The gentle art of real life
Having spent almost 6 months offline, relating to people in the real world has been a wonderful re-discovery of a slow, analog life.
The words all left me
Breathing like the drowning man
— The Cure
At the start of the year, it got to the point where I was finding life over-whelming. To be specific, it was my online existence that was what was triggering significant levels of anxiousness.
I was also bombarded daily with ‘friend’ requests from complete strangers, who strangely didn’t even have any history. I was continually being added to Groups by entrepreneurs and sales-people, and automatically becoming a follower of their Pages.
Conversations were becoming toxic, my newsfeed was filled with hyperbole, vitriol, and sales copy. My inbox full of invitations to events, workshops, and seminars I wasn’t interested in from people I didn’t know.
On top of this was an issue of privacy that emerged, as someone decided to cause trouble for me by weaving together (i.e. curating) several isolated posts to construct a narrative that cast a negative light on me. That’s been more-or-less sorted out now, with relevent parties now having the actual truth, and the accuser standing with egg on their face.
All the while, a certain global social media giant has been in damage control, with accusations of data misuse, privacy concerns, and fake accounts being used to shatter the foundations of democratic process.
Having shut my Clinical Practice and ‘retired’ from my profession, I was undergoing something of an ego-death anyway, rediscovering my personal identity after years of being sucked into the treadmill of personal branding and promotional diatribe. I was drowning.
I deleted and de-activated all my accounts. I retained an active account on Medium, but even then I found it difficult to read articles that somehow inspired me in the state I was in. So I just shut everything off, continuing to write, keeping my work to myself.
Most of this journey has been documented in what I finally decided to publish on this website over the last couple of months. Struggles with identity, humility vs hubris, and contemplations on what I had witnessed and been part of in this very new online world.
But over the last few months, inspired by hope, I have re-discovered the little things that cannot be found in a virtual world. The small, humble aspects of a normal, mundane, every-day existence in the real world that make life special.
Not being on social media meant that my usual connection to my friends was essentially severed. I no longer had instant access to what was going on in their lives. Worse, I no longer knew about any parties or gatherings they were having. Conversely, they had no idea what was going on with me.
It meant staying in contact the old-fashioned way: phone calls, text messages, and maybe even email (hard to imagine that SMS and email is now considered ‘old-fashioned’, huh?!) Of course, no one had any idea what was going on. A few people messaged me to check in as they had noticed my absence online.
It also means that it takes an active, concerted effort to be in touch, and to make plans to catch up. Different to broadcasting a shout-out for social time and seeing who responds.
Calling up someone and facing the possibility of rejection for a meet-up was terrifying for an introvert like me. But actually, having someone respond and tell you personally they’re busy is much better than simply being ignored on a public call on social media.
“Down in the park”
This even shocked me, but getting so caught up in running an online business kept me disconnected from nature. I used to go for walks in the park constantly, even doing Tai Chi in the park before I got so caught up in the online world.
Walking outdoors and not taking my phone with me was even better! I could remain completely present, without checking notifications and replying to messages while I’m meant to be enjoying the fresh air and grounding myself with the earth.
I’ve recently discovered some cosy little pubs in my area. Again, I find myself with more spare time to enjoy real-life pleasures such as sitting by an open fire in a cute little local hipster pub, drinking a pint of stout and listening to awesome tunes on a wintery Saturday afternoon.
When I was living an online life, all my attention was on the business I was running, and the ‘social media presence’ I needed to maintain. I would be taking photos of my food, my drinks, or my environment, posting it and telling a story.
So I was probably never really present where-ever I was. Because life always seemed to be part of one constant social media campaign. It also meant that sometimes I would run into people who would recognise me from social media; a somewhat surreal experience when a stranger knows all about recent events in your life.
It’s not just pubs I’m finding. It’s old-school activities like board games, bowling, and billiards. I’m not completely old-fashioned however, I still love my console games and MMORPG’s.
And it’s a pleasure that I have known
And it’s a treasure that I have gained
— Crowded House
This kind of petit-célébrité gets really annoying for an introvert like me. It feels comforting to be somewhere and be anonymous again. Especially when you’re profession is health/wellness-related — being seen in a pub, enjoying beer and fried snacks is usually seen as a fitness faux pas. Of course, this level of expected perfectionism is just bullshit, as life is meant to be lived; just not to any extremes, is all.
There is something great about being anonymous and unknown. I don’t think I could handle being ultra-famous. The fact that I can do whatever I like and know that hundreds (if not thousands) of people know the intricacies of my life is freeing.
It means I only need to live up to my own expectations (which is tough enough), not those of others.
There is also something very creepy about the current state of non-privacy that is emerging courtesy of the social media phenomenon: facial recognition, apps and devices that record us without consent, and targeted advertising are just the tip of a somewhat Phillip-K-Dick-esque dystopia.
“The book I read”
Reading time was no longer scanning newsfeeds. It meant holding real books, smelling the pages, and not having some creepy back-light burning the back of my retinae.
While I love ebooks, and the idea that my ebook reader has an entire collection of texts (yes, I’m one of those people that have several books on the go), the electronic versions aren’t quite the same as holding the musty, fragile artifact in your hands.
Even better is taking it with you and sitting against a tree in the park, or on the shitty old couch in the pub. The sound of the page turning, the sensation of paper under my finger, plus being able to scribble in the margins or underline passages is something that can’t be done on a smartphone or computer screen.
I’ve also found it slows my purchases down too. It’s so easy to just keep buying and download ebooks. At first, I started to go online to search for books to buy and get posted to me. Then I took the ‘slow reading’ concept even further — what if I only read books that I happened to find in a bookstore? Because I love reading, I tend to have very long lists of books I want to read, which creates a degree of anxiousness. It requires a certain amount of patience and humility to trust that if I need to read a book, it will come across my path in the real world, instead of deliberately and aggressively seeking it out.
And forever and for no one I will let it all go by
And to be myself completely I’ve just got to say goodbye
— Belle and Sebastian
I’m still writing and publishing – obvious if you’re reading this. I’ve become quite active on another excellent platform such as Steemit, which is a platform which rewards writers for their work, and creates a genuine sense of community on a very successful blockchain).
No, I don’t miss social media; I certainly missed the real world however. And of course, I’m not completely offline, I’m just moderating my time online and ensuring I’m fully tethered in the real life, with real people and real friends.