Separation Anxiety…from a Cell Phone??

We just returned from an amazing two-week trip to Canada (and New England). We camped near Niagara Falls for 4 nights and then road-tripped to NYC to catch a 7-day cruise to Boston, Portland, Halifax, and Saint John. If our trip to Hawaii a few years ago was described as 12 Days of Sandwiches, this one could probably be called, The Oatmeal Chronicles. It wasn’t exactly our intention to have oatmeal for breakfast everyday but it somehow worked out that way. What can I say? It’s heart healthy and our hearts needed a little TLC…as did our minds.

Our phones worked great on the ship…as a camera!

Before leaving for our trip, I was worried how my family would fare without us here. In the past, I’ve always been just a phone call away no matter where we were. Need to vent while I’m walking the beach in Florida? Sure, I’ll answer the phone. Need me to Google something for you while I’m sitting down to dinner? Okay, I can do that too. Yes, I’m a little lax in the boundary department when it comes to my family. I’m working on it and this trip helped a lot. Our cell phones DID NOT work in Canada or on the ship and wi-fi calling had to be scheduled, since the internet service at our campground was “limited” and we did not purchase an internet plan for the ship.

At first, I admit…I had a bit of separation anxiety. It’s one thing to feel freed from incoming calls but quite another to realize that you also cannot call out, check email, or scroll through Facebook to see how everyone is doing. When you’re used to doing something several dozen times a day, to suddenly not be able to do it is a bit of a shock to the system. It also made me realize just how often I was wasting valuable time (and mental energy) doing something that wasn’t always in my best interest.

Checking on the family during a moment of cell service on the NY side of Niagara Falls.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media as a way to connect with friends and family across the miles. I enjoy following others who subscribe to the same beliefs and interests as we do. And yes, I sometimes even get my news from Facebook. But being out of the loop, I realized one thing: I have more time to read real books and have real conversations with real people when my phone stays in my pocket. It was kind of refreshing, yet at the same time I felt kind of ridiculous that I’d let an electronic device consume such a huge chunk of my day in the first place.

Once upon a time, I set a limit on my screen time. I checked Facebook 1-2 times a day, made posts when there was something in my life I wanted to remember, and read up on my favorite blogs a few times a week. Sitting on the ship, staring out at the ocean, during our “Fun Day at Sea”, I picked up my phone no less than 10 times in one hour. Since there was nothing to look at I became keenly aware of the behavior pattern. Pick up phone, unlock it, open an app that doesn’t work, close it, set down the phone, repeat. My self-imposed limits had flown out the window somewhere along the way and I suddenly concluded – OMG, I’m a phone junkie!

On Saturday when we got back to NYC and phone service, I made a few posts to Facebook, called my Mom to let her know we were safe, and set the phone in the console of our car. It stayed there for the better part of our 16-hour drive home. To fill the time, Angie and I talked, we sang 80s songs, we ate road trip snacks, and we took turns driving or napping. On Sunday, I skipped checking Facebook. On Monday, I did the same. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. This morning, I started scrolling through new posts and a strange thing happened. It only took me a few minutes to catch up with my friends and after that I quickly grew bored with the ads and self-promoting content that filled my feed.

I suppose, in a year of seeking greater happiness, this episode might serve as a reminder that happiness does not come from a blinking battery powered box. That’s not to say that the blinking battery powered box doesn’t have a place in a happy life. It does…it’s just a relatively small one. Technology can and does make the world a smaller, more accessible place but it can also cause a certain degree of mental clutter (and digital clutter). Taking a step back from technology really puts that into perspective.

I will probably always use Facebook. It’s a convenient index of the places we go and things we do. It’s also my only connection to some of my friends and relatives. But Facebook is also a 24-hour all access news channel where the stories are all about the people you know and things you enjoy. Sometimes that’s overwhelming by itself. Just as I would never sit in front of CNN or Fox News all day or repeatedly check these channels on my TV to see what’s going on, I have to think of Facebook in the same vein. There’s nothing so important in someone else’s Facebook life that it should take precedence over one’s own real life.

