Several weeks ago I made a decision: that I would drastically reduce my time on social media. It was an attempt to drain the shallows from my life – reducing the meaningless, easy-to-replicate tasks to give more time and space to the activities that create meaning and fulfillment in my life.
I’ve decided to reduce social media because I’ve finally learned that distraction makes me miserable. I’m deeply unhappy when I’m scrolling through a feed, looking for the hit of pleasure, of novelty and validation that will leave me a second later desperate for more. It makes me depressed and isolated. Coming home after a 9 hours day of work, physically hurting and exhausted, and then logging onto social media and seeing people who appear more happy, more successful, more beautiful than myself causes me to spiral. I know it’s all illusion – that those other people are just as miserable as I am, but that doesn’t make me immune.
I’ve now set up boundaries with social media. I now see it as work that has a designated time and place so it doesn’t permeate my life. I use a not-so-smart phone with no data so I can’t be immersed in social media and infotainment. When I tweet from this phone, I can’t see the responses until the designated time.
Ever since making this commitment, my life has altered. My sleep is deeper, sounder, and more pleasurable (because I’m not gazing into the abyss of a glowing rectangle for hours before I fall asleep.) Time spent with my partner is more present, fulfilling, and intimate. My focus is vastly improved, and as a consequence of my undivided focus, I am far less exhausted. I am less anxious – the constant buzz of online drama is gone, and the silence that has replaced it is merciful and deep. (And, incidentally, people disliking you on twitter is much less devastating when you don’t spend so much time on twitter.)
Most dramatic of all, though, is the change in my time. My sense of time itself has altered. Instead of being held captive to the glittering images of social media, my life unfurls before me, and suddenly feels vast. I work full time and teach yoga, and yet I’m now able to find plenty of time for leisure, for friends, for giving voice lessons, for being with my partner, for running and doing yoga, for journaling, reading, and even playing the occasional video game. For as long as social media has reigned supreme in my life, I’ve never had such a sense of expansive time to fill with meaningful and enjoyable things.
I don’t hate social media. Being a millennial, I am a native of the internet, and some of the very best things in my life have come to me by way of social media. It gave me community when I was exploring my sexual orientation in the Christian South and had nowhere to turn. It gave me my partner (through a dating app) and it has given me countless friends and opportunities. And yet I also can’t help but feel that it has stolen large swaths of my life in return. I now see social media as a helpful but dangerous pleasure, perhaps a bit like chocolate: it’s wonderful and delicious and makes life more pleasurable, but too much of it will damage you and at worse, kill you. Much like sugar, social media hacks our evolutionary wiring to give us hits of pleasure and connection and novelty with as little effort involved. That gets deep into the psyche, and it starts to re-wire us, hijack us like parasitic fungus that hijacks the brains of ants. Social Media is the ultimate Snow Crash: the computer virus envisioned by Neil Stephenson that not only crashes your computer but also your brain.
I’m a student of the Tarot, and I’ve been meditating lately on The Magician: an Arcanum that represents mastery, transformation, and ease in both. All traditional magic or mysticism is, in essence, the art of transformation. I now see, more and more, that there are choices and tools in life that manifest the archetype of the Magician. It is powerful, mundane magic, giving you the authority to alter your life and the world around you. Reducing social media and giving space for the meaningful things in life is a powerfully mystical act. It is the choice to allow for greater meaning, silence, and connection.
If there is one thing that I’ve learned recently, it is that the life changing, consciousness-altering tools of the Magician are humble: a pen and paper, a not-so-smart-phone, the choice of boredom and focus over constant entertainment. They are so crude, so humble, as to be easily missed. In our quest for enlightenment and delight we go to the mountaintops, or we look for the latest, shining invention. We fail to understand that the promise of the Magician – self transformation – is most often fulfilled through humble, unglamorous means.