On Disconnecting in a Connected Age

I’ve found myself, lately, utilizing every form of “cliched phrase” that’s out there. I don’t know where they come from and I don’t know why it matters. All I know is, I’ll say or write something that is commonly construed as “cliche” and then I’ll mentally or physically smack myself on the forehead, exclaiming my disdain for the fact that I, once again, am finding myself using a cliche.

Can’t I be more original than that? I think, shaking my head.

But what is originality, really? In this day and age, I think it’s more uncommon than we all think.

I am, in all aspects of the word, a proud Millennial. My entire life is centered upon myself. I am built up in layers of self-importance, constant indulgence, narcissism, unabashed loudmouthed oversharing, and a constant connection to social media. I am ME and everyone who knows me knows it from every angle. I share my every thought on a whim before realizing what that might mean to the world around me. I’m proving my point right now in this blog that no one will read but that everyone SHOULD read. PAY ATTENTION TO ME BECAUSE I AM IMPORTANT AND EVERYTHING I SAY SHOULD CARRY WEIGHT AND VALUE TO EVERYONE AROUND ME.

This weekend, we were sound-checking at an event I helped to organize. Our technical director was behind the microphones and I was, as always, behind my computer screen in the audience, multi-tasking. He started talking to test the mics and said something along the lines of, “And here’s the lovely Erin Bernhard, who can’t ever pull herself out from behind some electronic device but who always proves herself a worthwhile member of the groups she’s a part of.”

This is a spot-on interpretation of my constant condition. Throughout the course of the night, I found myself checking my various social media accounts to see if anyone had found my posts to be as important as I thought they should be. Comments? Likes? Retweets? Text messages? Emails? Every ten minutes, my phone was back in my hand and lighting up the darkened backstage.

The worst part is, this constant phone-checking has becoming an unconscious habit. I don’t think I consciously care about whether anyone is attempting to contact me, nor do I sincerely care about anything that’s actually happening across the waves of the social media world. But, I can’t seem to keep myself from checking out what’s happening. My phone is always in my hand, ready at a moment’s notice.

I know plenty of people who have this same problem. We share thoughts with each other across the Interwebs and then spend plenty of time checking to see if anyone is paying attention. Half of the time, our thoughts are the same as anyone else’s. We align in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated but are certainly proud to uphold.

Is my self-importance built upon the number of likes, comments, retweets, and text messages I receive? Should my thoughts be so unoriginal that many other people within my social circles find themselves agreeing or thinking the same thing? Is this whole thing seriously just a race to the finishline of status posting, just to see who can claim the thought as their own first, with plenty of others coming up behind them thinking or exclaiming, “YES! My thoughts exactly…” ?

I like creating conversation. I like helping people think about things in new and innovative ways. I don’t like it when someone flat-out agrees with me without engaging in a thoughtful conversation full of variation.

But, am I expecting too much from other people? When I begin or continue a conversation with a cliche, am I just as bad? Do my unoriginal thoughts stem from the fact that I am constantly connected to my entire community?

Slowly but surely, I’m making a conscious effort to truly disconnect. I’ve just (literally, this morning) turned off all pushed notifications on my iPhone, leaving it completely up to me to determine when I see any social media or email activity. I turn my computer off at night and read to fall asleep. I don’t even bring my computer into my room any more, in an attempt to separate work from rest. I try not to turn my computer on over the weekend. I leave my phone in my car during yoga. Maybe soon I’ll start charging my phone outside my bedroom so that it’s not the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I see when I wake up.

But I want more. My next step is “Screenless Sundays,” when I literally turn off my phone and disengage for an entire day. This is a serious hurdle to consider, and one that sounds so appealing and so daunting at the same time. What if people want to get ahold of me? What if I attribute a really awesome cliched metaphor to my life and want to tell the world? I need to make sure people always know I am actually as important as I think I am. Without a constant online presence, am I anything at all?

I think this is a struggle we all face in the digital age. How much is too much? When does a thought we think is innovative get proven unoriginal? We are social creatures, but can we survive without constant contact anymore?

I say yes, and I think we should at least put in a good effort to withdraw sometimes. I think that the idea of constant contact is actually the constant OPTION of contact, and it’s each individual’s prerogative as to how, when, and why they engage. For me, I’ve found an imbalance and I’m working to correct it. Now that I’ve been directly called out on it by someone who isn’t a part of my generation, I find myself all the more willing to prove that I can be a Millinnial who is still appreciative of and in touch with different ways of thinking.

I’ve gotta shake this self-importance thing. I know it’ll happen once I move my phone charger out to my desk. All in all, it’s the little things that really make all the difference, and when I see a problem within myself, I like to fix it.

Here goes nothing! And here’s hoping I can shake the cliches in order to make room for some new, fresh, innovative thought.