2018: A year to rethink about our digital lives

I have been thinking of quitting Facebook. I’ve deactivated my account years ago, but I had to go back after my friends told me it’s the only way we could stay in touch with a dying friend.

Now, I’m still on Facebook. Been in this social network since 2009, I think. I was among a handful of people who jumped into Facebook when it was opened up to the rest of the world. I left Friendster (a once-popular and now defunct social network) for Facebook — and I remember how my friends reacted: “Why?”

Why even think of quitting Facebook at this point in my life? Everyone is on Facebook: my immediate family, my mom, my brothers, friends from high school and college. Everyone. According to the latest statistics, more than 90% of Internet users in the Philippines are on Facebook. And if we are to believe the Facebook statistics, we spend at least 5 hours of our day, scrolling through our feeds. Facebook has hooked us for life. It’s no longer a social network. It’s your virtual world where you go for entertainment, news (from friends and family), news about strangers and celebrities, information about a certain hobby or interest, etc. Lately, Facebook has been accused of being the main source of so-called “fake news” and misinformation. (I would argue that fake news existed way before Facebook and that propaganda-making and misinformation had existed in other forms. Facebook, however, has accelerated the spread of such misinformation, so that sucks for the world’s biggest social network).

The “millennials” or the people born between 1981 to 2001 are on social networks, 24 by 7. Their lives are lived on these social networks. Moments are captured on Instagram. From the food that they eat, to the places that they’ve been — they are all over social networks. Rants and raves are seen on Twitter. This generation are not just fans of celebs. They virtually stalk them, real-time. They binge on TV shows and movies because they could. I read that streaming services like Netflix are not competing with similar services, but are competing with sleep. In the digital media realm, where Facebook dominates, social network compete for our attention: today’s most precious digital currency.

No time for “breaks”

When I want to take a break, I sleep, read a book, or drink coffee while my mind wanders. My younger colleagues flip through their social media feeds. Or, they play a mobile game alone or with some other colleagues.

I want to find quiet times when I want to think and imagine things. The younger ones are constantly moving and shifting their way into the virtual worlds created by companies like Facebook and Google. Small talks are gone for most. The so-called “water-cooler” effect in offices is gone. The young ones take selfies or Insta-stories of themselves for their friend’s to see (or are they meant for self-entertainment too?)

My definition of a break is laughable for this younger generation. I see this in my kids. They would rather have their screens in front of them instead of conversing with their mom or dad. I try to ban devices or cut off the Internet at night. But it’s useless. They will always find ways to connect and stay connected.

I also read the news when I take breaks, especially in the morning before I head off to work. The younger ones know what’s happening, and they do know the news. But they don’t do deep dives. They can’t stand long-reads. Newspapers and magazines are untouched in coffee shops. However, I see teenagers and young ones buy books in one of my favorite book stores. Perhaps, they don’t want to see the world as I do. Or perhaps, my journalistic instincts are keeping me from breaking the habit of reading the news everyday.

My kids struggle to break from technology. They want their phones to be smart and powerful. They hate the idea of us giving them feature phones. (How can we chat with our classmates? How will I know my assignments given via Messenger? These and other refrains I hear every time from my kids).

Back to the basics

Last week, we’ve read about a major security flaw found in microprocessors powering our computers. The techworld has sounded the alarm, predicting some possible digital meltdown. However, the consumers have remained, at least, calm because, as they say, ignorance may be bliss.

I remember when it was the turn of the century, when the world was entering the year 2000, the techworld once again sounded the alarm, predicting a major digital meltdown because of some stupid limitations in our computing technology.

Eighteen years later, we’re once again in the same situation, but with a big difference: technology is more ubiquitous and pervasive. Powerful and small computers power our lives from smart phones to digital appliances, smart homes, this laptop I’m using, you name it.

Are we f&^%d? I honestly don’t know. But this is what I know: our lives will continue, unabated. We will figure this one out. Why? We have lived our lives without technology…and we survived, and thrived. Yes, there will be inconveniences and some so-called “first-world” problems looming. But we will figure it out somehow. We can always go back to the basics where we can think of solutions, minus technology.

Life without the Internet and smartphones is still a life. It’s livable. It’s possible. And that is something that I hope I can explain to my kids and the younger generation who cannot fathom lives without technology.

We should be taking digital breaks from time to time. We need it to help us reboot and refresh. I promise you this: time slows down when you have more space in your minds where you can wander. Take up hobbies where technology is not a requirement. Paint. Read. Write. Play or learn an instrument. Take walks. Run. Swim. Hike. Bike. Play with your kids. Stroll around the park. Plant. Sleep! There’s so much more we can do if we only decide to take a break from our digital lives.

Try it now! In 3–2–1.

The author is a former journalist who has gone corporate. If not too busy chasing his tail, he teaches undergraduates how they can use technology in a meaningful way. He also wants to go back to swimming and writing.

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Erwin Lemuel Oliva

Erwin Lemuel Oliva

An ex-journalist. Teacher. Dad. Loves Guitar & Books. Writes when inspiration hits.