Con­fes­sions of a so­cial me­dia slave

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached — maybe not im­me­di­ately, if he knows what’s good for him — at rus­sell.wanger­ — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

My doc­tor tried to pitch me on mind­ful­ness. He swears by it — oh, and hot yoga. I’m not go­ing to bore you with def­i­ni­tions — oh, what the hell. I will bore you with at least one, but just to make a point.

Here’s one def­i­ni­tion: “a men­tal state achieved by fo­cus­ing one’s aware­ness on the present mo­ment, while calmly ac­knowl­edg­ing and ac­cept­ing one’s feel­ings, thoughts, and bod­ily sen­sa­tions, used as a ther­a­peu­tic tech­nique.”

Did you get all the way to the end? I didn’t, the first time I saw it.

More on that in a minute, but first, back to the doc­tor. He gave me a book to give me the tools to start con­sciously fo­cus­ing on ev­ery­thing from my breath­ing to my heart rate, be­ing aware of place and pres­ence and sur­round­ings as a way to deal with stress. I didn’t read the whole thing. I try the breath­ing some­times, try to con­cen­trate to the point that I can al­most vi­su­al­ize air tum­bling down the ridged tube of my wind­pipe, but then I start think­ing about check­ing my phone.

I’m a bad mind­ful­ness stu­dent.

I’ve re­al­ized lately that I’m go­ing to have to get bet­ter.

Why? Per­haps be­cause not one cru­cially im­por­tant thing in my life has ever de­pended on an in­stant re­ac­tion to Face­book or Twit­ter.

Yet I am hooked to so­cial me­dia like a fish on a line.

It’s like be­ing on call, all the time — but with­out the ben­e­fits of be­ing paid for be­ing on call. Hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions molded into 140-char­ac­ter bites and short Face­book posts? Well, not only is it a truly un­suc­cess­ful method of dis­course, it’s con­di­tion­ing us to ex­pect ev­ery­thing to work that way.

I am hob­bled a bit by the fact that my job needs me to ven­ture deep into the so­cial me­dia pool, and my en­docrine sys­tem might be hooked on that ap­pre­hen­sive jolt of the new email or the five tweets as yet un­read, but I’m not so far gone that I’m be­yond help. Sure, I like to rush around the of­fice telling peo­ple snip­pets of stuff like a chicken run­ning around with­out its head, but I don’t be­lieve I’m ir­re­deemable.

It’s been a hard road, but I’ve been able to train my­self to not even look at my phone for an hour or more while walk­ing. I’ve tried to make those walks an in­te­gral part of my week. Maybe an hour with­out the phone can turn into two or three. Or a day.

It will be hard. I am afraid for those who are even more ad­dicted than I am — and there are many.

Next, I hope to re­gain my abil­ity to read. Books, that is. Right now, the only real time I’m able to sink deep into a book is in the en­forced quiet time of trav­el­ling. Books and long­form jour­nal­ism, even up into the 15,000-word range, used to be sta­ple read­ing for me. Now, I find things painfully too long and bor­ing — be­cause I’m used to the sharp quick jolt of so­cial me­dia shots.

The with­drawal is bru­tal. When there’s noth­ing new on my Twit­ter feed or in the in-box, I get antsy and ir­ri­ta­ble, and I don’t know what to be do­ing with my­self. Be­fore, I would be work­ing on a story. Now, I just twitch.

One of the things that has en­abled hu­mans to get so far in the world is the abil­ity to con­cen­trate on lengthy and some­times com­plex prob­lems. We re­ally can’t af­ford to lose that.

Think of me as a big fat ca­nary in a coalmine.

This stuff is get­ting real.

“Now, I find things painfully too long and bor­ing — be­cause I’m used to the sharp quick jolt of so­cial me­dia shots.”

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