Following one’s heart is not always easy. The path to becoming the strongest version of ourselves is fraught with tempting signposts offering the path of least resistance.
You hear a voice in your head. It tells you to do something scary. And it makes you feel uncomfortable. The compass of fear has shown you The Path. Once said voice makes an appearance, you can’t unhear it. So you now face a choice: step up to the plate, do the scary thing, and claim the universe’s reward, or stuff your heart’s message down deep inside, where it’ll gnaw away at you year after year after year after year. Until you eventually do the thing, or commit spiritual suicide.
Alexander puts it best.
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.”
And even if you do follow your heart, there’s no guarantee it’ll work out. But in doing said scary thing, you grow stronger. You don’t do the thing for what you’re going to get, but for who you will become.
Two months ago, for the 30 day Do-Something-You-Fear challenge, the familiar voice came calling. It told me to put an embarassing photo as my Facebook profile picture. And the voice knew exactly which photo it had to be.
My brain immediately scrambled reinforcements to quell this rebellion of the heart.
“Iain, don’t do it. Don’t listen. This is stupid. If you put that photo on Facebook, everything we’ve been working towards will have been for nothing. Our reputation, our empire, our careers…. – gone.”
But the voice insisted it must be done. The brain offered a compromise:
“Okay, okay… If you really want to go ahead with this, why not put a slightly less awful photo on Facebook instead?”
But again, the voice was having none of it. The voice could not be unheard, and the power of the heart could not be undone.
At 3 am, I snuck up, went on Facebook, and changed my profile picture before my brain realised what happened.
The fruits of this mission are below.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, the first photo is infinitely cooler than the first. It’s your quintessential profile picture – the face I want represented by in the world. The second… is a terrifying photo – one that I took for the explicit purpose to see how bad I looked, and one that I vowed would never see the light of day. So much for that, then.
When I put the photo online. I was surprised. Partly because it got 20 odd likes. (Why someone would like it, I have no idea.) But mostly because after so much internal resistance against making it public, I felt no elation afterwards. No fist-pumping. No air guitar. No homages to Zaza Pachulia (see below). Nothing.
Instead, a feeling of immense grounding. “Okaay, now what?”
Almost an awakening. So this is what life feels like..
Then the epiphany.
The reason I felt nothing was because all my time and emotional investment in Facebook amounted to nothing. It was like finding out that you’ve climbed to the top of the ladder, only to find out was leaning against the wrong wall.
All this energy, all this time, all this worrying, invested into a virtual layer of me in a world that doesn’t even exist. Five years of mental energy and time gone, and no improvement in my life whatsoever. All I’d been doing was essentially marketing. I’ve been caught up on my online image so much – yet it has no bearing with reality. It’s like trying to get a six-pack on Habbo. Why would you even try?
It’s all been so meaningless. All the dopamine-farming, all the photo-curating, all the should-I-use-this-smiley-or-should-I-not, all the should-I-open-this-message-or-should-I-not… All the -omg-this-is-gonna-look-so-cool-on-Facebook.
So much mental energy, so much wasted.
Yet, I thought it was reality. Or maybe I just never questioned it. See, levelling up a character on Runescape – it doesn’t pretend to have any semblance to reality. But Facebook? It’s different. I got caught up in a trap where I got emotionally invested into this gigantic, non-existent universe.
Every time I worried about what other people would think of me based on the photos that appeared on Facebook…
T’has all been for nothing.
I wish someone had told me at the very start, “Iain, chill out. Your Facebook isn’t you. Invest your mental energy in you, not your virtual alter-ego.”
I wish someone had told me, “Iain, never, ever, ever sacrifice a moment of the present by thinking about Facebook. Life and the Now are all you have. Facebook is meaningless.”
Facebook – What’s Preventing Us From Going All-in.
I went to a tiny high school on an island on the West coast of Scotland. Because the school is located on a rock in the middle of the ocean, it’s too far to be reached by interfering muggles. (Though a half-giant with a cake and a flying motorbike might reach it.) As such, our school can do extremely cool things that larger schools can’t.
One of such things is going on a one month expedition every second summer to far-flung countries like Madagascar, Ethiopia, and Peru.
My sister and I both went on such expeditions, and my Dad, who works at the school and leads the expeditions, so has been on every one of them.
One night, around the table, we were discussing the latest expedition, and how for the first time, students were using Facebook to keep in touch with home.
In my day, and my sister’s, we didn’t bring phones on expeditions. Facebook wasn’t that big, phones weren’t insanely big, and the internet wasn’t largely available in developing countries. So, the month-long expedition was largely without contact to and from home. We were isolated.
Yet, my sister and I agreed that the isolation was the beauty of it. It was more committing. More of an immersion into the other country. Much like Vikings burning their ships at the enemy’s shore to increase emotional investment (albeit to slaughter and pillaging), we had to invest in the local culture. The lack of connection to home allowed us to truly connect with our co-adventurers, and with the people in the country.
The absence of non face-to-face quasi-connection with home allowed us to access the magic of the moment, and immerse ourselves in where we were.
