Have you ever walked into a restaurant and seen a nice family waiting to be seated? The kind where the mom and dad are chatting to the kids about their days, and everyone is so alive and present in the moment that when their collective last name is called they aren’t distracted, and they immediately and happily embark on the journey to their table?
Neither have I.
I usually walk into a restaurant and witness a bunch of zombie families distracted by strange new-age devices that prevent them from interacting or obeying social norms, like responding to the sound of your name.
Sometimes I see three-year-olds with iPads and people searching for outlets to prolong the life of their illuminated portals to a different world.
When Marty McFly ended up in the year 2015, the new technology he encountered was far less damaging to the human condition. I dare say he’d be disappointed to see how far we’ve regressed in our dependence on screens, and with much less flair than his old DeLorean.
The year 2015 isn’t nearly as captivating as the eighties predicted it would be.
Modern folk thumb-scroll through other people’s lives on their morning commutes, while they’re going to the bathroom, and before they fall asleep. We wake up to check messages and refresh without vested interest.
We’re constantly seeking likes and comments, soliciting followers and friends. We spend more time fabricating our social media life than we do living it.
We model this behavior for our children, our students, and our peers, so that the only social norm is to exist and communicate in the online universe.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of attention.
And there’s no accountability involved. Everyday, millions of people have the strange opportunity of encountering someone in real life that they only know online. A sort of embarrassment ensues where each person is considering the proper greeting for “I know every intimate detail of your life but we’ve never communicated in person.”
At catch-up lunches with our real friends we have to act surprised at the mention of their sister’s new baby or their recent dinner at that new restaurant downtown. It wouldn’t be acceptable to cut off their sharing with “Oh yeah, baby Sophia? She’s 8 lbs 6 oz of cuteness!” or “I know, your shrimp platter looked delicious.” It’s creepy to know that much. And besides, if we did that they might wonder why we didn’t “like” it.
We hide behind the facade of social media being the best way to stay connected with friends at a distance, but we spend more time stalking than we do communicating.
Our arsenal of excuses for our dependence on technology is as long as the Oregon Trail. But you know what? When Alan was suddenly plagued with dysentery, and the oxen couldn’t ford the river, it wasn’t the cell phone Ma stashed in the saddlebags that saved us.
Okay, so that’s a bit extreme.
You know what else is extreme?
Last year I saw a woman walk into a tree because she was texting.
I saw seven people fail to give up their seats to an elderly man on a streetcar, not because they didn’t want to, but because they were too consumed by their phones to even notice him.
I experienced outstanding live music almost completely alone because the other people in the room let the stage lights be polluted by their devices.
As a human race, we are too enveloped in social media, emailing, texting, and browsing that we fail to be truly present in the moment.
According to a 2014 study, adults in the United States spend an average of 42.1 minutes on Facebook every day. That comes out to 10.7 days wasted every year on one social media platform alone.
Before quitting social media eight days ago, I would have said that it didn’t consume much of my time. I rarely devoted energy to writing Facebook statuses or reading other people’s. I didn’t harbor a secret desire to collect more followers and friends.
But since deactivating my Facebook and deleting all social media apps, my free time is much more apparent.
I found that despite my belief that social media wasn’t a stakeholder in my daily activities, I was constantly fighting an impulse to click and connect. I found that in every dull or quiet moment my initial reaction was to reach for my phone to start scrolling. I realized that I wanted the numb distraction that came with looking at interesting photos and images of other people’s activities.
We can’t truly acknowledge the power that social media has over us if we don’t give it up. We can’t recognize its harmful affects if we don’t live life without it.
Though I’ve only dabbled in telepathy, give me three guesses and I bet I can describe your current laptop background. If it’s not a photo of your closest family members, then it’s gotta be a scene straight out of a Corona commercial or North Face ad. And if neither of those sound like you, then you’re one of those abstract art people that require a ten minute observation in order to see what the picture really is.
If anything hints at our true desire it’s the pictures we choose to disguise our obsession with technology.
Imagine the benefit of using every minute spent on social media to actually go out and enjoy the world. Imagine the freedom of not being bound by constant updates and the pressure to share.
Imagine getting ten extra days of living every year.
The next time you’re annoyed by another kid devouring technology when they’re out with their family, just remember that we’re all kids. You might be bigger, or smarter, or able to make your own choices, but in reality you’re still just a big kid. And more than that, you’re human. And humans still succeeded, lived, and thrived before there was a Google answer for every question, and a little red heart to boost your self-esteem.