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The tension between wanting to be present in life versus plugging into the world is quite the thorny dilemma. Both modes of operation serve to do the same thing: occupy our all-too-limited headspace.

In one extreme, there is the digital hermit, an individual that is for all intents and purposes offline. The only digital connections they make with the world are the ones mandated by law and bureaucracy like having a phone so that the tax department or your colleagues can reach you in an emergency. Otherwise, their digital footprints leave no impression.

The other extreme is the digital champion, an individual that is active on every social platform. Their lives, and their identities are so intertwined with their social media profiles that its upkeep and maintenance becomes a part-time job (or full-time in the case of influencers).

If I knew nothing else about either scenario, suggesting the middle-ground is a fair response. That would have been my response if I hadn’t watched Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. The main argument is that even moderate amounts of social media has an insidious effect on wellbeing. The design and algorithms prey on the psychological quirks we have as humans to maximise our time on these platforms. Unfortunately, the way they do that is by playing on our insecurities and anxiety.

I have been “offline” for the past few months and it has been a blessing. The moment I was most proud of is when I trained myself out of the inclination to open social media when I had a spare moment waiting for a bus or walking from place to place. After getting over the craving of wanting to check the updates of friends, I felt truly present in the world. The only way I allowed my phone to get my attention was if someone texted or called me. I could never go back to using social media as much as I was before.

Having said that, part of me feels a little guilty and selfish for going full digital hermit. Flawed as it may be, social media allowed me to connect with people that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, namely friends and family that live out of town. I remember when I first started an Instagram, it was around 2017, quite late on compared to most of my friends. It was the most amazing thing, I could feel and stay connected with everyone I cared to follow without necessarily going through the script of an instant messaging conversation (which I have a seething hate for to this day).

Perhaps it is not a question of balance, but one of values and the sacrifices we are willing to make. I value the presence I have built in my life deeply, but I know in it’s current form, it is not sustainable from a practical perspective. At the end of the day, it’s probably not something that can be decided on in an instant and rather takes to for experimentation.


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