A friend of mine was talking to me about his business and some cool new video he had made. 'You wouldn't have seen it,' he said, 'now you're not social anymore.'
Say wha? We were at a Tasmanian food festival called Festivale, with about a million other people, it was pretty social. He was referring to my recent personal withdrawal from the world of Facebook and Instagram. In Gwyneth Paltrow terms, i've consciously socially uncoupled. I'm still friends with social media for business, but in all other realms we're certainly having some space. What was interesting and disturbing about the comments my pal made was that not posting every meal and waking thought on social media had made me somehow invisible, even thought I was there in the flesh, hanging out with meaning in real life and real time, completely present to him and my other buddies who were there.
As a digital strategist, i've been on social media for a while. I've been deeply embedded in it, a frequent user, and a strong advocate for it. This is my work, and I respect and like so many things about social media and the digital landscape generally for interconnection with customers, co-creation of products and creating meaningful two way narratives. What I don't like, which is the tension and porosity of my relationship with social media as part of my work, is what it is doing to us socially and culturally as people.
I'm on a soapbox made of sand, there's no denying it, a shallow search will find me all over the social waves up until recently. It was Kopan that really sounded the end of my love affair with social media as part of my personal life. Because its not personal. It is a public broadcast to all and sundry. At Kopan, so much time was spent meditating on our deep addictions to our identity, the sensory pleasures of life and our attachment to the permanence of who we are. In Buddhism, the work of meditation is to grow an awareness of how all these things are impermanent, and the goodness of our essential buddha nature being something that is untainted by our actions and identity.
We meditate to go within and try and retrain our brains to see our essential good qualities, rather than the 'dirt on the mirror' of our experiences and personal brand. What came up in meditation so clearly for me was the realisation of how much we (and I of course) sought external validation of who we are through social media. That the process of looking constantly for likes, or the anxiety and stress of not getting any or enough likes or that particular person we were looking for approval from, consciously and unconsciously drove how we presented ourselves and our images.
We do it so often, that the pattern of posting and looking for reinforcement, and doing the same for others is hardwired. This is us, being. But its not reality, it is a version of reality, a curated string of moments heavily filtered and mediated by a screen, selected to meet pre conceived approvals on a limited spectrum of appropriate posts for our audiences. We are playing to the crowd, and looking for the encore many times a day. We look for posting opportunities, and design our work, play, meals, events and looks often with a mind to how we are going to display. It just looks like us, but who is it really? There is an aspect of impermanence to it all, as the pictures move through moments and days and are quickly replaced, but the story we are creating remains.
The more we tell the narrative, the more it becomes our truth, and the more we are confined by the world that we have created, that seems sometimes as hungry as a 24 hour news feed. The more I dug into my own posting, the more I asked what purpose all these pictures and opinions I had served. Who did they serve? The answer was largely me and my ego. What's worse, is that inadvertently, they had the power to harm. By my skiting and posturing about my food, and my travel and my stuff generally, perhaps I was triggering in someone else a deep sense of lack, or resentment, or sadness. Maybe what I had thought was modelling some form of excellence was merely modelling ego, and creating the very fixed identity that in the quest to understand Buddhism and myself I was being asked to gently and compassionately dismantle.
I'm keeping my meals to myself these days, and most of my other opinions, and trying to simply offer actual phone calls, quiet active listening with respect and empathy, and a laser focussed eye on my own mind, speech and body to see if I can go for more than a nano second without thinking or speaking with judgement and rampant opinions. I'm still a total fan of social media for business, and its power, but I stick by my decision to socially uncouple from the bardo of social media, and try and remain present to the limitless characters and array of filters that life already offers me to get distracted and beguiled by.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018