[Previously on What Would Happen If I Lived My Life Offline?: There are experts discussing how to remain relevant in youth-driven social media. In fact, you can become a self-anointed expert—or an influencer, which sounds very sexy—just by having enough people online believe in your expertise. It doesn’t even have to be true, any of it.]
I’m someone who’s addicted to novelty, but do I have to post, tweet, link or share any of it to feel part of the New World? Is a life chronicled online valued the same as one lived offline? I’m acutely aware of the lives of dozens, maybe even a few hundred people I don’t know, and I’m overwhelmed by their personal struggles and losses. Often times, I’m rooting for them and they don’t even know it. Compassion fatigue has taken hold. I can’t read any more about mass shooting stories, my-struggle-with-mental-illness stories, cancer stories, end-of-life stories, sudden-death stories, getting dumped stories, weird-but-true stories, Hillary-versus-Bernie stories or related gender politics stories, Helicopter Mom versus Tiger Mom stories, or any How-I-Was-Singled-Out-by-the-Universe stories. I can’t take anymore listicles, must-reads, or Things-I-Didn’t-Know.
Recently, two very different online experiences unfolded that made me question whether to permanently walk away. A friend posted tragic news on Facebook about a second-grader who we did not know but had attended my daughter’s former elementary school. Over the holiday break, the little girl and the girl’s mother were shot in their sleep by their mentally-ill father/husband before he turned the gun on himself. Emojis followed, all these yellow sad faces popping up from moms in their 40s eager to express their condolences while probably multitasking a million other things. Their reactions, the hollowness of it all, enraged me.
Then, about a month later, a former co-worker shared one of his articles on a closed Facebook messenger group; it was impossible to count how many names he had tagged. My phone went off with notification alert after notification alert, people responding to the post—ping, ping, ping, ping!—I stopped counting after a while—before I could get myself removed from the group. Yes, let’s celebrate success, but is this the best way to do it? Wouldn’t champagne with a few friends at some loud bar with great music be more fun than texts from a hundred casual acquaintances? And then I think maybe I’m the party pooper. Maybe this is how we celebrate our little victories now. Because if I opt out of the Digital Age, if I never post another one of my articles again, if I never share another vacation picture, if I never throw my two cents into some peripheral online conversation, will there be anyone around to share anything with?
There are digital detox vacations and people going on social media diets, both suggesting temporary states of being unplugged, as well as an eagerness to get back to life as they know it. It’s not that I want to be completely unplugged, I want to hear from friends and keep reading about interesting places I’d like to travel to (I don’t read anything containing the words “Donald” or “Trump”) but I can’t do this echo chamber anymore. Lately, I feel drawn to tangible experiences over online ones. I’ve always had a thing for “tangible outcomes,” which is a kitchen table phrase in our household. This started during my office life when projects were constantly bottlenecked, so I developed a focus on activities that were very physical to me, such as baking cupcakes. Ingredients were mixed together, batter was exposed to high heat, a smell of chocolate or vanilla permeated the air, and, a half-hour later, when I heard the oven timer go off, cupcakes had taken form and cupcakes were eaten. Upper management wasn’t around to stop me, and all five senses were engaged.
Part 4 to follow