In the first episode of the third series of Black Mirror, we get to follow the main character, Lacie, as she navigates life in a world where literally every interaction you have can be rated out of five stars through a mobile app. Chat with a neighbour in your front yard? You could be rated for that. Have a disagreement with someone at work? You will almost definitely be rated poorly for that. Mistreat or cheat someone? You wouldn’t want to see the rating that would get you – and that’s the premise of the entire episode. Everyone alters the way they behave at all times, knowing any interaction they have could affect their overall rating – and their life.
Lacie has a rating of 4.2, which she is content with until she learns there are advantages to having a rating of 4.5+. The rest of the episode shows the things she’s willing to do in order to boost her number, and how quickly she unravels when one argument has a negative impact on it. Against better judgment, she obsesses, lets her emotions take control of her actions and makes even bigger mistakes that do even further damage. The episode is appropriately titled Nosedive. And of all the episodes of Black Mirror I have seen, Nosedive is the closest to a reality we already live in today, which is life on social media.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I have always had a love/hate relationship with social media. I will never be completely anti-social media, because it is how I have made countless connections and even built incredible friendships with people both locally and around the world. But I am also aware of how it affects me on a daily basis, and the truth is the impacts are often more negative than they are positive. Subconsciously, I am constantly comparing myself to other people. I feel disappointed when something I share doesn’t get a good reaction. And this is all heightened when times are tough, which they have been recently.
It doesn’t help that it also feels like the majority of what’s being shared on social media these days is negative (and not just because of the new president). The same way I constantly declutter my belongings, I am always unfollowing accounts that only share negative comments and content, but it just seems to be getting worse. Along with live-tweeting our bad experiences, it seems more and more people have learned the power of complaining about companies online. And I don’t know when it became socially acceptable for adults to shame and bully each other, but that seems to be a new piece of Twitter etiquette too.
Note that I am saying all of this as someone who feels she has to use social media for her business, and the majority of the people I follow are in the same line of work: bloggers, authors, podcasters, companies we work with, etc. For us, social media is not only a way to connect with each other, it’s a way to share our work with more people and potentially make more money. We have to portray the best versions of ourselves, because anything less could do serious damage. (Unless being rude or mean is part of your brand, which works for some people, but isn’t part of mine.) And good or bad, the number of followers, likes, comments and shares feed our egos.
When you work for yourself, you have to wear all the hats required to run your business, and “social media manager” is usually one of those hats. You have to come up with some kind of strategy to share your content, and even pay for apps/products to help you put your strategy into place. Then, on top of an overflowing inbox, you also have to read and reply to messages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Lately, I’ve started wondering if wearing the social media manager hat could be stealing my attention from other aspects of my business. And with the increased negativity there seems to be online, I’ve also wondered if I’d be happier offline.
I kept a journal during the first half of my road trip last fall, before my schedule filled up in the second half. One of the most memorable thoughts I documented was on the day I realized I was generally happy all the time, and I wondered if that was because there was no one with me who could alter the experience. I didn’t have to deal with anyone’s bad moods, road rage or the like. And I didn’t have to hear a single complaint. I was able to just wake up, decide what I wanted to do and go about my day. Now, I’m starting to wonder if that’s what life would look like if social media wasn’t part of it – or at least played a smaller role in it.
Last year, I found I was unhappy with how much time I was wasting on Facebook, and how unhappy being on Facebook actually left me feeling. So, I quit. I deactivated my personal profile in May 2016 and haven’t looked back. A couple weeks ago, I told you I had noticed my anxiety grew every time I checked Twitter, and how I wasn’t really getting anything positive out of using it lately anyway. So, I started spending less time on there… and it’s been great. I don’t think I’ll delete my account, but it feels good to have one less thing to think about right now. So, that’s what I’m going to experiment with this month: life without social media.
In fact, I’m going to take this one step further and say May will be the month I embrace slow technology. Over the years, I have already taken a few steps that have allowed me to be more intentional about how I use social media and technology:
- I got rid of my personal Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ profiles
- I get zero notifications on my phone (except for text messages)
- I stopped checking email first thing in the morning
- I cancelled cable 5+ years ago (and only watch Netflix)
- and now I don’t have a TV in my home
But now that I’m more in tune with my anxiety and what triggers it, I want to take one big break from everything and use that time to figure out exactly what role I want these things to play in my life going forward. Here are my intentions for the month.
Experiment #5: Slow Technology
- Do a 30-day social media detox (April 29th – May 28th)
- Figure out the role I want social media to play in my life
- Check/reply to email less often (also experiment with not checking on my phone)
- Figure out the role I want technology to play in my life (phone, computers, TV, etc.)
- Read from a book every day
Part of this slow living experiment comes from wanting to remove some of the unnecessary negativity in my daily life. Part of it is a result of the pressure to have + maintain an online presence. And part of it also comes from a recent need to feel more separation between my work and my real life – which is hard, when you are your work. But this experiment was also born from an often unspoken truth, which is that when I’m sad, I’m more susceptible to waste time mindlessly scrolling through social media and consuming information I don’t need. We do it to feel less alone but, as it turns out, it could actually be making us feel more alone than ever.
My goal for the slow technology experiment isn’t to completely disconnect from the online world or to isolate myself. It’s to make sure I’m using technology in a way that improves my life, rather than detracts from it. And it’s to press pause and take some time to outline how I can be more intentional with social media in the future.
What will I be doing this month that I won’t be sharing on social media? I’m in Victoria right now, and will be going to my high school’s 40-year anniversary party this Friday! (Friends who read this, come hangout!) I skipped our 10-year reunion, but this should be a fun trip down memory lane with a few friends. I’ll also be planning some trips I’ll be going on this summer, including two road trips in June. I’LL BE VOTING IN THE PROVINCIAL ELECTION! (Just thought I’d add that, as a reminder of how important it is to exercise your vote.) And, of course, I’ll be finishing the second draft of The Year of Less. :)
What is your relationship with social media/technology right now? Does it improve your life? Or have you ever thought about changing the way you use it?
PS – I have set things up so I’ll be sharing new blog posts on social media every Monday, but I won’t be there to reply to comments or questions. If you need me, you know where to find me. (Here!)