Sorry to have been absent as of late, I have taken a break from writing to help me examine my relationship to the internet and all the attachments. During this break, I have also decided to leave the popular social networking sites (Facebook, twitter, etc.) to help me reconnect with people in more traditional settings. I had found that these distractions had started taking up a big part of my time, I felt stressed to ensure that everything was updated regularly, my head was filled with possible postings and status updates. I was a victim of this socially accepted voyeurism, I know that social networking sites have their advantages and that they can bring a lot of good (promoting social causes, staying connected with people abroad, etc.), but for me it had become more of a hindrance than anything else. I felt more and more disconnected from people who I knew (even though I was able to “creep” on their walls to see what they had been up to that weekend etc.) and that I had not had a real conversation with some of these people. Since my cutting point I have had actual e-mail exchanges with these people and feel that I am connecting with them in a more “real” way. I am free from this artificial social world that is engulfing most people. I don’t want to shit all over these sites and the people who use them, but it has been one of the best things that I have done in a long time.
I feel that seeing as how I try to live a life of mindfulness and searching for the truth that is all around me, I should be out in the real world and living in it. I had to get off this chair in front of the computer and taking some time to see people face to face and taking a walk or reading a book, some things that had become more difficult to do seeing as I was always 18 inches away from my reality. I felt sad and somewhat ashamed to know what was happening in people’s lives without having talked to them personally in the last couple of years, this all came about when I attended a wedding in my hometown and reconnected with these people with full knowledge of their day-to-day without having actually spoken to them. This scared me and made me realize that something had to be done, so here I am. I think that if we are to use these ways of staying connected, we must at least be mindful of our usage and our relationship to it.
We can all agree that most of us spend too much time on the internet and our computers, so how are we to find a balance with our actual lives and our cyber lives? There are little actions that can help us stay connected and free to have time to ourselves in nature or that coffee shop that we love so much. Take a moment to get centered before turning on your computer, use a timer and set an intention before using social media, don’t forget that social media can be addictive (I am certainly proof of this, I have been a victim of the warm soft glow of Facebook and its counterparts, be careful and aware of the time that is being spent), you could even place a post-it on your computer asking yourself what social media is doing to you emotionally. We also have to be careful because of social media envy, it has made it increasingly easy to share our creations and build our organizations. Witnessing their evolution can inspire you or if we put our comparison glasses on, we can easily be bitten by the envy bug. If we notice this trend in ourselves we can respond with a simple exercise entitled the Jealous Map exercise created by Julia Cameron:
- Ask yourself, “Why am I envious of this person?” (e.g. their blog is soooo beautiful).
- Take an action that incorporates what you envy into your own life (e.g. spruce up your own blog’s design, use more photos in your posts).
Questioning our relationships to social media can be a very fruitful exercise, it can help us see if we should be spending less time or none at all, something that will help us feel better in the long run. I know that it can be scary in certain ways to tell people who you are not connected to these sites out of fear of judgment (what is wrong with him if he is on Facebook? What is his deal?).
There are so many ways that we can use social media unmindfully, so here is a short checklist (thanks reformed buddhist) that you can use if you are to use these sites and want to avoid conflict and drama as much as possible.
- Know your intentions (Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?).
- Be your authentic self (Personal branding can hurt and is absolutely not important, why create a personae when you have wonderful you?).
- If you propose to tweet, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
- Offer random tweets of kindness.
- Experience now, share later (try to avoid the obsession of having to post immediately photos of what is happening on Facebook, or checking-in to assure that everyone knows where you are.)
- Be active, not reactive (uninstall that update application on your smart phone, assure that it is you that decides to join the conversation and not being dragged in repeatedly).
- Respond with your full attention (so many people post links without reading them, remember that what you share represents you, including the fact that you didn’t read an article that doesn’t represent the comment you posted over it).
- Use mobile social media sparingly (there is nothing more insulting than being out with someone when they check their Facebook while you are talking to them, I am sure that you feel the same when the tables are turned).
- Practice letting go (you don’t need to respond to everyone’s status updates or tweets, seriously, you need down time sometimes).
- Enjoy social media (if it starts feeling like a chore remind yourself, is this why I decided to join this site?).
So here are some good ideas for using social media with mindfulness and making sure that we allow ourselves to have some time to simply enjoy life outside the office or without our phones. Maybe we don’t all have to unplug, but it might be a good idea to give ourselves days where for 24 hours we don’t use our computers or phones and remember what it is like to be without all these different attachments and applications. I mean, I remember a time where I did not have the internet or the phone when I left the house, and I did just fine!