Sitting in the darkness of a campsite, stars above and the light of a campfire licking my face, I was struck with a thought that made me feel like I was living an alternate future. I stared harder into the flowering flames. What if social media hadn’t been invented?
It’s a thought that usually hits me when I’ve been on the computer or my phone too much. But this time it was in the middle of a mountain range, suffocated by trees and fresh air with no cell reception. It was like a digital existentialist moment for me. If I had no cell signal, did other people even exist?
As the silence seeped inside me, I started doing all the things a man does when left alone in wilderness– talking to myself, listening for critter sounds, playing Candy Crush. I suddenly felt ashamed that I would pick up a device and distract myself with colored lights. If I were still a boy, I could’ve explained away my desire to be lost in a video game or find solace in a screen. But I was a grown man who’d started a campfire, helped set up a tent and made camp for the purpose of relaxing. There I sat swiping colored icons, trying to solve the one puzzle in my life that would give me a prize at the end of the level.
I’ve been convinced that I need to connect with people. I need to see their food and pets. I require their poignant words and stunning, enviable photographs. I need to wake up and dive into their lives, before I start my own that morning. We compete with words, pictures and moving imagery. We require stimulus to feel connected instead of closing our eyes and hearing the wind traffic through the trees, and knowing that same gust swept by people we love, those we hate, and those we’ll never know.
Like a terrible IV filled with sedatives, I wanted to yank out all the cords and WIFI signals and bluetooth pairings that keep me asleep while I was awake. This forest setting now felt more chaotic than ever in a silence that could rival the most precious library. Checking out felt like tuning out, and that’s no good in the long run.
But it brought me to you. It brought me to my wife. This digital current made my analog life make sense. It made reunions into third chapters and sharpened my eyes to stab at the shields of ignorance.
But is it all worth it? What would it be like to lose all of this social mania?