I recently spent a very nice day out with my friends. Mid-adventure I tweeted a selfie of myself enjoying the scenery to the internet. De rigueur, wouldn’t you say? A standard amount of likes came in, but nowhere close to my top posts. I kept checking my phone periodically, but found myself with few comments to reply to. As the day progressed I puzzled over my vague dissatisfaction, not with the experience (it was a truly lovely day), but with why I found it necessary to receive affirmation from my online followers. I was happy in the moment. The day was beautiful, the trip progressing perfectly.
Why wasn’t that enough?
We live in an age of hyper-connectivity. Studies have been done about the constant presence of computers and their effect on our brains (check out this Invisibilia podcast on the topic.) College students are given seminars on how their online presence can make or break a career, and children in elementary school are given tips on how to deal with cyber bullying. I’ve paid attention to the discussions, but haven’t allowed them to panic me. I keep my Facebook security settings high, and think twice before I tweet. I’ve also made a concentrated effort to not use my phone during mealtimes, but it wasn’t until the day out with my friends that it became clear I have more work to do.
Specifically, I need to stop letting the Internet throw off my groove.
Allow me to illustrate my point. As I was cavorting around with my friends, I was happy. I was having fun, and my natural instinct was to send this across my social media. There is nothing wrong with wanting to share our experiences. People have been telling travel stories and inviting people over to look at slides/photos for years. The major difference is that 20 years ago we shared our pictures and stories AFTER the trip was over and the memories were fully formed. It didn’t matter as much if the pictures weren’t appreciated and the funny happening wasn’t as great in the retelling. Our opinions were set.
Now, technology allows us to share and receive feedback mid-experience, so if our online community doesn’t react favorably it subtly changes our experience. Inevitably, not getting the response and reaction we wanted results in letdown that can ruin what could have been a great day.
Not cool internet, not cool.
The remedy to this problem is not clear-cut, I’m not about to stop sharing my pictures and thoughts online. I’ll be going on vacation to a gorgeous, tropical locale in a week and you better believe the adventure will be documented. Instead, I plan to adjust the timing and frequency of my posts and how I allow them to dictate my behavior.
No phone during meals.
I’ve already started doing this, so it won’t be much of a stretch to accomplish. My main temptation is to use my phone to take pictures of my food, which leads to posting on Instagram, which leads to checking my likes, which leads to ignoring my dinner companion and letting my food get cold. Yes, I will still want pictures of certain plates, but I have a camera for that.
Post at night.
None of my best memories involve staring at a screen while the world happens around me. Yes, it’s fun and reinforcing to see your phone light up with people expressing jealousy and envy while you are having the time of your life, but that in no way enhances the experience in the moment. Instead, I’ll take the picture, remember the story, and post them in the evening when I’m winding down before bed.
Not everything needs to be documented.
I have developed a bad tendency of allowing images to speak for me. Though an effective form of communication, it also effectively ignores my well-developed grasp of the English language. Why do I need to take a picture of every beach and sunset? The images may bring back memories for me, but they will ultimately be no more important than the next. Instead I’ll focus on recording my thoughts and feelings evoked by what I see. It will make a better story anyway.
Live in the moment.
This is beyond cliché, but if there is anything that the image above taught me, it’s that no one looks like more of a dummy than the people who ignore the world around them. I’m going on vacation to see and experience new things that can only be seen and experienced in person, so you better bet I’m going to be living in the moment.
The world is perfectly fine without me.
Even if I don’t manage to tweet everyday or Instagram my outfit the world is going to be just fine. Yes, my mom might wonder what I’m up to, and my friends might forget I’m out of town, but that is not a major crisis. It’s healthy to disconnect, even better to travel and learn, and there will always be time to over-share when I get back.
Ultimately, these are the adjustments that work for my habits, but your key to digital balance might look very different. No matter when you post or how often you tweet, remember that your reactions are emotions are fine and valid without any outside reinforcement. Don’t let an anonymous peanut gallery ruin your vacation. They aren’t worth it.