DISCLAIMER – This is not lifestyle advice, just an honest account. I won’t tell others how to live their lives.
Blaise Pascal once wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I’ll get back to this quote at the end, but keep it in mind.
Along with deleting my Facebook, Instagram, Deviantart (I used to draw), Reddit, and all other social media, I’ve gone a step further and deleted all other news apps and accounts — Medium app, Inshorts, Wikipedia among others. That is, I’ve sworn off all news websites, reading the newspaper (I was one of those teenagers who read the newspaper everyday) and any other source of information that I did not actively search for. The only exceptions are e-mail and Whatsapp (and YWS of course), but the reason is that a simple cost-benefit analysis told me deleting those would be detrimental.
If I could summarize the answer to the title of this article in a few words, I would. But there are a lot of reasons, each helping with the decision to quit. Here they are —
1.I am dumb as hell —
This was the hardest to accept. An F in an exam in my second year of undergrad studies led me to introspect on what went wrong and where. (For someone who scored comfortably above 90% marks all throughout school and thought he would never fail at academics, that was a nice mental version of a sucker punch from Rocky). So I unpeeled the layers of lies that had been fed to me, either by myself or the world around me — I reconstructed the slippery slope up to where I started sliding. This was tough, because there was no place to hide, not even in my head, and about the age of 11 was where I stopped. That was when I had made my Facebook account.
Here is one example of how out of hands things were already getting back then. I skipped my grandma’s funeral to harvest my Farmville crops in time. I went to the town where she had died hundreds of kilometres away, and went back home on realizing there was no internet there. She and I had been close too, she had taken amazing care of me and my sisters at a time when my mother was struggling with many other problems I did not care about, so that was a significantly terrible thing to do even as a child. And then, like the dumb kid I was (and still am), I stayed on Facebook for eight more years. I let it give me instant gratification and escape for up to 8 hours a day, and a healthy amount of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
I got hooked onto the dopamine hits from getting 70 FB notifications a day, of sad stories I could sympathise with, bad people I could demonize, and puppies I could call kawaii, Pepes I could steal and repost, and weirdos I could validate with my own and feel validated in turn.
2. I am very dumb—
I thought I could do it all. Have a healthy general awareness, loads of hobbies, and keep a good GPA in a tough CS degree while increasing technical acumen (thankfully my awkwardness kept me from adding romantic interests to that list, I wasn’t that dumb.) The last few years of my life told me that that experiment was a no-go.
Here’s where news and social media come in. I used to read a lot even as a kid, from magazines to newspapers to books, I devoured all except my textbooks. I started consuming a lot of political content as my own freedom and lack of direction increased. Initially via memes, and then videos, blogs and articles, I went down the rabbit hole. All that content was part of a vicious feedback loop on social media that sucked me in, and wasted whole days — I couldn’t just read the news for 15 minutes and be done. I had to share it, add my opinion, point out flaws, reply to comments and feed into the mental image of who everyone thought I was. And I felt worse at the end of it. I didn’t persevere with any of the constructive things that were a part of me. I didn’t do any significant amount of what Cal Newport calls deep work (highly recommended reading). I had instead destroyed my attention span, reducing it from three hours to about 15 minutes.
I had this privileged life, and I was wasting opportunities that not a lot of people in my country get. I was so disgusted with my state of affairs that I remember saying to a concerned and intelligent friend, “So what if a brutal murder and rape happened a few miles away? It didn’t happen to me or anyone I cared about. I cannot do anything significant about it. I would only end up worse with no one else helped.”
So when I got the F, I pressed F to pay respect to all my social media and news accounts, and removed them. Consequently, when I appeared for the exam the second time 2 months after I failed, I scored higher than anyone in my year though I hadn’t spent a lot of time studying. I just did it with a bit more time and focus.
I agree that this disconnection with the news might often leave me clueless. So what if my ignorance is revealed when I don’t know someone famous or important? I don’t need to play that part.
3. I am kind of stupid —
I do not truly know of the things I talk about, and that is wrong on a deeper level than keeping up appearances. It is different from the first reason because that was about how social media heightened my low EQ and sociopathic tendencies, whereas this one is simply a lack of understanding of the subtlety of intellectual discussion. I was told I was smart and had a good awareness of a wide range of topics, which turned out to be a lie. The superficial understanding these media give, was dangerous because I wasn’t stretching and straining my brain-muscles, just attaining shallow understanding on all manner of things.
I’ll take the example of a recent phenomenon — Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. I instantly became a fan when I first came across him online as he seemed to say all the right things. The one intellectual with spine, I called him. Then, as a flood of opinion pieces and liberal friends (all of them online, of course) pointed out flaws, I took a balanced position. He says some right things of course; he’s a smart man and an academic. But when confronted, he tries to get out by a lot of meaningless talk, hiding his true motives whatever they may be. This seemed to make sense. But then I re-watched a video clip of him answering a linguist, one in which I had initially dismissed him as trying to dance around the actual question. But this time, I had read a tiny book called Very short Introduction to Objectivity, and I was shocked. What I’d taken to be a word-salad excuse was actually a reply trying to clarify the differences between judgement, and the truth. This time I had a tiny inkling of the impossible complexity of these ideas that philosophers had debated throughout the centuries. They could not be given a clear/concise answer to unless the question elaborated what it asked for, and left no other possible answers open. Peterson still had his flaws, but my own flaws had been revealed to me, by myself.
I simply could not keep inhaling all this information, all these words and images, when I was so obviously out of my depth. And that applied to the whole of my online presence, and large chunks of my real life. So I decided to gain real understanding, one at a time.
If you have read this far, I assume you found some part interesting, so I suggest an experiment for you, inspired from Pascal’s quote. Think of any of the hard-but-rewarding things you want to do, and how much focused time would be required to have some significant progress (like reaching a checkpoint in a video game). When you’re relaxed and fresh, try to do that small amount of outlined work in a single go. If you do it in the time you thought you would, while not being distracted by your phone or others, then congratulations, you have the amount of focus required to do the hard-but-good things in the smallest manageable chunks. If you could not, then you realize that you could not do even the smallest part of what you thought you would have to do, at your current capacity (or your current player level, if you will). And that will be your cue to gain more XP and level up, before reality kicks in and makes you.
Have a chilled out day, because that’s just like, my opinion, man.