As you read this, are there three other tabs open in your browser: Facebook, Twitter and whatever work-related email inbox you might frantically click on when your boss passes you by?
Yup, you’re one of us.
After being somewhat reluctant to embrace the networking aspect of the internet in its early days (chatting with strangers? #creepy), I was lured to the Black Planet like many other teens, captivated by the "look how cool my taste is" music players and the ability to drool over pics of cute boys from all across the world.
I was an early Facebook adopter, back when it was exclusive to college campuses and used primarily to snoop on classmates and keep in touch with friends from back home. Twitter was lame, weird and mostly lame to me… until I joined three years ago and became part of the millions of folks hooked on letting anyone who’s paying attention know that they are having frozen yogurt for dinner and feel ashamed about it.
You know what’s awful about my addiction? While some folks constantly Tweet, post new pics or click “like” on FB statuses and links, I’m constantly on these sites without saying anything. I’m almost always looking at Twitter on my BlackBerry. I always know what folks are talking about on there, even if I’m not actively participating. It’s like refusing to turn the television off, even if you’re listening to the radio or reading a book. It’s just background noise, but for some reason, you need it.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until my boyfriend pointed out the fact that he can leave his phone in his pocket during a dinner date, whereas mine is right on the table so I can “subtly” refresh my timeline and see what’s going on. After his pseudo-intervention (he swiped my cell over a Thai meal and didn’t let me have it back until we got on the subway… BOGUS, as there is no service on the train, so why would he… oh), I reflected on the fact that I’ve peeked at my social networks at parties and parades, during weddings and (most shamefully) funerals. Oh dear.
I’d long since rationalized my attachment to my social media feeds by emphasizing that behind the profile pics and clever cyber pseudonyms, there are real people, many of whom I know IRL (in real life, duh) and some of whom have actually given me paid work as a writer simply because of our interactions on these sites. People talk about how constantly connecting to the net actually disconnects us from reality, but as people use the web to bridge and create relationships, for business and even revolutions… are we disconnecting or simply connecting differently?
I soon realized that while I am documenting the cool things I see and do, the more time I spend sharing… the less I am able to actually experience what it is I’m experiencing. And while it’s wonderful to be consistently able to follow the news of the world, there comes a point at which the people around you deserve your time more than the ones making headlines.
Alas, if the internet is preventing you from experiencing real life, in-the-moment things for which you are physically present… it’s time to cut the invisible cord. Put the phone away for dinner and enjoy your company… you can peek when he goes to the bathroom, it doesn’t count.