Yes. I - a self-confessed futurist and technology obsessive - am going to tell you to turn off the very device on which you’re reading this and say “no” to living a completely digital life. Trust me, your mental faculties will thank you for it.
As you can tell, this is a personal post from me. But bear with me, dear reader, as I want you to learn the importance of disconnecting every once in a while.
If recent events had not transpired as they did, chances are I would not have noticed this and continued blissfully unaware. It was the end of June, and I had just confirmed a holiday booking to Egypt for me and my girlfriend.
Now, before you scoff at this story, this is not some “gap year changed me” bullshit where I found myself with special thanks to some magical trust fund. We probably didn’t even experience the real Egypt, staying in an all-inclusive resort and visiting areas rife with tourists.
Looking back at the building excitement towards this holiday, I remember bringing up one particular selling point more than the rest… “There’s Wi-Fi in the reception.” I liked this compromise – having both the experience of going to a foreign country with the history of Egypt while never losing that connection.
But, it turns out that the internet was barely stable enough for a home connection – peaking at 5mb/s. Pair that with myself, the other half and forty different German tourists trying to connect, you’ve got yourself zero internet.
I was disconnected. The initial feeling was one of distress in not being able to contact loved ones, or check my blog stats, or update my followers on current events. But after a couple of days of disconnection, I felt something that I believed was impossible for someone as riddled with anxiety as myself.
I felt freedom from the metaphorical voices in my head that would continually scream “you’re not good enough.”
I felt freedom from the fidgeting urge to pull out my iPhone and find out the latest stats for New Rising Media.
I felt freedom from making sure I spot every perfect moment for a piece of Instagram-based photography.
Quite simply, I felt freedom from the digital life and actually enjoyed my time on the sunbeds by the pool (to be clear, this sunbed was always in the shade as I would have melted faster than a 99 ice cream).
Through this screen-free living being forced upon me, it became obvious that this level of digital dependency definitely degraded my own sense of wellbeing and happiness. But you don’t have to take it from just me – psychological studies identify this same correlation between more screen time and less happiness (with one showing this alarming trend increasing significantly amongst the new generation).
It’s incredibly easy to shrug off genuine mental wellbeing for a life permanently connected. And what happens in a life permanently connected? You lose yourself.
You hold yourself to the standards of forced positivity, projected by heavily-filtered selfies and #travel shots on Instagram.
You question your every career move upon spotting someone’s sun-blazoned “#OutOfOffice” tweet and try to replicate that for a sense of personal accomplishment (guilty).
You believe in the falsehood of self-righteousness and the power of celebrity portrayed by YouTubers.
You mentally punish yourself and your friend for not maintaining a Snapstreak.
You think the idea of screenshotting a humiliating snap is “good blackmail.”
You & your partner strive to complete outlandish tasks and take irrelevant breaks, rather than focus on building a genuinely human connection, all in the name of “#relationshipgoals.”
The very concept of “drama” becomes a pedestal of which you strive to clamber on top of. Your life becomes dictated by numbers – whether consciously or subconsciously – as you judge your own character on the level of engagement received.
The connected lifestyle, perpetrated by social media, is an empire of delusion that blows the sense of grandeur out of proportions at best and creates an overwhelmingly self-destructive anxiety about your personal worth at its worst. It tricks you into believing you can simply push aside negative feelings and pretend they don’t exist, rather than address them.
You become a narcissistic, pathological liar who is rendered mentally exhausted. And I should know, I am both a victim and accomplice to this in my chosen line of work. Through social media marketing, I and everyone else in this field utilise this framed version of a positive lifestyle to sell you products & experiences (thanks for the user-generated content, by the way). And more often than not, I fall victim to this hidden encouragement to live a life by the standards of someone else or (even worse) some brand.
What am I trying to say here? The internet is an incredibly useful tool, but that is all it should be – a tool. Learn to stop when that tool takes over and becomes your life.
Leave your phone at home when you go to dinner. The world does not care about the beauty of your food and neither should you, no matter how many menus encourage you to post to a branded hashtag.
Don’t spend hours tumbling down the rabbit hole of YouTube’s auto playing content. Chances are that video you’re about to click with a title that ends in the words “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT… NOT CLICKBAIT” is probably clickbait and doesn’t need to be watched.
Realise that if you’re posting a tweet asking people to name the best quality of your personality, you need to take stock of your life’s priorities. You should learn to accept your own life & personality traits, both good and bad, rather than fish for compliments on Twitter.
Do not fall into the pattern of creating “drama” or “calling out” someone you may not like online. Yes, we’re all guilty of it at some point (or points, speaking personally), but we are already a segregated people through broken political systems without masochistically pulling ourselves apart further.
And finally, slap yourself really really hard if you ever talk about your “personal brand.” You are a human being for Pete’s sake.
Put simply, disconnect. Disappear. Don’t take that digital life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
But, you know, don’t disappear forever. There are plenty of good dogs to stalk.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.