There I sat in “parents’ row” of my daughters’ swim class with my phone in my hand.
My 5-year old, Brooklyn, and my 3-year old, Ava, take swim lessons at the same time during the summer. They are in different classes, but they are both held at the same time – 10:45 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I found myself on my phone shuffling quickly between Facebook, Facebook Business Pages, Twitter, Instagram, Fitocracy, and of course, email. It was an incessant, non-stop loop of updates and refreshes – most of which turned up nothing.
I heard nothing of the class around me. I just had a racing, anxious feeling of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. What else could be causing my never-ending desire to check my statuses, emails, and posted pictures?
The “nothing” I heard all of a sudden materialized before my very eyes. My peripherals flickered, I broke away from my oversized 6-Plus screen, and there was my 5-year old, Brooklyn, holding her crotch in front of me.
“Dad, I have to use the potty – I’ve been calling your name for 5 minutes! Will you please take me?”
Embarrassed, I slid my phone into my pocket and took her by the hand, leading her to the locker room.
After we finished up, Brooklyn went back to her swim instructor, and I assumed my position in “parents’ row”. I looked down the line of chairs. There were about 20 of those white, plastic, cheap lawn chairs one might buy at Walmart for the summertime. In every single chair there was a parent, a grandparent, or a sibling of a swimmer, and every one of those people had their faces buried in their phones.
I am not exaggerating – Every. Single. One.
It was at that very moment I made the active decision that something needed to change.
Although I am referring to Facebook in this article, the message holds true for all social media. To me, Facebook is king. I was in college during Facebook’s early years – my first Facebook login used my Eastern Michigan University student email address.
Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat may be your drug of choice.
No matter what your “poison” in the world of social media, the effects of social media inundation are very clear when you observe the world around you.
We have a desire to be liked – this is a natural phenomenon for human beings. We might say we “give no f*cks” to those around us, but in a strange bit of hypo-criticism, most do this in order to achieve a higher status or gain accolades. Sometimes we “give no f*cks” in order to be liked even more.
In the world of social media, we have a very defined currency for acceptance – “likes”, “shares”, “comments”, “props”, “re-tweets”, etc. Ever post something only to have it garner just a “like” or two – and those are from your mom and your aunt? Kind of stings, doesn’t it?
I recently read a post from a Facebook friend of mine who was struggling personally with a few issues. She stated,
“I have an inbox full of messages, too many notifications to count, and I feel utterly alone. Why am I so depressed and sad when there are so many people who are vying for my attention?”
The answer was directly under my nose. And it had manifested itself on that fateful day at the swimming pool with my daughters – the same daughters I would gladly lay down my life for.
The same daughters I was blatantly ignoring – all for the sake of false acceptance.
Back In The Day
I teach middle school kids mathematics.
It’s a glamorous job. <eye roll>
I do my best to keep 12-year olds on task and see Algebraic topics with as much passion as they see their number of Instagram followers.
I always feel old when I give them “the talk”………but I give it to them every year.
Math is a scary subject for kids. It always has been and it always will be. Nothing will change the fact that some are deathly afraid of numbers.
Some kids walk through my doors with this latent fear, and nothing changes after the school year has passed. They are still petrified of numbers in mid-June when the bell rings for the last time.
But some kids listen very closely when I give them “the talk”.
“The talk” is when I occasionally bring up “life” instead of just “math” or “class”. We discuss frustrations, difficulties, and what (if anything) makes hard work fun. We discuss habitry, and decision making, and how to tackle seemingly impossible tasks.
At the crux of the matter is the ability to be comfortable doing things which are uncomfortable.
Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high in this country. This is obvious by the continued school-shootings and suicides among our nation’s youth. We may search for answers and find them in interesting sources – Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Call of Duty, and ADHD medications.
I would suggest, however, that our biggest failure in our youth is desensitizing them to true human communication, while providing them with ample methods to avoid life’s difficulties.
I distinctly remember the very first time I called a girl. Her name was Laura. I was in 5th grade at the time. There was only one option for communication – the telephone. That was unless I was going to find her address and Huffy it over to her house.
So, the phone it was.
I was in my friend, Adam’s, kitchen at the time – who was rooting me on. I grabbed my grade school directory (remember those?), picked up the phone, dialed the number, and sat down at the kitchen table.
My heart was in my throat and my stomach was churning knots as the phone rang.
Once. Twice. Then, “Hello?” said a male voice.
Quivering and shaking, I spoke: “Is La-La-Laura there, sir?”
“No, she’s at soccer practice right now. Can I leave her a message?”
“Tell her Jason from school called please.”
“Jason from school? Do you have a last name, Jason from school?”
“Sure, Jason Helmes. I’ll let her know. Have a good one, bud.”
I slowly put the phone back in its place and felt a wave of relief wash over me. I didn’t even talk to her, but I had mustered up the courage – and the balls – to do something I had never done before. Not only that, but I spoke (albeit rather shakily) to her FATHER of all people, and I was still breathing. Perhaps I was breathing a bit too hard, but I was breathing nonetheless.
Over the years, this process repeated itself. As any self-respecting boy goes through, it became easier to talk to girls the more you practiced. First on the phone, then in person, and eventually, cold-walking up to them at a party and chatting them up.
With experience comes ability, and with ability comes confidence, and with confidence………..well, the sky is the limit.
I met my wife at a random house party in 2002. She was drinking her face off, cursing like a sailor in a big group of her friends, laughing hysterically. She was the center of attention – and she was beautiful. I had never seen her (or spoken to her) before in my life. But if I didn’t seize this opportunity now, I would hate myself in the morning for being such a pussy.
So, I walked on over and said, “Tell me how a girl who has this whole party dying of laughter isn’t being hoarded in the corner by some Type-A, douchebag boyfriend?”
