This past December I did something I haven’t done in years: I took a full two-week digital detox. As soon as my vacation started I deleted all my social media apps from my phone, left my laptops and tablets at home, and boarded a flight to Orlando.
What I learned during my time away from Instagram was that years of ‘gramming the beautiful moments of my life had caused me to develop a nervous behaviour of endlessly scrolling and refreshing my notifications. Without these endless timeline apps, I now had to actually pay attention to the world moving around me, and I started to notice the sickness that is our addiction to screens. Everywhere I looked, people’s faces were tilted down and away from one another. At Disney world, during the spectacular evening fireworks, kids were watching YouTube on their iPads, oblivious to the wondrous show going on above their heads. At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, parents stared into their phones while their children tugged at their sleeves, trying to share the excitement of the magic around them. Technology has made us so in touch with the entire world that we are losing touch with each other.
During my social media sabbatical it dawned on me that I’ve learned to see the world through my followers’ eyes, not through my own. As a “social media influencer” (though I hate that term), I constantly size up my surroundings for their ability to be shared online. Now, forced to see the world through my own eyes, I started to rediscover the things I thought were beautiful. I could raise my phone, GoPro, or 360 camera and capture the moment with the comforting knowledge that it was still just for me. I suppose this was the original appeal of social media; in the beginning, apps like Instagram and Snapchat gave us the ability to see the world through other people’s perspectives. Now that social media megastars exist, people are putting effort into curating the aesthetic of their feeds, leading to contrived, skewed representations of reality.
As we move into an era of viable virtual reality, we will fall deeper and deeper into the traps of falsifying our lives in the digital realm. With VR we will digitize our day-to-day lives and shift slowly to more virtualized interactions until we no longer have a need to see each other face to face or even come into physical contact. Human appearance will be completely artificial as we move towards avatars, and we will invent new ways to sell ourselves to one another and buy influence in the digital realm. Our only hope is that someone will create a viable augmented reality interface for the mass market that satisfies our technological itch and keeps us engaged in our physical existence.
Coming back after the holidays, I redownloaded my apps and restarted my computers. Simply put, we are not equipped for success in today’s world if we do not use technology. But now I’m more conscious of how much time I’m spending looking at pixels, and I keep my social apps on the third page of my iPhone’s home menu. I’m not giving up on social media, but I’m embracing reality.
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