“…Wait…You don’t have Facebook?” He asked me incredulously. How on Earth could one human being possibly keep in contact with another human being without Facebook?
Ah, the age old quandary. The setting was Mbour, Senegal in West Africa. I found myself at a roadside coconut cart engaged in a spirited conversation with a group of young Gambians. The four of them were en route to Dakar, the capital of Senegal and were waiting while their car got repaired across the street.
“How do we find you if you don’t have Facebook?” The group asks me. “Well,” I say, “most often I can be found by carrier pigeon.”
Ok, I wasn’t actually that snarky. I said something to the effect of “E-mail.” As it were, all of their phones were dead and no one had a good old fashioned piece of paper and a pencil. In Senegal, I didn’t bother to carry a phone with me. I preferred the relative solitude that being cell phoneless affords. Therefore, they were left with an even more archaic form of interpersonal exchange: memory. One young lad attempted to remember my e-mail, promising to touch base. I’ve yet to hear from him.
Why do we find ourselves so dependent on social media?
After all, this small group of twenty-something Gambians couldn’t fathom living without Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumbler. Let’s take a look at social ties to begin with. We, as humans, are social creatures, the most social in fact (for a comically enlightening talk, watch TEDx.) It requires a great deal of cooperation, abstract thinking and alliance building to simply survive in such a complex social culture such as ours. We rely heavily on one another to thrive and with good reason. Not only does living in tight social networks allow us to utilize each others specialties (for example: the computer, tablet or smartphone you’re reading this on right now most certainly could not have been produced by one single individual) but increases our overall mental, emotional and physical health. Simply put, building and sustaining a core group of family and friends creates long lasting beneficial effects across the board of health (for more information, click here).
That brings me to my own personal reasons why I choose not to use social media:
1) It’s a mindless time vortex
A few years ago I had Facebook and Instagram. My feeds were full of yogis and nutritionists and various other “cool” people to follow. I would mindlessly scroll through page after page after page looking at pictures in fairytale stories. My conscious mind knew that these photos were all the highlights of people’s lives. No one wanted to share themselves fighting with a spouse, getting stressed at work or looking terrible after pulling an all-nighter for school. Those real life photos conveniently never got taken. Only the perfect arm balance yogi pose after 100 shots were selected. Or the fancy meal they went to the other night. While some of these photo’s were entertaining, often they added no value to my life whatsoever. The time I spent mindlessly perusing the feeds, I could have consciously put effort towards something that I valued, such as becoming a better guitarist, reading an educational book, working out or meditating. Surfing Facebook posts to see that Hipster Jane just drank a green juice was not getting me any closer to the person I wanted to become.
2) Better off in person
I am a big believer in connection. In my hippy mind, it makes sense that all things are connected, Pocahontas-style. At a very fundamental level, we are all simply atoms smashing around in the shape of one thing or another. You, me, the food you ate for breakfast and the chair you’re sitting on, are all comprised of energy. As such, we react to one another in a very visceral way that can only be fully expressed in person. Words are such a teeny tiny wee little bit of how we communicate. We put a whole lot of emphasis on them, to be sure. But in all reality, we use body language, tone of voice, hand and facial gestures and simply feeling each others vibe, to communicate far more deeply than words alone can ever do. So if we want to create meaningful, long-lasting connections, we are better off doing so in person.
3) Those who matter will always be there
A very common reason people tell me they use social media is to keep in touch. While I fully understand this, I also know from first-hand experience that those who you love and those who love you are not going anywhere. I have spent the past 7 years of my life traveling abroad pretty extensively. I have left home, family and friends many times for many months and years at a time.
None of them deserted me because I didn’t “like” their latest post. While I wasn’t able to share my exciting adventures with the whole wide world, I was able to consciously take time out of my day to focus on a select few individuals who I cared about enough to update. Thanks to widespread internet these days, I can pretty easily call, e-mail or skype my family. Yes, it takes loads more time than updating Facebook or tumbler, but it is also far more intimate. Speaking of intimate…
I hand write letters.
…And send them by carrier pigeon… No, not really, but I do love hand writing letters. I know for me, there is scarcely anything better than opening up my mailbox to find a handwritten letter from someone I love. I get so excited! Almost as excited as when someone hands me chocolate 😀 If I get that stoked on long hand letters, I know others will too. So I take time to write to those that matter most.
For me, it’s not about quantity of friends, it’s about quality and investing time and energy into those quality people.
All that being said, I can easily play devil’s advocate for having social media. As a traveler myself, I understand the allure of a flippant Facebook contact I can turn into a potential couch to sleep on when I end up in The Gambia. Whoever thought I’d be there? But, in the grand scheme of things, social media is not my cup of tea.
Imagine the time/effort/intention/impact of clicking “like” on some random person’s fitness selfie. Has that “like” helped you? Has it helped them? Yes, perhaps it’s inflated their ego a bit.
What if you were intentional about your relationships?
What if, instead of “liking” a strangers post, while your brain has checked out and you’re on autopilot, you engage the world around you and be present with a physical human being? What would that look like?