She smiled and replied coyly, “We broke up a few weeks ago.”
I gave her a nod and a smile of my own and said, “My name is Jason, what’s yours?”
On July 2nd, we celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary.
If this situation had played itself out in the present day, I may have missed the opportunity – while checking my news feed.
In a constant quest for connection, we are forgetting to connect with the world around us.
And it’s affecting us all negatively.
The Missing Link
Today’s youth is missing a very integral part of human interaction. The art of the difficult conversation. Uncomfortable moments are passed by, as a false sense of acceptance fills in a very real void for meaningful human connection.
There I was, sitting at my daughters’ swim class on that fateful morning, missing my two beautiful girls holding onto the floating barbell, developing into young athletes right in front of me. They were laughing, smiling, jumping, and playing.
And I couldn’t put down my damn phone.
I was missing an enormous chunk of their childhood, all for the sake of statuses, likes, and shares.
I couldn’t help but think about my future – our future. When your children are out of your house and living their own lives, which of these two comments might come out of your mouth?
1. “I wish I had cherished my children’s adolescene. I wish I had made myself more aware and present and enjoyed every second of our precious time together. Now that my kids are out of the house, I realize those moments will never be back, and it saddens me greatly.”
2. “I wish I had checked my Facebook statuses more often. Those statuses meant the world to me.”
Thinking about this helped me get my own life back in order.
So, I devised a plan which has worked wonderfully, and I would like to share it with you.
Here’s a step-by-step plan on re-claiming your life, and defining your own social media landscape.
The first item, which may be the hardest, is to turn off all social media notifications. You cannot be in the present state of mind when your phone is constantly dinging and vibrating. You will still receive your messages – but you must receive them on your own terms. Do not let your social media networks control you, you must control them.
Next, eliminate all of your email inboxes from your cell phone. If you have a work email inbox which is a requirement, sit down with your boss and discuss your concerns of a proper work/life balance. Give your boss your telephone number and tell him/her to call – not text – if there is an emergency which you must respond to. Emails and text messages take on a very impersonal feel. Your boss is much more likely to fire off an email or a text to you than he/she is to actually call you on the telephone.
After you eliminate your email inboxes from your phone, decide on a time each day when you will check your emails. It can be when you wake up, at lunch time, or before bed. The actual time is irrelevant. What you are doing is creating an acceptable boundary for when it’s permissible to check your email, and more importantly, you are setting restrictions on when it’s not permissable.
You may want to consider eliminating social media applications from your smartphone as well. This is a bit more on the extreme side. This is unnecessary if you turn off all notifications. But for some, that will not be enough. Some still might find themselves constantly checking social media, even without notifications. If this is you, delete the application – it’s the only thing you can do to reclaim your life.
Now, for the fun part. It’s time for you to “Define Facebook”.
Sit down and think to yourself,
“What is Facebook (Twitter, IG, etc.) to me?”
When I performed this activity, I came up with the following:
To me, Facebook is:
1. A place to stay connected to family and friends I don’t have regular contact with.
2. A place to network with other like-minded teachers, fitness professionals, coaches, etc.
3. A place to advertise and create a community for my online business (this blog).
4. A place to unwind and/or read interesting content during my off times.
After I took a good look at those items, I asked myself, “If this is how I want to utilize Facebook, how do I define my time spent there?” After all, I cannot be both present in my family’s lives and also be a slave to my smartphone. We cannot multi-task. For everything additional we take on, we lose something in return. I am unwilling to lose time with my family to a social media application on a cell phone.
I decided that numbers 1 and 4 – connecting with friends or reading interesting content – should only be considered during my downtime. Time when I was relaxing – after the kids had gone to sleep for the night, or they were napping, or even at daycare/the babysitter’s. Those were the times when I could catch up on Facebook with out of town family/friends, or read articles I was interested in.
Numbers 2 and 3 – networking and advertising – were both business-oriented. They were a targeted attempt to improve my business using social media as the platform. For this purpose, I would check Facebook – at the PC only – in the morning, as I would an email account. I would check for Facebook messages, respond to inquiries from my business page, and use Facebook for its networking abilities – not to browse, comment, or “like”.
After defining Facebook, my time spent on the site went from an almost-constant barrage of notifications, to a half hour first thing in the morning, and around an hour before retiring to the bedroom.
I also vowed not to take my phone upstairs into the bedroom with me any more. The moments before sleep between my wife and I should be reserved for talking, laughing, and making love. Not giggling at funny memes of cats or being offended by the latest Duck Dynasty picture. We should be having conversations, discussing the day’s events, maintaining eye contact, and enjoying each other’s company.
Want to know the result of me Defining Facebook for myself?
I’m more focused when writing articles – I am writing with more clarity and I have less writer’s block.
I’m 100% present with my own kids now – and I am noticing less behavioral interruptions as I am able to show them more love and attention.
I am sleeping more deeply – as I am less distracted by the phone and I read before bed now, which is a great pre-bed ritual.
In short………………….I’m happier.
I am genuinely happier since I made the switch.
I feel less stress, I’m less anxious, I’m more connected to those around me, and I’m more attentive to those who deserve my attention.
I did feel a twinge of “FOMO” at first, but by Day Three of having my Facebook Defined, it had completely dissipated. I’m about a month in, and guess what?
Nothing has changed. Not one single person has said, “Hey, you jerkface, you didn’t comment on my hilarious status,” or “Why did you take 12 hours to see the video of my dog I posted?”
Not a damn thing changed.
Other than my happiness.
I will never go back.
I’m 99% certain that after my current iPhone 6-Plus dies, the next cell phone I am getting will be one of these:
And I am NOT even joking.
Yours in un-connecting from the world, and connecting with those you love,