The Smartphone Experiment

Aug 15, 2013 by

          I’ve been feeling suffocated, finding it difficult to strike a balance between real life and social media. I’m not yet accustomed to updating my online social networks. I’ve gone years without profiles, and I loved the space that choice provided. If it weren’t for my blog, I’d still be without them. I’m big on personal (as in in-person) connections. I use my social networking profiles (all both of them, because that’s enough right now) to share The Happiness Experiment and invite people to live vicariously through it, keeping whoever is following my adventure informed. Without a smartphone and the natural inclination to advertise my life, this has proved to be challenging, as I have to continuously remind myself to login to notify the online world. It’s becoming stressful.

          It’s not the more frequent means of connection to people that bothers me. I’ve begun to distinguish between the results of social networking and the results of putting pressure on myself to be consistently active on social networking sites. The experience of social networking itself has been kind of cool. It’s created awareness about The Happiness Experiment beyond what I could have generated through word of mouth. Even better, it has allowed me to interact with readers (mostly my friends, at the moment, but I’m optimistic that there will be others) and provide them with updates on the progression of my happiness experiment. I can efficiently tell people what I’m doing. They can see that I’m living by the principles of The Happiness Experiment without me writing posts about everything that I do and everywhere that I go, which would be unnecessarily redundant, given how often I now go out. I like being able to give readers a window into my life to demonstrate the possibilities of living on a happiness experiment, for which social media has been an excellent tool.

          It still weirds me out a little bit when people come up to me to talk about places I’ve been, food I’ve eaten, or the funny situations I’ve managed to get myself into. Remember, I was social-networking-free for over four years. While the rest of the world has gotten used to giving people insight into their lives, I have not. As I’m slowly getting over the strangeness of providing regular updates, I can certainly appreciate the cool factor. People actually read my Facebook and Twitter updates, and it translates in real life. Now that my busy social life is appearing on their newsfeeds, some friends excitedly approach me in person to get the inside scoop about my upcoming plans before I post. Thanks to The Happiness Experiment, my social life was just as active pre-Facebook/Twitter as post-Facebook/Twitter. The difference is that, with Facebook and Twitter, people can see it, and they’re noticeably enthusiastic about it. It’s really nice! They’re interested in The Happiness Experiment, and they’re genuinely happy for me – all because I’ve shared my life online. Social networking is truly an amazing thing.

          As I’ve received encouraging responses, I’ve tried to be more consistent with my social networking updates (positive conditioning has certainly been at work), placing unnecessary pressure on myself. Upon first signing up for Facebook, aside from pushing blog posts, I’d only generate status updates when I happened to remember, and not necessarily every time that I went out. After a few weeks and the birth of @thehappinessX on Twitter, I began making it a priority to remember. Recall that I don’t own a smartphone and I’m not used to sharing myself in 140 characters or less. I have to regularly remind myself that I have social media accounts, force myself to login (all while still avoiding my feeds like a pro!), and notify the online world of what’s happening. Sometimes, it’s fun. Other times, it’s tiring. (Kudos to the energizer bunnies that post multiple updates everyday. I cannot – and don’t want to – keep up.) I previously thought that the sharing aspect of social networking is what I found draining. I’ve finally recognized that it’s not. I comfortably share through my blog, which gives far more insight into me than any Facebook or Twitter status ever could. I’m at ease when exposing myself using my blog as the form of media. It feels more intimate – more real. Social networking only allows for tiny glimpses into the girl representing The Happiness Experiment, which can be hugely misinterpreted. My blog allows me to elaborate, more accurately depicting my life. Social networking is simply less natural for me. Thus, it’s the pressure that I’m putting on myself to make it natural that I find exhausting; not social networking itself.

          In trying to figure out a way to balance my real life and my online presence, I’ve been contemplating whether or not having a smartphone would make it easier to maintain regular social networking activity without interrupting my life. I could post updates and pictures as I go about my day instead of purposely accessing my laptop to login. Putting smartphone capabilities to the test, this past weekend, I experimented with an iPhone. Though I enjoyed the convenience of being able to post updates in real time, having iPhone access resulted in unexpected anxiety. Until today, I didn’t even realize that my anxiety was actually smartphone pressure. In retrospect, I was forcing myself to relay my life online while I was out, which did not reflect my value of face-to-face interaction over screen-to-screen. Meanwhile, I just wanted to be fully present in real life, no phone in hand, as per usual. It’s likely that the iPhone was a big reason I’ve felt smothered by my social life over the last few days. On the weekend, I was too connected, watching the previously well-defined border between my real and online lives fade.

          Knowing that it is important to me to keep that line from blurring, I’ve allowed myself to be more relaxed with social media this week. In need of some space, I’ve been less active on my profiles and my blog. I haven’t continuously kept Facebook friends and Twitter followers in the know about everything that I’ve been doing. While I’ve continued to write (because I do that without compulsion and it helps me to distress), for the first time since launching my blog, I allowed myself to write without pressuring myself to immediately post, re-experiencing the pleasure of releasing everything into words untainted by technology (WordPress posting can sometimes be time consuming and temperamental).

          Best of all, as per normal, I’ve been iPhone-free, causing something that I already knew to re-dawn on me: I can keep a solid line between the real and the virtual by maintaining my distance from smartphones. I can have an online presence without piling pressure on myself to provide real time updates. In hopes of making my transition back into social networking smoother, I’ve recently considered the purchase of a smartphone to relieve the pressure of purposely logging into social media through my laptop. Through my smartphone experiment, I found – somewhat expectedly – that smartphone access did the opposite of what I had hoped. Posting while I was out made me place more focus on the intangible profile of me housed within an addictive device than on the real life version. Not cool. I’d rather stick to old fashioned, laptop-generated updates, even if they may be less frequent. That way, once I’m out, I’m fully present – just the way that I like my life. The jury confidently rests: no smartphone for me – a decision made easy by the disapproval of my bank account. Hypothetically, even if I did have the money, it would cost more than a trip to Vegas or somewhere else not Toronto. I don’t think my brain can fathom that tradeoff. (Note: I reserve the right to purchase a smartphone at any time. There were definite pros to real time updating via iPhone. It may not be a good option for me right now, at the beginning of my relationships with Facebook and Twitter, but my mind is subject to change if we begin to get serious.)

Happiness Tip: Disconnect.

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