How to Fight the Crushing Sense of Isolation Social Media Inspires.

head-1597555_960_720A few weeks ago, after months (if not years) of feeling a constant undercurrent of dread and anxiety, I paused to consider where these feelings came from and whether anything could be done about them.

I’m happy to report that my contemplation delivered some really smokin’ insights.

Facebook is making you depressed.

I have meditated a bunch and done a lot of psychotropic drugs. As a result, I often experience my emotions as a primarily physiological sensation that it takes me quite some time to explain. While this brings huge disadvantages in any conversation that starts with “What’s wrong?” it is invaluable in quickly identifying that something or other is indeed wrong.

If I’m uncomfortable with something I know it right away, although I may not be able to explain it. Since you have a human brain too, I assume this may also be the case for you, unless you’ve never had an epiphany, in which case you probably just blame your lover and move on with your life.

Anyway, I observed over a period of time that the more time I spent on Facebook, Twitter and the like, the more anxious I became. That was a startling observation, given the amount of time I was spending on social media, and the fact that my mental health has been steadily deteriorating since Zuckerberg’s left nut dropped.

All the world is NOT a stage.

To make a long story short, I mulled it over and concluded that who we pretend to be on social media is a public projection of our most deplorable self.

In my former life, I used to connect with people by cornering them at parties, allowing our conversations to follow whatever path they naturally took. Facebook interactions are the house party equivalent of forcing the band off stage, grabbing the mic, making sure everybody – even the neighbours and the government – hear what you think.

That is fucking terrifying, right? If you’re just your normal awkward self, spouting erroneous opinions and embarrassing anecdotes hither and thither on social media, whatever will your employer think?

So we adopt one of a range of popular one-dimensional social media personalities. Are we rebels? Are we trolls? Are we activists? Are we “entrepreneurs”? What is our brand? Social media technology demands that we decide which facet of ourselves is acceptable to our network and curate our opinions to conform to that demographic. Or curate our social network to conform to our brand.

Gone are the days when I could have a lively pint with an Albertan conservative, ask him how many Iraqi babies he is willing to murder to oust Saddam Hussein, then go make out. Odds are I’ll never sit down for a friendly pint with a conservative again, let alone make out, given that I’ve curated my social network to exclude people with deplorable political opinions.

In addition to stifling my self-expression and limiting my real world social opportunities, Facebook has become my primary method of interacting with friends and family. If I have something to say to them, I post it on Facebook and tag them. They like it or comment or whatever and I carry on looking at the train wreck western civilization has become.

Slowly, my one-on-one communications with the people I care about have almost completely stopped. No mail, no phone calls, no emails -nothing but the occasional text.

That is my social life outside social media. Even my invitations to real world parties tend to go through Facebook rather than direct communication, which gives me the blissful impression (for an introvert) my absence will not be noticed.

One-on-one communication is essential to our well-being.

I wondered what would happen to my anxiety if I consciously undermined the isolating effects of social media. What if I phoned somebody? Sent a post-card? Invited a friend for brunch?

So I committed to directly contacting one person I care about every day. For science. It can be a post card, a letter, a phone call, an email, a text, anything with no audience other than the intended recipient. It can not be a  fly-by tag, a like or re-share, or a “post to friend’s timeline”.

The people I care about need to know I went out of my way to contact them specifically and candidly, without prompting, without an audience to applaud our interaction, and without any specific business to attend to.

The results are in.

On the first day, I called my 97 year old grandmother. Not to make arrangements for the holidays or the next family reunion or whatever the fuck, but just to say “hi, how are ya.”

Grandma’s reaction was explosive. Her obvious delight at hearing my voice out of the blue brought a tear to my eye. She called me back hours later to see if mum had put me up to it. She’d been thinking about it all day.

Her over-reaction to a bog standard family phone call brought me to a terrible revelation: the positive correlation between social isolation and social media activity might extend beyond my own sad situation. I’m not the only one who hasn’t called grandma lately. It’s my entire family. Maybe my whole generation.

What if none of us are calling my grandma? She’s on Facebook. My family talks about her all the time, shares pictures of her, hearts those pictures, goes to bed thinking warmly of Grandma. But she has no idea how to use Facebook. Her idea of a good time is regaling the family with poetry she learned in a one room schoolhouse in Cattlefart, Saskatchewan in 1925.

Feeling a little overwhelmed, the next day I cheaped out and texted a work friend “happy birthday” rather than Facebooking it.

A brief, private conversation ensued, during which it became clear he had no birthday plans. A reciprocal exchange happened a few weeks later on my birthday, during which I also revealed I had no birthday plans. Nevertheless, I’m still not over the realization he was doing nothing on his birthday. He’s in his twenties. I’m in my forties. I didn’t give up on birthday plans once and for all until last year.

If single twenty-somethings are watching Netflix alone on their birthday while they give upward thumbs to the happy birthdays streaming in on Facebook, something is rotten in Denmark. Nobody, but nobody, gets laid that way.

It’s not just you.

If the world’s sexiest nonagenarian grandma and an attractive twenty-something urban bachelor aren’t being directly contacted by anybody, I have good reason to suspect social media isolation is a serious problem. It’s not just affecting me. It’s affecting my grandma. It’s affecting my younger, prettier friends.

One-a-day challenge.

I have been on this one-a-day anti-Facebook contact program for about a month.

I have to admit, after a euphoric phase in week two, the drawbacks have become clear. Namely, having contacted a couple dozen people, I am sometimes called upon to become more involved in their own lives. This can be tough when there’s so much new Netflix to catch up on.

But the rewards! I’ve started playing music again. I’ve cut way down on television and booze. I’m writing a screenplay. I’m in therapy. And most importantly, I’m not pacing around Facebook like a polar bear in captivity, searching for mental stimulation that never comes.

And, of course, I know how many of my friends and family are really doing, outside the confines of their “brand”.

I think you should try it. I really do. I think you should call somebody you care about right now and tell me how it goes.

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