobile information-saturated world.

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7 Responses to On(line) Intention

  1. Baxter says:

    I HIGHLY recommend reading Dave Eggar’s “The Circle”, which deals with a worst-case-scenario of social media immersion. I think about it several times a day and it has helped me to examine my intentions with every post as well. I have changed my mind about posting things much more often. I have also been more mindful of the phone grab compulsion, especially when I’m with other people. It’s a crucial novel that I think would be beneficial to teach in every freshman high school English class.

  2. This post really resonated with me–I’ve been conducting a similar attempt to restrict myself to using social media (and even just my phone in general for web surfing, gaming, etc.) when I have a clear goal/purpose and not because, as you put it, “I can’t bear to be in the moment.” I’m single and I live alone, so I find that when I start aimless browsing, it’s often because I want to talk to somebody or make a connection, so one of my goals is to replace casual scrolling with an actual conversation, so I text or call someone instead. I’ve also started sitting next to someone I recognize on the bus/shuttle to work and striking up a conversation. Turns out, I like people! Some people.

    • Thanks, Ahe! I’m glad this resonated with you. That is a noble goal. I think a lot of us are realizing that Facebook is a poor substitute for actual interaction. World of Warcraft, however, is a perfectly suitable replacement for real life contact. You could just do that instead.

  3. Thanks, I’m so glad you wrote and shared this. I really enjoyed reading it and found your calls for your own personal intentionality and mindful awareness so insightful and resonant. Instantly obvious, when it hadn’t occurred to me before at all.
    I recently went to tag a couple friends in a nostalgic post and saw their profiles had been de-activated. I e-mailed them wondering what was the deal, since they hadn’t made any announcements. One is in her last semester of law school and axing distractions — cool and disciplined, and she’ll probably be back. Another said she was gunning for a promotion and, more personally, she started being really bothered by how she and her boyfriend ended their nights together but staring into their separate devices together. That totally got to me and I’m becoming more aware of it and when my boyfriend and I do the same thing. I definitely feel a compulsion to be online and attempt keep up with the firehose. My Pocket account is pretty revealing in that I have probably 150+ saved articles to read. It’s like some kind of intellectual hoarding. As with most dependence disorders, at least in my experience, this reveals something about my emotional disfunction.
    The cool flip side of my friends ditching Facebook was e-mailing w/ them directly when I wouldn’t have otherwise, and so getting truer, more personal information than what Facebook “allows”. I use Facebook increasingly as a substitute for Google reader, and it’s becoming less and less personal as my friends and “friends” have quieted their personal feeds, either in response to device dependence, or to more carefully construct their presentation online. I see a problem with how I use the internet to compulsively collect information, but I can’t even really entertain the idea of quitting it (except Twitter — that’s too much noise, too little signal for me). And however ironically, this post is a perfect example of why, since I never would have seen it if not for me being on Facebook and you being back on Facebook, too. So, again, cheers for your successfully executed intentionality! I could certainly do with more of that. And, finally, one of my favorite things from a meditation session I attended feels somehow relevant here: the instructor talked about not fidgeting in response to minor physical discomfort, not scratching that itch, as using abstention as an opportunity to see what happens. I loved that. Life went on.
    Looking forward to reading more!

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