But with the expedition who kept in touch with home on a daily basis via Facebook, well, it must’ve been a different experience. The kind of experience that makes you want to take selfies. The kind of experience that can be summed up by #adventure #developingworld #experience #livelifetothefull #totesamazeballs #insertgenerhashtaghere.
The addition of Facebook transforms an incredible experience into an experience where you have one leg at home, and the other one in the country, trying to do its best to show what cool things you’re doing.
In doing so, you sacrifice the opportunity for true connection with the culture and people around you, in exchange for a few likes. Or for keeping up with the goss. Or for inferior conversation – if Facebook can even be called “conversation”.
It’s like checking your phone when you’re out with friends. Instead of immersing yourself into the moment – instead of going all-in – you’re connected to inferior connection.
I’m not saying that the people you contact via Facebook aren’t incredible people. What I am saying is that you can’t compare true conversation with typing shit into a computer or phone.
(He says, whilst typing shit into a computer.)
Lessons From the Mormons
Because I don’t have a laptop with me in Mexico, I have to sojourn to internet cafes to write. This is somwhat inconvenient, but the chance to speak with the girl with the beautiful smile at the desk more than makes up for it.
In a conversation with said beautiful girl, she told me that, being a Mormon, she went on a mission.
A Mormon mission, that is. Not one that begins with “your mission, should you choose to accept it”, has a kick-ass theme tune, involves Lamborghinis, the rabbit’s foot, and international crime syndicates.
And here’s the intriguing part. On such missions, which last around two years, the Mormons have to follow very strict rules:
- No internet.
- No social media.
- No phones.
- Only contact home once a week.
She said that despite being difficult to adjust to at first, the rules were amazing and allowed her to truly connect with the people she was helping on her mission.
The lack of “connection” allowed her to truly connect.
So if an absence of Facebook is so magical on expeditions and missions, why do we let it infest so much of our lives back home? Why do we let Facebook muscle in when we’re on holiday, when we wake up, when we go to bed, when we’re eating, and when we’re spending time in real conversation?
Facebook – the Anti-Social Network.
Says Facebook, “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”
But it doesn’t.
The idea that Facebook is connection is laughable. The idea that Facebook is a social network is ridiculous. And the idea that Facebook allows you to share with people in your life is ludicrous – it gives you less to share by draining your time and energy.
It makes me angry that Facebook pretends to be connection. In reality, it’s a form of escape that kids you that you’re socialising. It’s a form of escape that pretends to be developing meaningful relationships. True connection is having a conversation face-to-face, or going for a drink, or going for a walk on the beach, or going on an adventure. Since when was wbu g2g cya l8r connection? I can remember some truly magical shared experiences. Not one of them is on Facebook.
We’re all gonna die some day. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m on my deathbed, I’m not gonna remember a single conversation over Facebook. I’m gonna remember the times when I was so immersed in the moment, that Facebook was the last thing on my mind.
If you agree with me, why the hell are we still using it?
Why We Use Facebook
“Everyone else uses it.”
Since when is that a good reason to do anything?
“We need it to keep in touch with people.”
What did people do before Facebook?
“It’s free, instant communication.”
It’s not communication. It’s not free – the time wasted, and the energetic and emotional baggage is enormous. And as for instant messaging? I could think of nothing worse.
The joys of instant communication:
Iain gets notification of Fb message. The pressure begins.
Iain thinks of when it would be socially acceptable to open it, to trigger the dreaded “seen at X”.
Iain opens it a couple of days later, and feels obliged to reply.
Iain procrastinates, then finally gets around to sending a reply.
Honestly, screw the drama, and take me back to letters any day of the week.
A letter is an investment in a relationship. You’ve got to think, put pen to paper, fold it up carefully, invest some saliva in sealing that bad-boy, then march your way down to the post office. That’s like an hour, minimum. Plus, getting a hand-written letter is the coolest thing ever. And the handwriting just exudes personality. And there’s no obligation to reply within the minute. One can take a few weeks pondering, then leisurely send back a well-pondered reply.
Letters don’t pretend to be a human connection, yet ironically, it feels so much more intimate than Facebook does. It’s connection.
So What You Sayin’ Iain? Are You Gonna Quit Facebook?
I’m not sure.
I’m half-tempted to leave it to once a week, to organise Skype and the likes. Also, the Mexican postal system is swallowing my letters, so ironically, I can’t find out if my letter has reached its destination without Facebook.
But I’m also tempted to do away with it entirely. I can’t help but thinking how much richer life would become.
(Actually typing out that sentence just shows the ridiculousness of my argument. I’m trying to balance increased richness of life with petty convenience….. That’s a sad commentary in and of itself. )
There’s a scene in Pirates of the Carribbean. It concludes:
Barbossa: “The world used to be a bigger place.”
Jack: “The world’s still the same. There’s just.. less in it.”
I take a mini-bus, the micro, into town here in Mexico. And many of my fellow passengers are on their phones, mindlessly scrolling down with their thumbs. Even in the magic of Mexico, people are doing the same boring stuff that we do at home.
I agree with Jack. The world’s still the same. There’s just less in it.
I don’t know if severely limiting Facebook is the panacea to putting more back into the world, but it’s a damn good place to start.