Escaping the Digital Slot Machine
Imagine a slot machine that feeds you shiny treats every time you pull the lever. But these treats are not the sugar-rush of tasty candy. This is a digital slot machine, and instead it offers us another form of ‘treat’, one more existential and much more addictive. Rewards that can simultaneously boost our self-esteem and offer us a burst of distraction from the everyday. Ego-candy.
That’s the devastating image author Cal Newport uses to describe social media: a digital slot machine intentionally designed to turn us into ego-candy junkies. We keep returning to it, swiping and tapping and clicking in the hope of another shiny little treat. Another ‘like’, another notification, another piece of ‘news’ to keep up with. And so we find ourselves hooked.
Time to Re-Evaluate?
Maybe you recognise the truth of that image in your own life? Maybe you find yourself operating with that constant low-level hum of anxiety, impatiently longing for the next hit? Maybe you’re helplessly familiar with the zombie-like cycle of ‘checking in’ to your different accounts, one after the other, desperate for some new notification or ‘like’: Facebook, Instagram, Email, Twitter, WhatsApp… Facebook, Insta…
A number of factors have recently contributed to me wanting to be more intentional with my daily rhythms. And surprise, surprise: social media usage is undoubtedly one of the most significant areas where the reality is so very different to my ‘on paper’ ideal. Yet the idea of making significant changes can seem overwhelming and unrealistic when social media has become so intrinsic to how we operate in everyday life.
Holidays Are The Time
So that’s why I’m so glad for holidays. Typically we’re able to take a summer holiday each year – although I realise that won’t be the case for everyone. And for our last few summer holidays I’ve tried to go into them with a determined social media strategy. This was precipitated one year by knowing that our rental didn’t have any WiFi – and then we discovered there was no local phone signal either. Hey presto, no social media! Admittedly that situation is increasingly becoming a pretty rare occurrence due to better signal coverage and WiFi as standard. Nevertheless, it woke up me to the benefits of re-evaluating social media use for holidays.
Cutting the Cord
Here’s 5 joys from re-evaluating social media use over your holiday and why I reckon holidays are the perfect time to consider cutting the cord:
1. The joy of discovering just how much time you have and just how much can be wasted on phones.
Of course, we shouldn’t need the excuse of a holiday to discover how much time we fritter away on our phones, because the latest smart phones will even tell us our daily average and break it down into categories. I suspect most of us now ignore this function because the results are too depressing to face. But holidays are precious times, so don’t waste them.
2. The joy of a decent attempt at switching off from work, rather than having an extended work-trip at the beach.
Argh, the emails. Ok, I realise it’s not strictly social media, but there’s many of the same ego-candy antics at play. Come on, put on the auto-office reply. Go hard if you want to; a few friends use Andy Crouch’s recommended line: “All emails will be deleted on my return. If you really need me to see this then send again after x date.” And if you desperately need to check something (perhaps seeing if the rest of your holiday party concur on that), then allocate the time now: fifteen minutes half-way through the holiday, or something. But really, is it necessary?
3. The joy of actually enjoying your own holiday, rather than remotely living someone else’s.
All the research suggests regularly checking social media just makes us more miserable and lonely. After all, it’s basically a multi-person compare and contrast exercise. So don’t live someone else’s holiday – because for a start it’s just their edited highlights reel. How is that actually going to help you rest? And while we’re on it, cutting the cords on social media also stops your heavily edited holiday snaps having the same effect on others. Why does the world need to see that? Could it not go in a Whatsapp message to family and close friends? I still believe that apps like Instagram show we were born to praise – but let’s keep checking our hearts as to whether that is our aim as we post.
4. The joy of being present with those you have chosen to be with.
Ok, so holidays are still hard. Take a bunch of people away together and you don’t suddenly stop being people with hang-ups and default character flaws. So this isn’t about pretending if you put your phones away it’ll all be happy-as-Larry. But if you’ve chosen to spend a set period of time in Larry’s company by going on holiday together, then choosing to invest your care and attention in that individual is surely a profound gift. How could you get to know these people better? How could you encourage them during this holiday? How could this time of rest and reflection be a blessing to you all in your relationships together.
5. The joy of remembering that you’re not in control of life back home.
“But what about…” The world will keep spinning. That’s God’s job, after all. Do I really need to give him a help in that department? Allow the absence of social media to help you resist the urge to need to know everything and need to have a hold on it all. There’s something much more healthy, more human, about this.
Of course, not only does this harvest joys in your holiday, but it sets you up to then think through what approach to social media you want on your return to everyday life. I’ve found holidays are an easier time to make more radical changes, but that ‘trial period’ then makes extending them beyond the holiday seem more manageable too.
If you’d love either some practical help or some more persuasive argument for re-evaluating the role of social media in your life, then either of these three books would be a great start: