Chapter 7: Technology & The Herd Mentality

Still with me?

Great! If you’re still here it’s because you probably feel like you should tone down your dependence on social media and technology. Or perhaps something you’ve read has compelled you to at least consider some options. As I’ve said before, you’re in the driver’s seat and you should only make adjustments that feel right to you. Will those adjustments enhance your life? That’s what it’s all about: whether you’re toning down or tuning up your technology usage: enhancement.

That said, we must be clear that even with these strategies it can be difficult to corral your personal switch cost. Unless you’ve been sharing the ideas we’ve been working through with your inner circle - friends, family, oblivious children - it’s likely your offline human connections haven’t been spending as much energy thinking about their social media and technology use. That doesn’t mean they aren’t caught in the same trap.

Consider for a moment the social situations in which you find yourself from time to time. Restaurants, movies, pubs, that sort of thing. Is there a single scene in which either you or the friends you’re with don’t have a phone in their hand? Picture the last social setting you were in. Is everyone snap-chatting the night away or thumbing through devices to check facts or take pictures? My family is guilty of this big time - my mom is constantly using the Scrabble dictionary to prove the existence of random words and terms.

What about your work obligations? Do you have work devices that follow you out of the office? Are you on call night and day? Is everyone you work with tied together, emailing one another in the wee hours of the night or while they’re supposed to be enjoying refreshing family vacations?

When it comes to immediate family members or spouses, there’s such a thing as being too connected. I know, what a concept, right? So many people expect instant responses to text messages and other connections that it creates anxiety on the rare occasions when responses aren’t immediate. The advent of Instagram and Facebook messaging creates the same angst. My family is constantly texting and emailing, and on top of that we even share a WhatsApp group chat and a private Facebook group.

Yeah, it’s a bit much. Have I mentioned I’m writing this book from a position of personal experience?

There are so many methods of communication to manage. So much information coming your way. Simply bowing out is often not an appropriate solution lest you face an inquisitive barrage of questions about why you “left” the family (chat).

Identifying Your Flock

Did your parents ever ask the question “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” Of course they did, that was parenting 101 in the 90’s, right? Perhaps you rolled your eyes or offered a sarcastic hell ya I would. As annoying as the question is, it does bring up not only our ability to choose how we behave, but just the opposite: that the groups we spend time with also impact what we do.

Ages ago I worked in an addiction treatment centre. One of the most difficult tasks for the clients I worked with was letting go of particular relationships when it became necessary to do so. It’s excruciatingly hard to be clean and sober if all the people around you  are drinking and drugging their time away. In fact, it was the loss of these relationships that often pulled people right back into their addiction even though they’d clearly determined a drastic change in their lifestyle was crucial. The toughest cases occurred when people had already started to make those changes, and then re-entered the vortex.

A permanent escape was an enormous challenge.

We’ve already identified that technology and social media have their downsides, though clearly it’s not as clearcut an argument as in the case of other addictions. Still, many of the challenges remain the same, especially in the sense that we feel like outsiders if we aren’t participating.

Lone Wolf

Perhaps you’re more like me, willing to be the outlier who makes changes before the mob does. Obviously I’m on the train, but I’m writing the book and still it’s difficult. I’m sharing my story to help prepare you, or to commiserate for what you’ve already been experiencing.

It was 2009 when I entered private practice, bought my first cell phone and created my own website on iWeb. In 2010, with the encouragement of my family and advice on how to keep my website active, I began blogging and entered the world of social media. I used it for personal use and I used it for work. Although the pressure to be online existed before, as I reflect, I can tangibly feel how pervasive that pressure became with that transition.

Needing to “stay in the conversation” had me posting more regularly than ever and scanning my daily life for ways in which I could find something relevant. It brings a bad taste to my mouth, but I can actually remember trying to create moments that could be shared. It was incredibly fake and started to take a toll. I was living my life through the lens of social media and I didn’t like it.

By 2012, I was advocating loudly for self-care strategies, and though I wasn’t overt about it, that included stepping back from social media and technology. In 2013, I went on maternity leave and was torn. I could continue to use the online world as a connective thread to who I was, and a means of “staying in the game,” or I could chill and enjoy a different pace of life. I oscillated back and forth, and to be honest, I still do. However, as a self-proclaimed self-care advocate, I believe there’s a need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I imagine you wouldn’t really trust me if the words I’ve written here completely contradicted how I live my life.

So I do my best to stay true to the message.

It’s hard to be offline when it feels like everyone on Earth is plugged in. Some days I feel like I’m a step behind. Heck, even as I sat down to prepare for this section I found myself caught with the nagging feeling I’d missed the boat. So where did I find myself? Online, falling down the rabbit hole. Except what I found was relevant (which is ironic); I’m not the only one starting to take heed of the toll of technology and the switch cost. Sometimes I find myself feeling like a crazy lady bent on control. I’ve organized and enforced phone free parties where I’ve had to repeat to people that I did indeed have a point and shoot camera and I promised to share pictures, only to be frustrated that people continue to be tied to their devices. It’s easy to be hypocritical too, because on occasion I’m the one staring at her device in a room full of people who aren’t. And I feel judged for my choice and the height of my faulty soapbox.

But here’s the distinction: I’m not overwhelmed by the amount of time I spend on social media or technology. Sometimes I post things on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for a day or two or three. But after that I’m usually quiet, reclusive in the social media sense. Sometimes this lasts for months. Sometimes I find myself too busy with day to day life to be online.

I’m making my own rules. And so can you.