By Brian Panowich
Illustration by Michael Rushbrook
So, I did a thing.
As of Jan. 1, 2020, I signed off of social media. I closed up shop on Facebook, signed out of Twitter and Instagram, and even let go of my long-standing account on Pinterest. Now, I still have to maintain an author page on Facebook because I’m a writer and I’m pretty much obligated to, but even with that I’ve been able to hand off most of the daily duties required to keep that running to my publisher, so I was even able to remove that from my plate.
Well, here’s what happened. Not unlike any other addiction, breaking the habit was a tough row to hoe. It came with its fair share of withdrawal, and during those first few weeks, I felt like something was missing, or at least like I was missing out on something. But after that initial time frame, something unusual happened. I found myself at my desk more often, being a lot more productive. I’ve made more progress on my new novel than I thought possible. I began a whole slew of new projects that I could never seem to find the time for before. I began to notice things and people around me while in line at Starbucks or the grocery store instead of always using those extra few minutes — or seconds — to scroll on my phone.
The best thing that started to happen was when the conversations began. With my kids, my wife, my (real life) friends. It was interesting to find out how much I didn’t know about the day that people were happy to tell me, and to use their voices to do it.
Social media has got to be the coolest and at the same time the single most destructive tool to come along in my generation. The concept is wonderful, keeping people connected in ways they never could before, but in practice and over time, does it really keep people connected, or does it give people even more reason to disconnect? Does anyone remember the feeling of having a friend you haven’t talked to in a while actually pick up the phone and call you on your birthday? To take the time to ask how you’ve been? Or just the fact that they remembered in the first place? It feels great. I can tell you it feels a lot better than seeing how many people you know, or at least know of you, click a button because a computer reminded them to.
These social media platforms give people a reason not to talk to one another, but instead to read about or peer into other people’s lives and keep up with them from a distance. They are like divider walls that only show each other, or the world, a perfect take on someone’s life. No one’s life is perfect. Life is messy and filled with all kinds of heartaches and pains, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at a person’s Facebook profile, Instagram page or Twitter feed. You can get to know that, and even turn out to be the one who helps that person through a mess — I know it’s old school — by talking to them. And isn’t that what human connection is? Being there to share in both the highs and lows of someone’s life — actually being there?
I won’t even get started about the endless string of unwinnable wars and arguments about pop culture or politics that get force-fed to your eyes in-between sharply disguised commercials slid in to encourage you to buy a thing you don’t need but want based on an algorithm designed to market directly to you. Sorry, that’s just Orwellian right there.
Is there a positive side to social media? Sure, there is. Getting to see the wedding pictures of a college buddy from an event halfway across the country that you couldn’t attend or finding out about songwriters’ night at a cool new brew pub you didn’t even know existed. It can be a great tool to promote a business or a special event. My wife has even started a unique tradition of collecting funny videos to show me all at once when there’s nothing on TV. But it’s like asking if there is a positive side to eating 10 pounds of bacon. Sure, there is. It tastes really good, but at the end of the day, you just took in a lot of garbage that kept you from doing something worthwhile.
Try it. Just a day, or maybe a week. Sign off. See what happens. The conversations are great.
Appears in the April 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.