The Social Media Game

Side Crow

What rules do you play by? What rules do you self-impose on yourself?

I find it funny the importance allowed social media: the immediacy with which we need to respond, the games we must play (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “uggh, I need to post my #igchallenge pic” over the past few years in the yoga world), the need to deactivate accounts temporarily to reclaim time.

Also, I get it. We are wired for connection and it comes through this virtual medium. So does everything else. Friends, family, co-workers, literally everyone you’ve ever known or even come in contact with in your entire life, the news, the multiple entities that want to sale you something… All streaming through a tiny gadget with a 20-ish square inch surface. So you pick up your phone because you feel the need to respond, to play within the rules of an arbitrary game – of course, I don’t mean just games, there’s the rules of society, the rules of work, the rules that are un-imposed, societally imposed, self-imposed. Next thing you know you’ve spent an hour staring at those 20 square inches instead of enjoying the physical world that surrounds you.

This is made even harder by the fact that more and more of our lives are being controlled from our phones. My music, my security system, my thermostat, my TV… and oh yeah, my actual phone are all tied to the smart phone. And the tablet. And the computer. So even if I resisted the urge to check my phone constantly, there’s the likelihood I will pick it up multiple times a day to adjust something in my life. Even if I simply want to take a picture, out comes the phone.

When I set up my iPad last year, deciding it was to be used for work mainly, I declined to turn on any notifications. No notifications for email, for Facebook, for instagram… you might ask why I added those apps, and my answer is, because like many people today, that is a piece of my work, posting images, articles. No notifications from the App Store, no notifications from my Kindle, my anatomy app. It’s purely a notebook when I need it to be a notebook, a book when I need to research, a design tool when I need to create imagery, or a sketchbook when I want to draw, storyboard, or doodle. It was a small change, but it made a huge difference in my productivity and my
happiness, because I had to actively open my email or my social media accounts, and in making the decision to open that app, I was already making a conscious decision about what I wanted to do in that app, be it work, or peruse and get lost. If it was the latter, that mental decision queued my brain to double-check with me – was this really what I wanted to do with my time?

Eventually, I let some of this bleed over onto my phone. I keep email on most days, because it is more likely to be something I need to respond to in a timely manner. However, this past long-weekend, I decided to turn it all off, and even leave my phone behind much of the time. I spent a ton of time working on my backyard. I took some pictures with my phone, including this one for a yoga challenge sometime earlier in the week, waiting to post it until after the weekend had passed. I cooked. I sat and enjoyed coffee with my husband in the morning and sunsets in the evening. I worked a little, laughed a lot, and enjoyed the life that was going on around me. I snuck a peek from time to time at what was going on in the virtual world, but I went back to what was important in the moment. I participated in my life instead of being pulled between the virtual world and the actual moment.

Sometimes I assume it is easier for me to do this, to not respond or be tethered because of the time I was born into. I remember the days of only having a landline. You could get ahold of somebody if they happened to be home. If not, you left a message, either with a human or later, on a machine. It was up to them to get back to you. Texts, DMs, et al are like those messages to me. When the person on the other end wants to respond, much like that message left over the phone, they will respond. Back in the day, if the message was terribly important, you found alternative means of communication, but that effort generally meant a message was more life or death… teenage love lives set aside in this example (though they felt like life or death!). Everything else you allowed time to take its course.

From time to time, try it. Of course, if you have kids, put them on the important list to buzz them through via phone call or text. Otherwise, put down the phone. Turn off the buzzing, the ringing, the dinging that keeps us wired to respond, in a heightened state of alert, our sympathetic nervous systems more heightened than they need be. Determine what is important in this moment and do that. Get up, walk outside, get some sunshine. Grab a coffee with someone. Turn on some music and shake your booty for 5 minutes. Do a quick yoga flow. Stand on your head. Do something other than stare at the phone, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling mindlessly.

Enjoy your life, the one based in reality, and yes, on occasion the virtual one too. Allow time to take its course, which often shakes out any of the things you felt you needed to immediately respond to. Set your own rules and allow others to do the same.

There’s a freedom that comes once you realize what rules you are operating under and why, and once you consciously choose what’s important to you.

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