I just read a really upsetting article on the economics of online fame which mentioned how YouTube star Meghan Tonjes was headlining a concert “to screaming, crying fans” and the festival folks were making bank off her, but meanwhile she was broke as a joke and didn’t even know “whether she’d be able to afford groceries.” This is disturbing news, but completely irrelevant to the point of this essay. However! There was a line in the article that caused a huge Aha moment for me. The author wrote, “Authenticity is valued, but in small doses: YouTubers are allowed to have struggled in the past tense, because overcoming makes us brave and relatable. But we can’t be struggling now or we’re labeled ‘whiners.’” When I read that, I felt like I was being called out. It applies to me so thoroughly.
It’s so easy to be vulnerable when it comes to the past, but not so much when you’re opening up about what’s happening right now. To be vulnerable about the past shows you’re better now. Which is great on the one hand, because it can help and inspire others who are struggling with something you struggled with before. But it also reminds me of that old joke, “I used to be conceited, but I’m not anymore, so now I’m perfect.” It’s both useful and self-serving.
I wrote about the discrepancy between my life and the one I advertise in social media, in a piece called “The Facebook Façade.” I made comments on various photos I had posted on Instagram and gave a more accurate story than the one depicted. (Mind you I did this weeks before that teenage model… sadly I didn’t get a book deal out of it.) In all honesty, I haven’t improved much at all since then. I continue to go against my initial rallying cry for social media honesty. Just yesterday during a quarter life crisis I Snapchatted a photo grinning in front of a Christmas tree. “Oh Christmas tree oh Christmas treeee” was the caption. Oops, I did it again!
After hearing those lines “Authenticity is valued, but in small doses” I felt like I needed to come clean. It resonated with me so deeply because I am so guilty of this. If I’m going to show up as myself, I need to show up all the way. Yes, overall I’m happier and healthier, but I’m not perfect. There is something hindering me right now and I’m not going to wait until I’ve overcome it to pos: I am addicted to the internet.
Major eye roll, right? But I do not mean it hyperbolically or in a silly, sassy “Oh my god, totes addicted!” way. I mean it. I am sincerely and disgustingly addicted/dependent/attached to the Internet. Of course I’m not the only one. Most of us are. But it seems like nobody else has a problem with it. Or maybe I’m just addicted to a higher degree than others. In any event, this is about me and my problem. I am fed up, and I am going to change. I want my life back. The main problems I’m experiencing:
A) I hear my thoughts as tweets in my head all the time. It’s fucking sick. Or I’ll think up Facebook statuses constantly. Or I’ll see something and have to take a picture to send to someone. B) I feel anxiety if can’t share what I’m doing. It’s like it didn’t happen if I didn’t post. C) I completely ignore people when I’m on my phone, or I get very annoyed when someone interrupts me while I’m reading an article or sending a text. I give priority to the phone instead of the person who is right here. D) There are so many times when I’ll walk the ten minutes from the train station to my apartment just staring at my iPhone. Or I’ll be taking a walk in the park, see a tree, snap a picture, and move on. E) When I don’t have my phone I’m panicky that I’m missing something; an invitation to do something, a job opportunity, a professional matter that requires urgent, a family emergency, etc. F) When I worked on the cruise ship, wherever we were, whether Barcelona or Jamaica or Sydney, we were on the hunt for Wi-Fi. Internet cards were $40 on the ship for something like 600GB and I used at least two a month—but still wanted more. If I could go back and do it all over I do it completely Internet free, fully immersed in the experience rather than keeping my tabs on everything happening back in the land of virtual reality. The same goes for my study abroad in Florence. I wish I were there all the way, instead of half-in and half-online.
But it’s complicated. It’s not as simple as just quitting cold turkey, which I would genuinely love to do—in my heart of hearts I would love to exist in this reality, this dimension, be fully conscious and present in this world around me, reside in the Now. But that does not suit the needs of my egoic ambitions. To get to the level of success I want, I need to maintain a presence on all the social networks so that I can promote myself, build a following, and eventually yield monetary compensation. I want the popular blog, the podcast, the YouTube videos, the books, the TV appearances, the speaking engagements, all of that. If that’s not the most authentic shit you’ve read all day, I don’t know what is.
Of course, I’m not just in it for the fame and fortune. Trust me, there are far easier paths I could have gone down. I genuinely want to make a living through work I am passionate about and believe in that is fully aligned with who I am. To be a life coach doesn’t mean being perfect, it means having a desire for self-improvement, authentic living, expression of self, and a life created with intention and choice. And helping, motivating, encouraging, and inspiring others who want the same thing. Maybe one day I’ll become a Buddhist monk and live on a monastery, writing books and teaching people face to face. But I’m not there yet.
Normally after posting a blog and plugging it across all my socials, I would be refreshing, refreshing, refreshing. Checking the stats, seeing how many likes, comments, shares. I’m going to try so hard not to do it this time. My self-control isn’t great, but I am going to try. I have to physically leave my phone at home to ensure I don’t go on it. In an essay called “The Human Stops,” I wrote about how we should use technology as a tool, and not let it use us. It is not a tool for me. It is an obsession. Texting friends, scrolling through feeds, consuming articles and weightless information like I consume water. Yes, I am complaining, but I am not blaming. The Internet is not the problem. I am the problem. The Internet is an incredible tool, and I’m grateful for the countless resources and opportunities it makes available. Unfortunately, I have become addicted, and I take full responsibility.
A year and a half ago, I spent a weekend on retreat at Deerpark Monastery in Escondido, California. There was no internet for an entire weekend. I’m not bullshitting when I say that it was one of the best weekends of my life. And this is coming from somebody who traveled to over fifty countries this year. I was so present and alive and at utter peace like never before. True mental freedom and happiness for happiness’ sake. They had a quote on the wall that said, “Waking up in the morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” And for that weekend, I did. It wasn’t the place that allowed my freedom and happiness, it was I. And I want to recapture that again. I know that if I did it once, I can do it again.
I’m going to try to go the next 24 hours without using my cell phone just as a test to observe myself and the world around me when I’m not using the Internet. Eventually I want to be at a place where I only use it a few times a day, when necessary. I’m not writing this to shame anybody else or tell you how to live your life, I just want to keep myself accountable and on track. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you updated and let you know when I’ve overcome this.