As we get older, we realize we only have so much time. And so much energy. Our vital life force, if you will, is finite. We can try really hard to keep our fires stoked by a myriad of sustaining endeavors; exercise, diet, meditation, close friends, a loving spouse, children, and family. Athletic, professional, or artistic pursuits. Reading, painting, writing poetry. Travel. Adventure. In the age of the Internet and social media, it’s very easy to lose this vital life force in frivolous activities. In activities that we think might matter now, but that we may realize, over time, aren’t so important after all.
I’ve made a vow to abstain from Facebook for a year, starting today. No, my friends, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. I cancelled my Instagram and Twitter accounts long ago, and don’t miss them one bit, but Facebook I know will be harder. I realize that most people have a perfectly healthy relationship with Facebook. I applaud them. It’s something they check occasionally while they go about their daily, real lives. For me, over the past five years, it went from a way to find and connect with friends and family, old and new, to a repository of snarky, self-indulgent odes to myself. Just a few days ago, as my Facebook deadline approached, I was sitting on the bleachers of my local YMCA, watching my kids play basketball. I attempted to take what I wanted to be my last Facebook selfie. I snapped a photo of myself, with the front-facing cameras that all our phones now come with, and tried to crop and filter it so it would present yet one more idealized version of myself to my digital neighborhood. I snapped pic after pic, cropped and filtered, and cropped some more, but after about twenty tries, I gave up. No amount of cropping or filtering could eliminate the bags under my eyes, my stubbly double chin, the blemishes, stray nose hairs, or general grayish, flabby pallor of the post-workout middle-aged man who I obviously was. How silly, I thought, that I had just spent the last twenty minutes trying to take a picture of myself. My grandparents, had they been alive and standing next to me, would not have recognized their own blood.
Even this morning, my first morning free from the ability to post (I had deactivated my account the night before), my brain wouldn’t shut off. Almost every stray thought that popped into my head sounded Facebook-worthy. My brain, I realized, had changed over the years to think almost exclusively in terms of what was sharable, what was postable, what would make me sound smart, what would make people laugh. These aren’t all bad things. When I told my friends I was taking a year-long break from Facebook, many told me how sad they would be, how my witty posts had entertained them and brought joy to some of their days. I thank them for this. The ability to make others laugh is a great privilege. But still, I know that at least for now, it’s time to look inward. To retrain my thought patterns so that I can focus on life right in front of me. So that I can be one-hundred-percent present to the people who stand before me, who share the same air as me. I realize that by quitting Facebook I’m forcing people, if they choose, to communicate with me in a pretty limited way: email, text, or in person. But this was how we all interacted just five or six years ago. And before email and cell phones, we called each other on the phone, wrote letters, dropped in for a cup of coffee, and enjoyed random meetings with friends on the street. We’re not talking about antiquity here; we are talking about less than a decade ago.
We can go back to this simpler, less connected, yet deeper way of living if we want. Most of us may not. One of my daughter’s twelve-year-old friends has over 1,000 followers on Instagram. She’s twelve. I’m forty-seven. I don’t think I’ve met a thousand people in my lifetime. Do we know what the repercussions of the always-on, sharing society will be for our selves and our children? I don’t think we do. We’re told not to fear the Internet. In my mind, however, the Internet is guilty until proven innocent.
So again, for me, I choose to direct the life force I have left to the things that are most meaningful to me now: my wife, my children, my friends, my art, my health. This is a short list, but it takes almost everything I have just to be mindful and to give myself fully to these few vital things. I hope my Facebook friends will follow me, at least once in a while, into this pre-2007 world lit only by fire.
Sit down and warm your hands. The coffee’s almost done.