After a glorious long weekend, I was hit with a head cold like a ton of bricks. I lamented the poor timing, but who am I kidding? It’s never good timing to be sick when you’re self-employed.
I accepted my fate with a few grumbles, and retired for two days of much-needed bed rest.
The sinus pressure being unbearable, I broke down from my usual holistic, herbalistic, garlic -and-lemon approach to medicating myself and I got the real “behind the counter” Sudafed. And it got me all worked up.
Well, it was more like I had an annoyingly busy brain inside a lethargic body. I worked until I couldn’t sit upright any longer, and then I lay down on the couch.
And then I picked up my phone. I scrolled through Instagram: Groundwork’s account. My own account. Checked email. Twitter. Hootsuite. Phone down.
Phone up again. Instagram. This time I like a few pics. Email. Delete some junk mail. Twitter. WTF? Matt Lauer? Instagram. I scroll a little longer this time. Post a photo from two weeks ago. Weather app. Text to boyfriend (Did you hear about Matt Lauer?). Text to sister (Feel like crap. Hope I can still visit.). Phone down.
Phone up. Phone down. Repeat.
This is pretty much how I spent two days home sick. This phone addiction thing? It’s ugly.
Here’s what I’m taking away from all this:
Loneliness fuels the fire
I think this whole social media engine is fueled by loneliness. I didn’t leave home for two days. It was the most social isolation I’ve experienced in a long time. I found myself desperately scrolling Instagram to feel some connection to my friends’ lives… and strangers’ lives for that matter. But what kind of connection did I find? I felt oddly removed scrolling my friends’ photos, each one carefully composed, filtered, and captioned. I might as well have been leafing through People Magazine. These people weren’t real.
We live meta-meta versions of our lives
My Zen teacher used to mock our inner monologue, calling attention to how boring it is to live in a chorus of “Me me me me me me me me…”
My friend Guillermo jokingly refers to his own inner monologue as “Radio FM Guillermo.”
They are both making the point that we experience life through the commentary we tell ourselves. In doing so, we miss the sweetness of the actual experience.
In the hyper-digital age, we’ve added a second layer of separation:
Most of us experience life through the commentary we craft for others.
Case in point: laying sick on the couch, the photo I post on Instagram is a two-week-old photo of my converse surrounded by gingko biloba leaves. As I snapped that photo, I was already planning the caption in my head. And how to filter it? Arise? Mayfair? #nofilter?
We’re fooling ourselves
We’re all becoming amateurs in branding as we carefully craft an image of ourselves and our lives to put forth. That’s not such a bad thing, considering that we know potential clients, bosses, and customers will scan our posts and profiles.
The problem is when we spend more time in these virtual worlds and less time “IRL,” we start to believe we are the brand we created. And we believe the same thing about our friends.
We never find the connection we are looking for, and it makes us more lonely. It becomes a positive feedback loop.
Our self-branding also divides us nicely into insular bubbles, making it easy for poisons like consumerism, polarization, and sensationalism to keep us from venturing outside.
And most importantly:
We miss countless opportunities to experience things just as they are.
No caption. No filter. No #nofilter.
What do we do?
As someone with both a personal and professional presence on social media, I wrestle with these questions daily. And I don’t know the answers.
But I do know this: as we move forward in our increasingly digital lives, it is crucial for all of us to hold these questions close at heart.
Now more than ever, we need to work hard in order to stay awake and alive in our real lives. We need to show up for each other as messy, vulnerable, and imperfect human beings.
And yes, this is where I work in my plug for coworking. Because belonging to a community and having real face-to-face connections matters! Maybe you don’t find that at a coworking space, but I hope you find it somewhere that makes sense for you.
The next time I’m sick, I will challenge myself to sit quietly and feel my boredom, loneliness, and pain. The next time I see beauty, I will challenge myself to take it in, without framing it and planning a caption.
This– the sickness, the boredom, the beauty– this is the sweetness of our lives. This is what we all share. If we want to get beyond our bubbles, we need to stay connected to these very basic things that make us human.