The Choice to be Unavailable…

August 13th, 2016

2012This is something I started to write on Facebook, but decided it was best fit for a blog, because it’s long and you may not be my Facebook friend.

For the past 18 years, (wow, 18 years…) I have been on the internet. Starting with simply using instant-messengers, then research for this or that project for school (internet research was the key to getting me interested in writing a paper in high school – I was fascinated by the speed of the information appearing before me.) Then was the time in my life where I was an internet-social butterfly. I was everywhere. YouTube, Stickam, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… and was in constant contact with everyone under the sun.

Sounds exhausting, right? It was. But in my twenties, I didn’t realize how much the internet was exhausting me. I had the energy and took the time to keep up with it, whether or not I realistically had that time. As my body has slowed, so has my desire for being everywhere all the time. My friends are probably rolling their eyes, but trust me, guys – it used to be worse. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but it’s true. I know I’m not the only person who has gone through all of this. You can probably relate on some level.

And it’s not just computers anymore. Now it’s on my phone. There are little red bubbles on my home screen containing things I haven’t read… messages, snaps, likes, comments. They’re all there, staring at me, shouting – SOMEONE PAID ATTENTION TO YOU, LOOK!!

Today, the internet is not a choice. We must be on Facebook to keep up with friends. We need to be on Twitter to sell a product. We need to post pictures on Instagram and Facebook to prove our happiness – sometimes, just for the show – the pressure to have the perfect life is a heavy weight. We need to have email to do… well, everything. The internet is how we communicate. We have to have messengers to be available to everyone at all times… whether we like it or not. And if you don’t answer, you will be questioned.

I know that in the beginning these notifications were meant to be helpful, but wait – it takes me away from work, writing, my kid, a show I am watching, friends… all of which should come before the dings and flashing lights on my phone. When did we ask for our phones to demand our attention? I know that some of you will be rolling your eyes at this post and call me a dinosaur. I’m not a dinosaur… but I remember when my anxiety was limited to the cute boy next to me in English asking to borrow a pen, the ONE day I didn’t have an extra one… Oh no, he’s never going to pay attention to me again. Now, my anxiety is sometimes fueled by having unread messages. Likes and comments I haven’t seen. Snaps I haven’t opened. An email I haven’t read or to which I haven’t responded.

Facebook even tells you how long ago someone was on its messenger. I actually get anxious because I know I opened Facebook messenger a few minutes ago, and the person who sent me a message that has been “unread” for hours can see that I was just on messenger, and I don’t want them to think I don’t care… so I open their message and respond, even though I was in the middle of something else.

No wonder I can never focus enough to get anything done. My phone and computer are constantly buzzing. Message. Like. Comment. Email. Snap. Text. Reminder. And I feel obligated to respond right away, so they don’t think I’m a jerk. It’s driving me a little batty right now that there’s a (1) on the Facebook tab on this screen. What is it? A “like?” A comment? I closed my Facebook tab.

All of these notifications pull me away, if even for a few seconds. Right now, I am sitting in a coffee shop. Next to me is a person doing homework (or some kind of work.) I can’t tell you the number of times her phone has distracted her from it. It takes time to redirect your focus after being distracted… and I don’t know about you, but I have a lot to do, and I don’t have time to get distracted every few minutes… and to be spending the time redirecting myself to what I am supposed to be working on. (Right now, this blog.)

Here’s the thing – those things will be there when I’m done doing what I am doing. They. Can. Wait. Nothing on the screen is urgent enough to interrupt my life. If it is, someone will call me.

There’s a couple across the room from me right now having coffee “together.” The thing is, they aren’t talking to each other; their expressions are blank. They’re both scrolling on their phones. They look up at each other once in a while and smile, but that’s the extent to which their interaction has gone. After about half an hour of doing this, they looked up, nodded and walked out silently. It’s not just them, it’s all of us. We’ve become a society of zombies. No, really. We are all expressionless… walking through life staring at screens, letting out little chuckles once in a while. When did we, as a society, decide this behavior was okay? We don’t see the world in front of us, but look at the world in which we are not present. It’s no wonder we are all so sad, we’ve replaced real life with focusing on the things to which we are unable to attend and noticing how much better someone else’s life looks compared to our own. This all sounds harsh, but tell me it isn’t true.

In conclusion, I am working on being unavailable. Yes, really. I want my life back – the one I lived before the internet… When I wasn’t looking at screens. When I looked out the window while someone else was driving. When I didn’t have the buzzing and dinging and people to answer all the time. When I walked a trail and looked at nature.

I am busy living my life right now. Writing. Watching a movie with my son. Eating lunch with a friend. Exercising. Outlining a story. Playing a game. Driving. Whatever it is, it needs my focus, and I need to be unavailable to everything else. It’s not that I don’t love you – whether you’re just far away or we’ve never met. I love you all very much. But I need my focus back, I need to control when I check in and read messages, not letting my devices decide that for me.

While I’ve outgrown the need for constant interaction, breaking this cycle won’t be easy. In fact, just while writing this blog, I have opened my phone four or five times, looking for notifications. #habit

I started breaking this habit of constant connection by turning off every push notification on my phone and computer – except texts. I kept texts on because it’s how my coworkers and family members contact me most often, and I won’t block them from getting to me instantly. All other forms of communication won’t pop up on my screen – because it can wait. I was unable to disable the little bubbles on my home screen of my phone telling me there’s a notification, so I took those apps off of my home screen. I will open them when I have the time and desire… not simply because someone paid attention to me.

My hope is that through this filtering, it will reduce my daily stress and anxiety, and pull me back into real life, living life to its true fullest. I’ll be a lot more unavailable… but I know it will be a good thing for me. In the two hours I’ve had these things shut off, I’ve already started feeling better. I’m returning to the real world… so hey, go do the same. 😉