My daughter attended an art camp this summer where the children were asked to draw their families. For each person, my daughter chose an accessory to go along with the drawing. My wife, was holding a paper heart. My son, was holding a pillow because he likes to sleep and my youngest daughter was holding a Barbie.
As my daughter got around to describing me I kept thinking. "Please don't let it be a phone, please don't let it be a phone, anything but a phone.
I asked her "What am I holding? A camera maybe?"
"No Daddy, you have your phone because you are always on it."
I don't want to be the phone guy anymore.
I'm addicted to the internet. I first turned to it when I was staying at home with the kids, isolated and many times lonely with no one to talk to about my day looking for reassurance that everything was normal. I was searching for absolution that I wasn't crazy for feeling despair. How could something like social media that made me feel good, leave me feeling more empty?
You probably can't go many places without seeing someone on a device anymore. It has invaded every aspect of our lives on this planet. It has turned us into The Walking Dead; zombies oblivious to the world around them. Kids zone out in front of devices. People walk out into traffic engrossed by it. Some use it as an escape when the real world becomes boring. It's probably in your pocket or so close by that without it you feel lost and you turn to it every single moment there is a lull in your life.
"I'm just checking something" was my excuse to my wife when she'd question while I was on it. I always knew that was a lie. Seconds checking it turned into minutes, minutes to hours while I discovered that I had spent the last three hours responding to comments and liking profiles in a virtual world where none of it matters. I could disappear off of Facebook and no one would care. Their lives would go on and cat videos would still be played. Trolls would keep trolling and memes would still be made.
Posting on social media is an outlet for acceptance. We crave that attention. We want people to like what we are posting to affirm that what we have to share in this world is loved and respected. I stopped taking pictures of my food for this reason. What did we do before we took pictures of our food? Oh yes...we just ate it.
I'm guilty of it everyday. Checking Instagram, Twitter, Facebook craving more notifications like rewards for a job well done. You can't be on social media and not crave that praise. I'd feel guilty if I were using it, sometimes hiding in the garage or bathroom not trying to get caught being on it wondering if someone, anyone had responded to my post or something I thought was funny or clever. Likes and comments constantly have me craving for more.
I didn't realize how deep I relied on it until it was almost too late. While going through pre-marriage counseling I first learned about the Five Love Languages. There are five ways we feel loved which included acts of service, gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation. When it comes to the way I feel loved, I'm a words of affirmation guy and that's dangerous for a blogger. Without it I feel like a failure. I feel like what I have to say doesn't matter anymore. When my Banish the Playdate post went viral I felt compelled to keep the momentum going no matter what the cost. I didn't want to fade into irrelevance.
Social media to a blogger means you must be married to it to have an sort of success. It's a relationship that is often one sided, sometimes gives back, and frequently disappoints. Much of the time if you don't put the work in you won't get much out. There's too much internet arguing, drama, and possibilities for strained relationships through social media. There's no eye contact or body language to read and in many cases the online persona of most users are way different from those people in real life. So while social media is necessary for success, there are many pitfalls in its use.
This overuse meant that sometimes I shirked my responsibilities as an at home parent all for the high of more likes, more followers, more praise from people I don't know at all. Bending to it's will is easy as it is an addiction like any other. But like any addiction it ends up hurting not only yourself but others around you who care for you.
If you haven't been hurt by social media, it will happen someday. That thing that you have come to rely on as a source of comfort will turn on you. Someone will disagree with your post and you will engage in a virtual argument that will most likely have no discernible resolution. Feelings will get hurt, a disagreement will become personal, and soon you are blocking a person who shouldn't have been in your friends list in the first place.
Overuse can be dangerous. Fall down the rabbit hole of social media and you'll probably come out dazed and confused. The only solution to break away from this obsession is to not use it. That's not easy as any addict can attest. Walking away will always be a struggle. I'm not talking about a public ragequit in front of your 987 friends. I am talking about fading into the background and using it less. Remove Facebook from your phone, turn off notifications, and be present in the real world instead.
I sought out counseling for my obsession. I couldn't find a group that identified only with internet addiction near me though I suspect counselors coming out of school these days will be specializing in this area in the future. I sought counseling from my pastor who told me that on a spectrum of addiction, mine wasn't one of the worst. Yet so many men my age who stay home feel this same way.
We are looking for something to fill a void in our lives and often it has to do with a lack of social interaction. We are looking for community and acceptance online because it's easy. We spend too much time on social media or online gaming that it has us hooked. Unfortunately because it is an addiction, we find ways to make sure we get our fix. We may be waking up early or staying up late, lying to our spouse about how much time we really have spent on it because we feel guilty for using.
It's a different world online and when posting on social media became priority one for me, I lost sight of what was really important, myself in real life. I stopped doing the things I cared about like art and photography and when I did take photographs I was more interested in seeing how many people would like it rather than just enjoy what I created.
We have an app for everything now. We keep track of our daily meals, our runs, we GPS every location before ever getting there. I text more than talk to actual people on the phone so much so now that when someone suggests I call them, I cringe. Social media intended to bring us closer together but it has done just the opposite. Go to a sporting event and most people will be Periscoping it or posting to Instagram that they are there. We take selfies and pictures of our food and post about EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. OF. OUR. LIVES. It's no longer about the spectacle. We are the spectacle.
So I've decided to use it less and silence the cell phone more. It's been a struggle to pull back but doing that has made me realize how annoying it can be to have a conversation with someone whom whips out their cell phone to "check something". Using it less as made me see more. I am seeing a difference in how my kids talk to me and more importantly how I listen to them. I've become more connected with people in my community in real life. I have been more attentive to my relationship with my wife because that marriage is the one that matters. I'm hoping that my dedication to the real world and not the virtual one will drastically change myself. I can only hope that the portrait my daughter draws of me next year will be one I recognize.