During my first week of limiting my Facebook use (see the article here) I felt some urges to log in when I was transitioning between tasks or had a free moment. During my second week, I no longer had any of these ticks (this sounds harsh, but I believe it’s accurate), but found that I felt less frazzled and “busy”. Having moments without media gave me more perspective on which tasks were important. It also got me thinking about my own ideas about “busyness”, in particular why I feel a compulsion to fill up my free moments.
In Glimpse of the Day Sogyal Rinpoche discusses active laziness, which he describes as the Western form of laziness. It consists of It consists of “cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time left to confront the real issues.” We subconsciously ensure that we do not have time to deal with issues that actually matter. Rinpoche previously points out in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Busyness’s laziness “lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy”.
The upshot of active laziness is that we avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror. It is the last, strongest and ultimate resort of the ego (Ego here refers to Maya or Ahmkara, as opposed to the Freudian Ego) which keeps us in the material “dream”, not allowing us to look into (or even acknowledge the existence) of our spiritual selves. While Facebook and other Social Networking Sites are tools that we can use positively to keep in touch with others but it seems that many are using Facebook improperly. Psychologist have also been studying the effects of social media use over the past decade. While some studies have found that some aspects of SNSs improve people’s lives (See the most recent PEW research here) that others are detrimental.
The way that we relate with others on social media can adversely affect the way we relate to ourselves. Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst and psychologist at MIT discusses the effects of technology use on human relationships in her TED talk Connected, but Alone. She explains that while there are good uses of technology, it is changing us socially as well as internally in negative ways. Her work, though hundreds of interviews over the past 15 years, has found:
- That we are depending on mere connection over conversations with each other and that we expect more from technology and less from each other;
- We’re lonely but at the same time we are afraid of intimacy with others, but also ourselves;
- That social media relationships and general use of once removed technology (like texts, or any device that lets us put a barrier between ourselves and others) gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.
Besides these problematic findings, she says that technology use can be addictive because it seems to pacify our deepest fears: 1) It mitigates our feelings of being out of control of the world around us(boring meeting, no problem, just “tune in” for the parts that interest you), 2) It makes us feel that we are always being heard and have a high level of control over what we are saying, 3) It acts as “company”: We will never have to be “alone” so long as we use technology. The ironic thing here is that we are feeling more and more isolated so much so that a loneliness epidemic has been recognized in the literature. I have heard the lament of “I have a career, friends, and activities, but I feel alone,” from many. However, I think the issue is not that we are physically alone, but that we have forgotten how to be alone.
With social media we have the constant option not to be alone with our thoughts even when we are physically alone; we can be actively lazy all the time, even in a boring lecture or meeting. When we are alone we can confront and work on our personal problems, we can decide what we like in our lives and plan how to have more or less of it. When we don’t actively spend time to understand, form and know who we are, we are going to have problems connecting with others. The great paradox here is that when we overuse social media, we don’t feel like ourselves without connection. The larger implication here is that we define ourselves by social media. Dr. Turkle aptly describes this issue as “I share therefore I am”. Instead of identifying ourselves by our core values (with all this active busyness, we can spend less time doing this important work) and by what we share with others.
Overusing sites like Facebook changes the way that we see our “friends”. As we are not spending time on our own and can’t stand being lonely, instead of connecting to others for conversation, we use them as emotional spare parts because it is easier than being vulnerable. But it is only when we are vulnerable that we really reveal ourselves to each other and ourselves. Through vulnerability that we are able to achieve great things (See Dr. Brene Brown’s work) yet we are avoiding the situations that lead us to this doorway.
Worst of all, there are now reports that social media overuse can cause mental illness. Facebook Addiction Disorder is a newly recognized disorder ( a specialized subset of Social Networking Addiction Disorder and Internet Addiction Disorder). There are studies that have found that quitting Facebook can be worse than quitting smoking or drinking (see an article about that here). While I didn’t find it too difficult (also, I made sure to plan out my time so that I was busy, just not on Facebook). I find that since I have significantly cut down my Facebook usage, I am more engaged in my offline life. During a dinner with my family this week, I didn’t check my phone once (in fact, I forgot it at my parents’ house and had to return to pick it up the next day). Usually not being able to find or use my phone would have caused a constant, gnawing panic. This time, I wasn’t bothered, I am starting to remember that silence is comfortable.