Is there a happy medium with social media? Can you create a newsfeed that brings in only what you really want to see, without the cute (but time-sucking) pet videos, the news you really can’t use, or the ads selected just for you? I don’t know. Probably not. I think the key, like in most areas of life, is just to govern yourself. Only you know how much is too much when it comes to social media consumption. For me, I’m thinking 10-15 minutes a day on Facebook is probably plenty.

Do you spend too much time on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites or perhaps, games or other apps? How do you limit yourself? Or do you have no limits? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The Carefully Curated (Facebook) Life

Angie and I are following the coverage of Hurricane Irma with great interest. Many of our closest friends and former neighbors live in South Florida. Some are under mandatory evacuation orders and are scared they might not make it out in time due to traffic and gas shortages. Others are still trudging to work during the day and watching Netflix at night instead of the news. This is the way things work in the Sunshine State. For every person who is panicked, there are 6 others stubbornly clinging to the notion that this is just another storm and just another “day in the life of a Floridian”. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to pray that those six friends of mine are right and Irma loses steam somewhere out in the ocean.

When Irma hit Barbuda, Angie pulled out her phone to look up this tiny island.

“Have we been there?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.” I replied.

As Angie and I both thumbed through Facebook photos of our Caribbean adventures to see if we had ever been to Barbuda, a screen appeared offering various frames for your profile picture. Some offered an overlay of the state of Texas, showing support for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, and others added words like “United We Dream” and “I Stand With Dreamers” to show support for DACA. For a moment, I hovered over a few of these frames and then backed out of clicking on one.

This is not the first time that I’ve opted not to post (or like) something on Facebook. In fact, my personal Facebook page is so carefully curated that, aside from the photos, I’m not sure it even reflects who I am. Get this, there’s not even a link to this blog on my page! Why? Because I am the Switzerland of my Facebook community, the one person who takes a neutral position on all issues so that my other friends can firmly set up camp on both sides of the aisle, on every issue, all the time. How ridiculous is that? I’m gagging on my own words as I type them. It’s wonderful to be considerate of other people’s feelings but it’s equally as important to consider your own.

I’m not neutral when it comes to issues facing our community today (and by community, I mean the whole of humanity). I’m a freak when it comes to food waste. We dive in dumpsters for God’s sake! I’m anti-consumerism. So much so that I’ve been known to lecture my own family members for buying things they don’t need just to discard them a month later. And if you didn’t know this already, I’m a minimalist. I purposefully live with less for all sorts of wonderfully valid reasons…none of which I ever really share outside of this blog and it’s corresponding Facebook page.

I support immigration. I believe the entire world should be open to movement. Let people live and work where they feel called to be and in whatever abode they chose – be it a tiny house, RV, home in the hillside, yurt village, or city apartment. The fewer restrictions we place on others, the more opportunities we have for ourselves. But hey, that’s just my opinion…and one you won’t find anywhere but here.

I know exactly where most of my friends stand on politics, the environment, equality, immigration, and more. I know because they don’t hesitate when they hover over the “like” or “share” button. Does knowing their stance change my opinion of them? Not usually, though I do on occasion shake my head in wonder at how seemingly sane people can post such close-minded stuff sometimes. But I still love my friends. I still accept them for who they are – Democrat, Republican, Jesus Freak, Atheist, Socialist, Hippie, Baby Boomer or Millennial. I need to trust that they will do the same.

Curating one’s online presence is a difficult job that ultimately leaves everyone with only a one-dimensional view. I’m not advocating that everyone go out and use their social media platform as a soap box to air their grievances. In fact, I wish my niece would do a little less of that. I’m simply saying that it’s pointless to have a social media presence that is not reflective of who you are. As I look back through my years on Facebook, I see hikes and bike rides, kayaking trips and ocean cruises, cross-country moves, and a year of sampling craft beer in Colorado. What I don’t see is the soul of the person doing those things. And that needs to change.

If I looked at your Facebook page today, what would it say about you? Is it tailored to suit potential employers? Is it something your family would be proud of (in other words, do you limit what you say in order not to offend your family, like I do)? Or would I instantly know who you are from your posts and likes?