Mental Freedom

I’m writing this on a Friday night, the last ritual before the full onset of the weekend. Immediately prior to this, I was sending out a couple of emails soliciting articles for Dagmay, our ten-year-old online literary journal, and chatting with my wife. Half an hour before that, I cleaned out the dirty dishes from the sink. And just before that, in between dinner and the washing, I took my skateboard out for a spin and read a comic.

So what is wrong with this picture?

On one hand, nothing at all, just a mundane Friday evening with perhaps a couple of off-kilter pursuits. But on the other hand, one might ask, where did I suddenly get all that free time? So far, I have had a stretch of three hours to do all this, and I even had time to get a little bored in between. Indeed, perhaps I should ask you: when have you had a similar stretch of activity and boredom on a Friday evening?

I can credit this refreshing turn to a simple although radical tweak that I made to my life, namely, I finally divested myself of all social media links. Yes, this is an old tune. I’ve been railing against Facebook for what seems like forever. As I annoyingly like to remind people, I deactivated my account in 2010 (March 22, to be exact) and I’ve been Facebook-free ever since.

But not, it seems, entirely social media-free. I just traded one drug for another, and in my case, it was first Twitter and then Reddit. Twitter seemed at first like a safe alternative to Facebook, being less intrusive of my relationships and less interested in presenting me the highlights of my friends’ lives. Just little capsules of thought, 140 characters long, what harm could it do?

And yet…and yet…it just starts creeping in and taking over. There’s a compulsion to check every quarter hour, sometimes even more frequently, what is going on in somebody else’s head. It’s the ready remedy for boredom, always at hand, literally. And then it metastasizes into the compulsion for affirmation. I tweeted a profound thought, how many likes and retweets did I get? How about now? How about now? Twitter, just like Facebook, is an addiction.

Reddit, I thought, was the cure. Practically anonymous, out in the fringes (because how many of you have actually heard of Reddit before now?), with a plethora of topics both high and low. On Reddit, I could choose to subscribe to just science- or academic-related groups, but maybe just for fun I’ll add something about movies and science fiction, and how about some clever interaction through AskReddit and ShowerThoughts? In the end, it was the same, the need to constantly check for new content and affirmation, now via upvotes, for my comments and posts. Reddit, too, was an addiction.

On one sober moment of reflection, it bothered me how much time I was wasting on these sites. I tried to justify it thinking I was keeping abreast of developments or learning something new, but what it was, really, was a neverending time sink. Then, too, in this moment of reflection, I saw how my thought processes had become so in tune with the hive mind: I already instinctively what the expected clever response would be, what would gain the approval or condemnation of the group. I was, whether I wanted it or not, being mentally conditioned.

So I decided to stop. Just stop. No more substitution with another social media sites, it’s just one drug for another, just different kinds of cancer but all leading to the same mental death. I stopped because I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. Heck, it wasn’t really much off living at all.