Recently I attended a two day conference at Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg called African Futures where we spoke about aliens, comics, science fiction and the pervasiveness of social media, some of my favorite topics. It was intoxicating to hear people speak with such passion about ideas that I had previously thought too far-fetched to even conduct conversations about. There was so much to take in but weeks later, one particular talk has stuck with me, speakers were asked how they use social media in their work and the answers caused me to pause.
I spend what is probably an inordinate amount of time on social media, mostly Twitter and Instagram, but of late I have been wondering how this is shaping my worldview. Asked how he uses social media, Faustin Linyekula a choreographer from the DRC, spoke of how for him it is functional but at the same time invasive. He went on to speak of how social media forces us to live in the now, not seeing the immediate past or future, how we’ve become so transfixed on the absolute immediate present, as finite as it is. A great example of this is Twitter, where it is said 9000 tweets per second are tweeted and depending on how many people or trends you follow, your timeline can become a raging river of tweets where you can easily drown in your attempts to stay current. In Japan in 2013 this peaked at 143199 tweets per second. This is typical of other modern media sources, constantly updating the latest news story literally by the second.
We’ve become so conditioned to seeking instant online gratification that by the time we get it we are already seeking the next new shiny thing. It is a cruel, cruel irony that in our search for instant gratification that gratification itself is nonexistent. If it did exist logic follows that once we we were satisfied we would log out until the next craving.
I realized that I was as much a perpetrator as a victim of this vice. That morning I started to think critically about just how much time I spend online and what benefit I derive from it and contribute to those I interact with. How much information am I actually consuming and what am I doing with it? What is the mental shelf-life of all this data streaming past my eyes and into my sub-conscious somewhere to be pulled out in random conversation later? Do I really need to be out here as much as I am? How much of this is me actually engaging with people for greater understanding and how much of it is me feeding my ego? Retweets and those exploding red hearts can be so addictive.
I realized I couldn’t introspect whilst remaining plugged into the machine so for the first time in years, I took a Twitter break. I spent the time reading articles and instead of tweeting out every next thought, taking the time to think that thought through. Till then I hadn’t realized just how mentally trigger-happy I had become. The whole world slowed down, the immediacy ebbed away, I started having conversations with myself again.
I really must thank my cellular service provider though, without their ridiculous data charges I might never have considered tuning out as a real option. I find tuning out is therapeutic for me, I can’t live life at the speed of the next big trend, that way of life is not great for my goal-setting. Life is more fun when you decide just how fast it comes at you.