When I was younger, I felt alienated by the society I grew up in. Everyone pursued conventional paths, and I was/am gay, a drop-out, and a freelancer. Any one of those three could cause social discrimination, so I had it all.
I survived by living on the internet. There were plenty of gay people, drop-outs and freelancers, and it wasn’t uncommon to find people who were all of the above and even more. I couldn’t find acceptance among people I knew in my own country, but I thrived on the internet. Social media made it even easier to find like-minded people.
So for a very long while, I refused to give up on social media no matter what people would say about it. How can I contemplate abandoning the very thing that kept me alive?
But social media itself has evolved. It went from following random strangers’ blogs to following interesting people on twitter, to now: practically everyone you know is connected on facebook. Relatives, long-lost ex-schoolmates, someone you met at an event once, ex-colleagues from every company you’ve worked at, etc. Then, we have become contactable by practically everyone by any instant message platform.
I had felt tremendous guilt when I lost my capacity to respond to people’s messages, until one day I remembered, a long time ago, it was considered normal to give out our landline number to like five people. It was also not a big deal if we were unreachable at our landline.
I had loved and thrived on the speed of the internet. For the first time in my life, it felt overwhelming and noisy.
I see-sawed for a long while, but I decided that Facebook would be the first to go. Some people hate noise and exposure, so it is easy for them to quit Facebook. I loved being connected to people, I truly enjoyed reading micro-stories of what’s happening to my friends, and I don’t feel bad about my own life when I look at other people’s lives. But I felt bad if there was no response when I shared something particularly important to me. I think it is a trigger, a reminder of how I felt when I was younger and unheard.
I also liked sharing my highs and lows with people, or any thoughtful opinions I have about the world. I felt like it was important to add to the diversity of what is out there. People tend to share only celebrations, so I wanted to tip the balance by sharing my struggles. I read a lot, so sometimes I like sharing book highlights in case someone out there finds them interesting, because many a time I have ended up reading something important to me because someone else shared something.
But somehow all of this sharing and connecting started to feel tiring to me. It could be a phase as I am spending more energy on my inner-world now. But I think the crucial part of this is: I have never once truly stopped to question or examine my relationship to social media or my true motivations behind it. I thought I was adding to the world, but am I? Am I just using it to shape the narrative I have in my own head for myself? Is it just a way for me to soothe the feeling of being unheard when I was younger?
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Am I as good as dead if nobody finds me valuable? What if nobody gives a shit about the work I want to create? Will my friends still be my friends if I am no longer an “useful” person? If I publish something on this website and I don’t share it on facebook/twitter, is it still worth publishing?
These are some of the questions I have to contend with as I go deeper into the process of thinking about how I want to live. Fortunately there are plenty of historical cases of people who left their societies and/or produced work that wasn’t socially valued in their generation and yet still lived fulfilling lives, so I don’t feel that alone; but even if I have to feel alone, isn’t it important to do what is important to me?
I want to know if I could still lead a fulfilling life without the company and resonance of peers. I’ve been reading stories on hermits and contemplatives and they have been inspiring to me. Maybe I thought I needed a lot of things, but I didn’t try to go without to see what it is like at the other side. Or that I have been so addicted to noise that it didn’t occur to me silence may be better for me. I will probably not become a complete hermit because I still want to spend time with my family, but coming from a social-media laden world, I think there is a long distance that I can go where I can find a sweet spot closer to silence from my position of noise.