A therapist at Psychology Today online writes, People often ask me how I think human beings are changing as a result of our addiction to technology. The fact is we are changing in innumerable ways but perhaps none more profound than in our relationship with ourselves, that is, how we experience our own company.
It is paradoxical really. On the one hand, we believe that every cinnamon latte we consume is extraordinary and meaningful to others. We share every thought and feeling, imagining the world as our doting mother, celebrating every itch we scratch. And yet, despite our sense of self-importance, we, simultaneously, have lost touch with an internally generated sense of self worth or meaning.
I like this point because it doesn’t make the usual, stale claim that “technology is bad because it makes us more selfish.” As this author points out, smart phone technology — nothing more than pocket computers — makes us more disconnected from ourselves, not more connected.
It’s an astute point. Does technology make us stop enjoying our own company? No, because technology cannot “make” us do anything. It’s what we as individuals do with a particular technology that counts.
To understand why, you have to look at what would tempt someone to spend so much time on, say, social media rather than with one’s own company. And what’s the alternative to social media? Think of some examples. Taking a walk. Being in the present, being self-reflective. Being mindful, self-aware and living consciously. Experiencing every moment fully. Thinking about the problems of the day and attempting to find solutions by having little conversations with yourself. Reading a good book and losing yourself in the drama or thoughtfulness of it all. These are some of the things you miss by spending hours of time looking at what everyone else is doing every last minute of every day.
Is there anything wrong with looking at other people’s social media posts? Of course not. Some of it could be productive time, informing you of new ideas, new topics to consider or even helpful little memes to help you understand yourself or the world better. All of this is good. I’d only call it unhealthy if it’s compulsive. In other words, if there’s no consideration of the desirability of putting the phone down and moving on to something else, then this could be indicative of a problem. What kind of problem? Most likely: Anxiety. Anxiety about situations one would rather not consider or think about. That’s where running away from yourself comes in. Running away from “yourself” means running away from your consciousness. That’s what people do with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, excessive gambling, excessive shopping, or just about anything else compulsive.
Running away from oneself due to anxiety did not begin with computers and technology. Nor did it start because of social media. Social media and technology merely provide the excuse. The real question to ask yourself is, “What am I running from, and why do I think running from it will solve anything?” And then you’re poised to start with other solutions, which include limiting your time on social media and diversifying your activities with things like walks, reflection time, reading a good book, enjoying the moment with a child, pet or real-life loved one or friend, etc.
Neurotic and unhealthy people are excessively concerned with what others are doing. Social media provides a means for focusing on this obsessive concern. One thing I’ve learned from being a therapist is just how focused (even obsessed) many people are with being “normal.” By normal they do not mean reasonable or rationally adaptive; they mean “in the majority.” They mean part of the center on the statistical “normal curve,” in the middle for the sake of being in the middle — not because it’s necessarily better, but because it’s in the middle. As a lady once put it to me some years ago, “Dr. Hurd, why wouldn’t I ask you what’s normal? Those of us living out here want to be part of the pack.” Being part of the pack may be perfectly fine, in certain contexts. But if it’s an end in itself, then you’re subject to a whole range of addictive or unhealthy behaviors. Social media fixation is only the latest.
Being comfortable with yourself means being comfortable with your own mind — indeed, with your very soul. Once you’re at peace with yourself, there’s no need to run. Social media has its place just like anything else, and there’s no need to fixate on what “the pack” is doing, because it only matters so much.
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