A Lonely Week
Over the past few days I’ve been moping about. The days are getting shorter. I experienced unrequited interest from a girl. I had a nasty stomach bug (sous vide honey ginger tea and saltine crackers are a godsend.) It was a below average quality week as my weeks go.
No Reason for Sadness
I have no legitimate reason to be upset for very long. I live in a comfortable home. I have an excellent job I enjoy with coworkers I enjoy even more. I have more good family and friends than anyone can reasonably hope for. I get to see and talk to them often. Yet I still sometimes, especially during times of relative (psychology is about relative pain and pleasure) low points, feel lonely and undriven, even though I know this is absurd and that my absolute position is one that is incredibly privileged. Perhaps you do sometimes, too. During these times, I try to be particularly aware of the mechanisms by which my malaise is manifesting itself so that I can mitigate the symptoms. This past week has been one of those times.
I had a relevant insight last night when I went to check my phone for the thirtieth time of the evening. Something I’ve been doing with it is exacerbating my malaise. It’s pervasive, it’s dangerously close to me, at all times, and it’s addictive. It stalks me on several different fronts and I can’t reasonably get away from it: digital communications. I go check on them far too often. And then I get a little disappointed every time there is nothing to see, especially when there’s nothing from my friends.
GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp. I love these things. They keep me updated. They keep me in contact with friends, family, and strangers with similar interests. They help me build lists and hire virtual assistants. But they also become an outlet to churn the feedback loop of loneliness.
I feel a bit down or lonely. But my surroundings all point towards comfort and reasonable happiness. So I keep looking around for distractions from the feeling. This easily leads to over-checking my phone for contact from my friends and being just a little sad that no one took the time to notice me or think of me. I’m not talking about anything drastic. I don’t get upset or angry. But just a marginal amount in less of a good mood. Over time, checking the phone over and over again this can add up if I’m already in a below average state.
I have things I want to do on my own: Watch good movies, read insightful books, spend time building hit-lists for my next project or blog. I’m good about keeping physically active. But more passive activities become very easily distracted by the GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp funnel. They are fast, easy, and addictive distractions.
Notifications and websites are always there, a lingering potential that someone, at any time might have texted, emailed, messaged, upvoted, approved, liked, or recommended. When I’m alone, I want that contact. Small pleasures come from being acknowledged by a friend. I want to see what people thought of my blog article. Or how they are reacting to an event my roommates posted on Facebook. I want to see if my favorite flight deal blog has posted any new deals or if credit card companies have announced new signup bonuses to exploit. But when there’s nothing left to check, there is a feeling of lack, especially when I’m hoping just marginally to hear from my friends.
The value of this social and information connection is great. But it has a proper place. I need to be able to see who I am on my own, and love doing the things I value on my own. I don’t want to go to an app or a website to get a quick social fix. I don’t want to be distracted by an app or a website with the hope that someone valued something I posted or said. I want to see those things. But, I want to see them on my own time, not in a constant flow. That certainly is not what’s currently going on in my life at the moment. How would I like to improve in this area?
Focusing on a Mission
I want to have a distraction-resistant mission for my free time. I know the books I want to read, the exercise I want to do, the flexible social time, the movies, shows, the silent reflection time, naps, cleaning, whatever it may be. I want to value my time and mission enough to not turn to GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, CatholicMatch, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp for an outlet, except on my own terms. I want to be able to focus better on the tasks at hand. When I run out of things to do, I want to have a calm and reflective plan to build out a new plan. Perhaps I lack a detailed, practical, and actionable enough personal mission. By mission here I mean to speak of the tasks, people, enterprises, values, and goals for which I want my time to serve.
Having a phone by my side or a computer in my room at all times isn’t bad per se. But it becomes a problem when those devices become small ATM’s of validation and distraction flickering their seductive subtle lights 24/7.
One thing I’ve tried is placing my phone 20 secs walking away in my living room when I get home. This has helped a bit. However, things get more complex with my laptop. It holds all my work, my entertainment, research, emails, etc. I’m not sure I can reasonably set it outside of my free-time work space without sacrificing the value of internet connectivity.
I want to write separately about becoming oneself through understanding one’s personality and temperament and preferences and personal mission enough to become distraction-resistant. This concept is topically distinct enough to deserve a separate post, however.
The Danger of Digital
Digital devices can become an outlet that exacerbate problems in our lives. We use them to confirm false assumptions about the world. In my case, I was having (obviously false) thoughts my loneliness/sadness was justified slightly by the fact that my phone was blowing up with notifications on a Friday night. Of course this is absurd. But without the human physical connection, GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, CatholicMatch, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp become a way to simulate and churn the feedback-loop of loneliness self-talk.
Think about your phone and computer. How often do you go check them? Do you ever feel left out if you don’t get a notification or information? Is this a reasonable reaction? How much time have you lost on these distractions when they were unnecessary? How close do you hold your phone and computer to your important work, literally and figuratively? Are you a distractible person? What steps have you taken to become distraction-proof?