Surviving virtual society

Let me ask you all for some advice. This post doesn’t really have much to do with tech in and of itself, but the effects of tech on the world. I know there are like-minded folks here, so I want to pose the question here.

Do you think it’s possible to live social-media free, in a social-media saturated world?

My choice to deactivate my Facebook account was many years go. I had just married my beautiful wife and we were starting our life together. “I don’t need this anymore,” I said. I did the full deactivation, losing all my contacts built up over the course of my life.

I admit it was a foolish and hasty move. I’ve tried to search for many of these folks in the years since then, but to no avail - all my friends and many of my family were lost at that time. To my defense, I didn’t know just how huge social media would get.

I never really “got” social media. I never had a personal blog or web page. The closest thing I experienced to posting on social media was the “away message” on AIM. I would spend hours perfecting that one line of nonsense, then often rush to take it down. Is this too personal? What will so-and-so think? Will this hurt XYZ’s feelings? These social worries always made me keep a leash on my own thoughts, and that’s not an experience I look back on fondly. Even if I was to start a social media presence, I really don’t see myself enjoying it. It would just seem like too much work to put out the right perception of my life. And don’t even get me started on those clumsy, non-ergonomic devices called smartphones.

These new networks - Twitter, Insta, Snapchat, and TikTok - all seem like evolutions of the AIM away message. The thought of shouting out personal details of my life to my entire social world still makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like restraining my thoughts; I like my mind to roam freely. In contrast, anonymized communities like this one are easy for me to get involved in. I can express myself without worrying about how people are going to receive the message. Same with phone calls - it’s a free and real-time experience vs. a constrained and disconnected feeling. Maybe it’s just me and others don’t have this problem.

In any case, I feel like a relic from a forgotten time. Society seems to have permanently moved from the real to the virtual. Nearly all social interaction takes place on these networks now. Even my own wife and kids spend almost every waking minute on their smartphones. Every activity they do, every move they make, even every meal they eat, is inspired by something they saw on socials, and then becomes posted back into the same network as new content. There is no more small talk, no more spontaneous, light-hearted conversation, no more playing outside or having fun together. Just posts, memes, and shows, posts, memes, and shows, playing on loop.

It’s like everyone is now living in a world that I have no access to. I don’t have a choice but join them anymore. I have to join this brave new world, re-activate FB, and sign up for Twitter, Insta, Snap, TikTok, etc. to connect with real people in a fake way, or…? What is the other option?

What do you think? Is it possible to live social-free in this virtualized and digitized world to have a happy life and balanced relationships? Or do we all have to just get on board with the new reality - whether we like it or not?

3 Likes

Hi @penmanship,

I think your concerns are valid for sure. It’s tough to find balance today when so much of everyone’s focus is on the digital world. I didn’t get a smartphone until last year, and I often think about going back to a dumbphone. I am on social media and sometimes it’s a great asset and other times it is more of a nuisance.

I think when social media becomes a real asset is when it allows us to make initial contact with people that we wouldn’t otherwise meet. I have met some incredible people online and those relationships have blossomed into real life friendships. I think that social media and tech can be used as a powerful tool in making these connections.

When things go awry is when we as a society decide to live our lives exclusively from our screens, when all of our interactions are just online, and when we believe we have to “share” our experiences with the world in order for them to be valid. It’s when we start using tech and social media as more than a tool, as a vessel for how we live, when it becomes dangerous.

I speak on these topics frequently. I also host a podcast called, “SHIPS: The Vessels for a Meaningful Life” where I speak with experts in the mindful tech and digital wellness fields, where they share their takes on how we can achieve greater balance. The heart of the podcast is all about cultivating deep, meaningful relationships in the digital age. These have been incredibly fruitful conversations…I recommend checking them out at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ships-the-vessels-for-a-meaningful-life/id1463063504?ign-mpt=uo%3D4.

There are a variety of experts working in this space. A good place to start to find some answers is https://digitalwellnesscollective.com/ and https://alltechishuman.org/

I wish you the best in your journey and please feel free to reach out if I can be of any more assistance. We are all in this together!

All the best,
Pat

Patrick McAndrew
Actor, Speaker, Podcast Host

2 Likes

There is still a lot of niche and quality stuff online outside of the social media platforms luckily. You could pick and choose from here, make it your own way of browsing the web, and stay offline otherwise.

With regards to FB, Twitter et al. You could just add your own direct family, closest friends etc. so you can follow their feeds when you want and on your own terms. Just enough not to be left out completely. No need to interact, giving likes, commenting, sharing all the time.

1 Like
Do you think it’s possible to live social-media free, in a social-media saturated world?
Yes. I've never been a social media user, and this hasn't created any problem for me. There are plenty of other ways to maintain a connection with someone who's important to you, such as in-person, on the phone, or by email. Those ways still work. There's no significant difficulty in making a phone call or sending an email. If someone can't be bothered to make such an easy gesture of wanting to connect, then I probably won't be inclined to go much out of my way to connect with them either. If there are people who aren't particularly important to each other, then there's not much lost in not keeping in touch. I think that if people have a mutual interest in maintaining a friendship, then they'll just do it, without making it conditional on having to connect via this-or-that platform. It seems ok to me.

Cheers,
^H

1 Like

Wise words indeed, Hans!

Absolutely. For every reason to use social media, I’ve found better reasons to use an alternate medium or to reconsider the connection at all.

A major exception is if you depend on it to build your own personal brand with a broader public.

It is definitely possible to avoid social media in the modern world: my son and daughter-in-law, middle-aged professionals, are doing it. As an early-adaptor of all things technical, I find their choice inconvenient for me, but that’s my problem, not theirs. The choice has to do with how many social connections you want and to what depth. Also how much time you have available for what might be superficial connections. I’ve learned a lot and made several read life friends thanks to FaceBook, but its increasing commercialization has become more annoying over the years.

Yes. Exactly what @hans said. I haven’t used social media in years and I’m not missing anything.