“In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.”
-Yuval Noah Harari
By the tap of our thumbs, we have access to an ocean of knowledge. As writers, having an ever-evolving Encyclopedia at our fingertips is nothing short of magic. We can sift through vintage news articles, research the flora and fauna of Malé, listen to music from any era…it is a truly remarkable tool.
But the inundation of data and possibility has come at a great cost to our cognitive function. Shifts in our neuroplasticity over the past ten years have made us less patient, less content, and, according to a growing body of evidence, less intelligent.
I’m no luddite, however, anecdotally, I can say that both my mental clarity and professional productivity take a dramatic hit when I start caving in to the magnetic pull of my little magic box. Specifically, social media. When I allow myself to scroll on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, or Youtube without a direct purpose, I can feel a shift in the way that my brain operates. My work proficiency wanes, my writing becomes fragmented and desperate. I feel restless and insecure. My higher, more compassionate self takes a backseat to my ego.
After a social-media-surf-sesh, I feel my mind being stretched in a million different directions. Suddenly, I have an insatiable itch to travel to Anguilla, which I’ve known exists for all of two minutes. I want to learn how to play the cello, how to do flying crow pose. I want a blue majik smoothie bowl, even though I know full well that spirulina tastes the way fish food smells.
I don’t just crave these experiences for their own sake, either, I want documentation of them. I want photographic evidence through a bright and airy preset that I can post online and get validation for.
While I’m reluctant to admit this, I sense this sentiment is not unique to me. We all want to be liked. We all fear rejection. We are all, consciously or not, constantly searching for ways to escape from the pain and mundanity of everyday life. Social media exploits these vulnerabilities in the human psyche. It’s no secret. The whole business model is predicated off of it.
One might compare aimless screen time to ‘seadooing.’ You skim the surface of the water, carving in a different direction with each opened tab. It’s fun, fast, exhilarating–but too much of it can make you sick. Reading a novel, or engaging in a meaningful dialogue, however, is more akin to scuba diving. It takes more effort, time, and patience, but pay off is depth. It is in those deep, hard-to-access places that we can encounter ancient shipwrecks and sunken treasures that don’t exist above water.
I spend my time split between Canada and Switzerland. When I’m in Europe, I tend to forgo social media. Largely because my fiancé, a Swiss software engineer (the irony), can’t stand it. When I do pick up my phone, it’s with intention. Whatsapp for messaging family and friends back in Canada, Google Docs for writing. Last summer, I wrote a large portion of my novel whilst on the train. I arrived in Zürich feeling accomplished instead of inadequate. So, for me, productivity goes way up without Instagram or Facebook.
The most dramatic change is always in my character. Without fail, I am always significantly happier, more mindful, and more motivated.
I think this is because neglecting social media allows me to engage with the present moment in a more authentic way. Rather than being confronted with an endless stream of things I don’t possess, I’m able to appreciate what I do have. My brain isn’t cluttered with content, and I can face my day with a clear mind.
Like red wine and sugar, the way we engage to social media is highly individual. Some people can indulge every night. Others reserve it for special occasions. It’s definitely worth considering if you’re predisposed to addictive behaviour, and also, if it serves your specific life goals. It’s silly to think that a paramedic and a vegan donut shop owner have the same need for a digital presence. Yet, I’ve been getting an avalanche of targeted ads warning me about the ‘perils’ of not having a carefully curated Instagram account. Is it mere coincidence that these companies and individual entrepreneurs profit off of social media users? I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark and say no.
The anonymity of being a writer is one of the things that drew me to the profession, personally.
Most of the artists that I revere don’t have much of an Instagram presence. If they do, it’s an unedited one. Take Childish Gambino or Esi Edugyan, for example.
While, yes, cataclysmic discovery can certainly happen online, pouring all of your energy into the illusion of success and fame in lieu polishing your craft isn’t particularly wise.
So, to any kindred existentialists out there who find that social media hinders their professional lives rather than enhances them, take this as a sign from the universe that it’s perfectly okay to invest your time and energy into the physical world. If you do genuinely love your Instafix, that’s perfectly fine. Just know that you can live your life without an audience. Happily. It might even help you finish that novel of yours.
An escapist who turned her chronic daydreaming tendencies into a profession, Rachael is a writer, integrative arts educator, and copy editor based in Switzerland. She has an affinity for foreign languages, the arts in all forms, and lake swimming. Her writing has been featured in publications such as PRISM International, SAD Mag, This Side of West, and Young Writers of Canada.