I’m an advertiser turned-marketer who wants to become a writer. So, obviously, the logical thing to do was to course a Big Data program and take a class on cloud-computing; which I did last year. I can almost see myself receiving a Pulitzer or a Jabuti prize for my memoir-styled novel about how to become a marine biologist after living 10 years as a buddhist monk taking care of baby koalas who are learning how to program. In C++. On the cloud. You know… PaaS. I know my CS shit.
During these amusing classes on how to create multiple entities on a single server in order to guarantee availability, I made friends with a guy who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. When I asked him why he was taking a course on Big Data, he said, “I was laying around the house, doing nothing. So, this seemed like a good idea.”
We were both very enthusiastic about this course.
We always spent our class hours talking about all things non-related to cloud computing, including things such as what it’s like to live in Hungary (he was there for a year), what it was like to be 30 and unemployed (which I was all through 2016), what we did on our free time and how social networks were killing our intelligence and creativity.
We got to talking about when we started using social networks. I told him I started with mIRC. He didn’t know what mIRC was. I realized I was 9 years older than him.
I began with mIRC when I was 13. The year was 1998. I would wait until my parents were busy, lock myself in the basement, log into random chat rooms and talk to people, pretending I was a 23-year-old biology major at some fake university who liked poetry and listened to alternative rock. I wanted other fake adults to think I was a cool fake adult.
A few years later, MySpace was born and I created my account, obviously. I breezed through the ICQ era, until MSN started to get traction. When Orkut came along, one of the world’s first social networks (if not the first), I was already hooked on social networks.
I remember Hi5 and Friendster, but can’t recall if I used them. When blogging was the thing, I began blogging – and I’ve had over 10 different blogs since then. When YouTube came out, I started vlogging. In 2007, an American friend invited me to Facebook; my Brazilian friends started joining the following year. In 2009, I created a Twitter account and have been and on/off user for the past 8 years. And then came WhatsApp. Ka-boom!
Larissa. Social freak. Hardcore. Needy. Show-off. Addicted.
Recently, I realized that I was using Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp excessively; to the point where I was having mental fatigue. I had no more time for anything and I became obsessive with my phone, checking it every 5 minutes. I would spend hours scrolling through Facebook feeds of people I didn’t even like. It was a disease.
As days went by, I could see that my connections in social media were neither real nor meaningful. People who would like or comment on my pictures on Facebook or Instagram wouldn’t even say “Hi!” when passing by me in real life. You know that awkward moment when you see the person, they see you, and both of you turn away? Yeah…
One day, I counted how many Whatsapp groups I was in. Sixteen! These were the kind of groups where someone would say “Good morning!” at 6 a.m. and everybody would feel obligated to answer. I never answered. They were also the kind of groups where people would send pictures of angels and videos of cats doing idiot things every day. I never ever downloaded a single one.
Something was wrong. And I felt it the first time I logged onto mIRC, almost 20 years ago.
A friend prompted me to reflect on these things a few weeks ago when we were talking about friendship, connection, social media, and what was the purpose of participating in any of these networks. I thought a lot about that and a few days later, I left. I left Facebook and 12 of my 16 Whatsapp groups.
I realized that I hated all of it. Not only were these connections artificial and meaningless and annoying, but they were disturbing my life. I had to get away.
I went even a step farther and disabled all notifications for the remaining Whatsapp groups, all incoming SMSs, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail and Twitter. I made it so that my phone would only ring or vibrate when someone called me – which is almost never – or when someone talked directly to me on Whatsapp. Everything and everyone else is silenced.
And then, the most amazing things started happening: I stopped picking up my phone every 10 minutes, I was finally able to focus on the task at hand – whatever it was, I was more productive at work, and I found that I had time to do my writing and reading every day. I even had more time to play with my son.
A few days ago, all of my doubts about the artificiality and superficiality of social media were settled. April 25th was my son’s birthday and guess what happened? No one called to wish him happy birthday. Not my grandmothers, not my aunts or cousins, not his classmates – through their parents, not even anyone from his dad’s family. Not even his dad.
My mom told me that the family congratulated him on our familie’s groups (both of which I’m no longer a part of). But, Noah didn’t receive these messages. He’s 7. He’s not in any Whatsapp group. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t have a phone. If someone wanted to wish him happy hirthday, they had to call him on my number. And no one did.
And this is my fault. Our fault. All of us humans. We let it get to this point. It’s so much easier to write a shallow birthday message and post it on a group than to pick up the phone and actually talk to the human being on the other side. Talking with others is really, really hard. It has become a burden that most people don’t want to deal with. I was a part of this. I did the same thing for years. Now, people are more distant and I feel a little left out, alone. About 99% of the people in my life disappeared the day I left social media.
But, the important people in our lives participate, no matter what. They remember us even if we’re not posting pictures and comments every day. They remember our birthdays and call us or text us directly – either is acceptable to me. They ask us out for coffee or drinks. They send messages asking how we’re doing and what we’re up to. And even if that conversation only goes as far as “I’m fine, how are you?”, it shows that the person was thinking of us. To me, that counts.
I left social media and most people didn’t notice, but I’m OK. Every time someones asks me why I left, I’ll send them the link to this post with the caption: “This is why I left. Thank you for caring. Your number will never be silenced. You are important.”
The important people will notice, sooner or later.
Note: I realize that sometimes us writers can get emotional about a topic, especially if it’s related to something that happened recently and had a certain impact, whether negative or positive. When I wrote down the idea for this post, it was weeks before Noah’s birthday. So, as I’m writing this now, I’m more sensitive because of all that happened – which made me sad – and I know it shows up in the writing. I tried to be honest without being hurtful to anyone. After all, we are all victims of technology.
Note 2: I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I still have Instagram, though I don’t use it much. I have Twitter, which I use every once in a while when I have spare time. I use Pinterest on a need-only basis, which is so rare that I don’t even have it downloaded on my phone. And I have to be on Whatsapp, otherwise I would be a complete hermit. About Noah, he has an Instagram account, which is only followed by family members and a few of my friends, it’s invite only and I handle it for him. He also has a YouTube account, because his current dream is to be a famous YouTuber. Like I said before, if it’s up to me he can be whatever he wants to be.