You can walk away for a year, two years, live out in a shack in the woods but there will come a day where you find yourself wanting to check back to Facebook.
No one can stay away for long. This is how we live now.
At least, that’s the general consensus a number of “living without internet” experiments have arrived at. The internet, namely social media, is something that we have bought into in a big way and there is little hope of escaping its gravitational pull. In three words, Facebook owns you (and will sell you).
Our society is becoming increasingly invested in our social media, to the point that we are finally wondering when the pendulum will swing back. Some are arguing that social media is already in decline with younger generations looking to return to simpler, pre-status days where eye-contact on the street and tag-free photos were the norm. But, it is unclear whether such a “disconnect” is possible. In a sense, we are in The Matrix already.
Over the past year, a few stories have turned up from notable writers that explored “unplugging.” While each story offers a different perspective on stepping back from being a “plugged in” 20-40 something, they all share a similar fate in the end. All of the writers could not stay away from the technology they grew with, while cutting back was feasible, a complete disconnect was impossible to sustain.
Let’s start with the case of The Verge’s Paul Miller.
Miller was paid by The Verge to leave the internet cold turkey for a full year. No internet at all. Initially, Miller felt his quality of life get better. His attention span increased, he could read hundreds of pages of Greek literature in a single sitting, he was having better conversation and he was more attuned to maintaining relationships. But, over time, that zeal of life faltered and eventually he was back in the same pitfalls that he had once blamed on the internet.
He realized the internet was not something that distracted from “reality.” The internet and the way we connect is our reality. It’s our world now, take it or take it.
A year later, the internet didn’t seem so bad.
But, while the internet might be the reality we live in. There are certainly levels to the extent in which we engage. For instance, I’m a one tweet, one status a day, one essay a week guy. I read my news online, but otherwise, I don’t find an intrinsic satisfaction loitering online. Granted, I don’t yet have a job that demands I do…yet. But, in the case of writers (writers much more famous than me) the internet is a life-blood. It is the source of promotion, connection with fans, and maintaining a brand. It’s the way the business works.
In my freshman year at Keene State College, I watched Baratunde Thurston of The Onion perform stand-up, shortly thereafter I began to follow him on Twitter and I have been amazed ever since at the level of tweeting one person is capable of. These days he is the bestselling author of How to be Black. He is also a prime-example of what I would call a “plugged-in” person. What started as a need to promote and engage, became an unweeded garden of social networks, applications and general keeping up in a little bit of everything.
But, not too long ago, Baratunde took a slightly lighter, but still bold month away from the internet for the sake of his sanity and he wrote a great essay about it. While the Miller experiment ended in him coming full circle, realizing the internet does not change the person, Thurston arrived at a much more light-hearted, optimistic view of his break. He noticed the world more, he was unafraid to try restaurants on sight alone and he found himself in a state of freedom from those things he once felt obligated to contribute to.
Suddenly, not tweeting made him not care if people were reading what he said or not. This is a feeling that anyone who has taken even just a few extended days away from Facebook is no stranger to. If you don’t think about it, it doesn’t matter anymore. He was engaged in a living environment for a change.
But, ultimately, he knew he had to eventually return.
We find ourselves in a plugged-in world whether we truly enjoy it or not. Perhaps a Facebook friendship is not a substitute for a person-to-person friendship; but it is what we have created and cultivated. With our social media we have the ability to be ever-present to everyone, but at the cost of being truly present to the few people around us.
A final case to consider of severing all internet ties concerns only Facebook. Katherine Losse was an employee of Facebook who was one of the few women with a liberal arts degree to make it so far up the ladder (for a while she was Mark Zuckerberg’s personal ghostwriter).
In a piece by Craig Timberg for The Washington Post in August 2012 (is that too out of date for our internet age?) we meet Losse in the town of Marfa, Texas. She is physically cut off from the world, her Facebook is deactivated and she is working on a book. She argues that Facebook is playing in very “touchy territory” with the vast amounts of information they and other social media store.
The fact that we actively and willingly trust our information to these free servers and then demand our privacy or feel betrayed when we find out this information is being accessed and stored by people other than ourselves is reason enough to feel that a great social media walk-out should almost be guaranteed in the future. It is this trade-off that led Losse away, out of the Silicon Valley, to a trailer in West Texas.
But, like all the other post-Walden “unplug-gers,” Losse now finds herself, reluctantly, back on Facebook as a means to promote her brand. Like the rest of us, she’s in the make it big or die-trying youth of life and the internet is the only frontier people are paying attention to.
We’ll always come back to our social media.
In a bit of an ironic twist, I posed the question, “Any thoughts on leaving social networks?” as my Facebook status for this article. The response falls in line largely with those that tried to disconnect above. It is a varied and objective field. For most, Facebook and social media is a lifeline for engaging, learning, business, connection and promoting. It is not perfect, but it is a reality. It is a curated diary that will survive longer than we ever will on this Earth.
Whether we are ready to admit it or not, social media is a tangible part of our society. It is a world-wide nation that we have a personal stake in … our identity. To disconnect from social media or the internet as a whole is to erase one’s self from a part of society. However, there can still be be valuable lessons gained from moderation and even severely limiting one’s presence from social media platforms in exchange for simply an e-mail address.
Our information and the parts of ourselves we leave on the internet binds us to a 21st century facet of the world we live in. As I alluded to earlier, we are giving ourselves to social media for nothing, in exchange for feeling a sense of online connection that may or may not be genuine, but, as Paul Miller illustrated, is better than no connection at all.
As a collective, multi-generational, world entity we are deeply engaged in our social media. Our information is there and it is not going anywhere soon. Perhaps, in the future we will see the world of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs disappear; but that will take considerable time to undo.
For the time being, we are products of our social media and we will never be away for long.
With that being said, for a credible, well-versed source on 50 years disconnected from social media, talk to my dad.
It’s not so bad.