Social media is stupid. Yes, in theory, it can be a useful tool and all that, but let’s be honest: It’s stupid. We both know that (you the reader, and myself). For each sliver of substance one might mine from the monolith of social networking, there is enough vapid, inane, self-obsessed drivel to power all of Skynet. Forever.
Now everyone just calm the heck down. Just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with it, per se. Not unlike boxing or Wife Swap, social media is simultaneously stupid and fun.
Not to mention handy. I enjoy following movie and music news via Twitter, promoting my books and music via Facebook, and celebrating a good LP via Instagram. So how does one reap the small shred of benefit without inviting the tumbling boulder of unbelievable pointlessness?
Here are three steps I’ve taken in my attempt to limit the bad and enjoy the good.
1. Remove social networking apps from my phone.
It’s amazing how, even for a fellow without a strong affection for social networking, one can manage to absolutely squander his or her time scrolling through malarkey on a site like Twitter or Instagram. Recent studies seem to indicate it becomes a drug. I began to ask myself, “if I don’t care, why do I do this?”
I noticed that any shred of time in my day not directly occupied with something that demanded my full-attention became an easy conduit for flicking through crap on my phone. Line at the register? Phone. Buffering? Phone. Sitting on the toilet? Phone.
“Sweet merciful crap,” I thought to myself. “Have I devolved so completely? Is there nothing better to occupy a few bundles of seconds here and there?” Well, of course there is. A book. A conversation. Thoughtful meditation. Prayer. Observing that thing happening outside of your phone that we call “the world.” Watching paint dry. In fact, I speculate that, outside of crime and debauchery, there aren’t a lot of activities that aren’t more productive and enriching than looking at Instagram.
So, I deleted the app from my phone. The premise being that, if I felt something was so important I needed to share a photo of it with the world, I could always download the thing again and share a photo. Of course, this takes a while, so I found that desire dwindled rapidly (not altogether, but enough).
If someone mentions something funny or interesting a friend posted, I can always take a peek via my laptop and the ol’ world wide web, but mostly I don’t think about it very much other than when it might be useful or worthwhile, which, as it turns out, happens, but not very much.
When it comes to Twitter (my social media poison of choice), using the web client is more conducive than the phone anyhoo (unless I need to quote my wife on the fly).
2. Personally restrict phone use during certain hours.
From the time I get home to work, to just before bed, my wife and I have decided our iPhones are off limits. That nixes not only social media, but my beloved RSS feeds, texts, and the like. Once you’ve officially banned the thing, you begin to realize how little you need it to augment your life (read, “you don’t need it at all.”)
Of course, a smartphone is an fantastically useful thing, which is why we don’t get rid of them outright. We’re just hoping to relearn the fact that we got through most of our lives without them, and still can.
3. Personally restrict phone use during certain events.
If I’m visiting friends, having them over, out with family, at the movies, essentially at any sort of function where time with other humans is the focus, my phone doesn’t come out. I hope I don’t have to reiterate again and again that anyone who uses their phone during a movie should be ashamed of themselves (I’m kidding… sort of).
I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t kept my own rules with unwavering dedication, but I’m getting better. The better I get, the more the uninteresting things like social media become. It’s almost like an occasionally handy and sometimes fun activity relegated entirely to the background of real life.
That’s the truth I was hoping to reclaim all along.
Should you take similar measures? That’s up to you. My personal rules aren’t “rules” in the broad sense, they’ve created and enforced on my own accord. Even so, more and more I’m wondering if many of us wouldn’t do well to take similar measures. If any of these ideas seem scary, that could be a sign that they’re in order. When I see a couple out on a “date,” either of them looking at their phones, it bums me out. When I see people missing real life because they’re entirely preoccupied with watching it through their phone, so they can translate it into some tiny square that will never ever matter, it bums me out. When I see folks with attention spans so desperately crippled that they can’t make it through a single movie, teaching, conversation, car ride, without looking at their phones, I get bummed.
The overwhelming amount of self-celebration, image curation, humble bragging, and the sad, desperate scramble to draw value and self-worth out of an ultimately pointless smart phone app really really bums me out.
And when any of those people happen to be me, I get really bummed.
So I set out to unplug… at least a little bit.