Imagine resting your eyes on a stunning beach painting. You can’t look away from the paintbrush strokes that create a warm sunset melting into the crystal ocean horizon. A dog runs along his owner to explore just a bit longer, before the pink clouds shatter into stars above them.
Suddenly, you find an urge to share this portrait with your best friend. Since you can’t give it in its entirety, you hammer it into a hundred pieces and hand her a shard. It’s brushed with just a splash of cloudy pink. She takes it, smiles politely, and then continues with her day. She’ll never know what the entire image looked like – and you’ve just destroyed your painting.
This is exactly what we do when we can’t mentally sign out of social media. Almost all of us are guilty of imagining what that sunset would look like under a different Instagram filter, and subconsciously hoping it’s what at least 20 people will “like.” We concentrate on portraying just a shard of the moment to our followers.
We start to have a meaningful conversation with a friend over coffee, but we stop to take a photo of the whipped cream heart in our latte. We’ll tweet it later. Our mind drifts to what hashtags would best describe that moment. Maybe #touching? Or #bestfriendbonding? Before we know it, the moment’s over.
You travel to the beach with a friend, and she asks you to take a photo of her. Then another. Then, “Wait, sorry, I look weird in that… one more?” Finally the perfect picture happens, followed by the vicious clicking through the camera to decide which one will be her profile picture.
Yet your followers will never be able to taste the decadent spices in that latte, and they’ll never feel that salty sea breeze that tickled your fingertips. They won’t feel how the warm waves lifted you like inflating bubbles on that shell-splattered beach, as your dog chased seagulls in the distance.
And they might not even care, because your shard of artwork is one in a million on their newsfeeds.
In the meantime, we miss that full moment ourselves by trying to portray the impossible. So, I write this with a challenge in mind.
I challenge us to seek sights that don’t need Instagram filters to look better, and to speak words that mean more than hashtags to the people we love. I challenge us to visit somewhere new, whether a small farming town or another country, where people aren’t signed in constantly. When you return, let yourself be alarmed by how little eye contact we make with one another. Let yourself feel sorry for the generations of people after us who may never know what it’s like to enjoy a sunny hike for themselves, rather than for their friends or followers.
Demand a life that requires more than 140 characters to explain.
And, maybe, once we sign out, we’ll have never felt so tuned-in with our world.