I don’t use social media much outside of work.
And while it sometimes might make those of us who shun social media feel like a bit of an outcast—as if by not posting, we lack the talent to create something beautiful or inspirational—we also probably don’t feel the same level of pressure to make our lives appear just as great as someone else’s, with their perfectly lit and filtered photos.
So when I watched a video about quitting social media from Derek Muller, creator of Veritasium on YouTube, I didn’t think it would inspire me all that much. But the truth is, even though I am not tempted to share my entire world with hundreds of people, I still consume social media and am subject to its influence.
And on top of that, I do take photos on occasion. I see a beautiful sunset, and I scramble to grab the camera. My dog does something hilarious, and I whip out my phone.
And as Muller talks about this concept in his video, he’s outside with a gorgeous view of a city in the backdrop—and I think about what I’d do if I were standing in that very same spot.
Would I stand there, and breathe, and take it all in, and watch the sun go down? Would I appreciate the tiny dots of light—streetlights blinking on against the pink-purple-blue hues of dusk? Would I pause to feel the crisp air against my cheeks, to smell the outside—the dust, the trees, the scent of the air when it’s not choked with city pollution—and witness, alone, the day’s transition?
The moment I felt fully confronted by this notion, I realized how much of our lives we really are wasting on a future self who will never really care.
Muller forces us to take a magnifying glass to how we spend our moments when he said this:
“Years ago this economist Daniel Kahneman talked about the ‘tyranny of the remembering self.’ He was basically saying that the way we think of our lives is by thinking back on it, by remembering what’s happened to us. And so when we go on holidays, we often have to take that picture or get that sunset and stuff—this was in the days before social media.
And Kahneman’s point was later on, you’re almost never going to look at those pictures again, and yet you spend so much of your time—when you’re on vacation and could be enjoying yourself—thinking ahead and doing work for this self that will exist in the future, even if that future self is never really going to use the materials that you’ve just spent a lot of time creating for them.
And now I feel like there’s a worse tyranny: the tyranny of social media, where, at all times, a lot of us have to be thinking about what makes a good picture, what makes a good video, and maybe stopping the real life spontaneity in order to set up the things that we ‘Gram for.”
I thought about what it was like in years past, without the internet and cell phones. How, as a child, I would have time to mess around outside in my neighborhood. How I could spend an entire afternoon in front of a sunny window consuming a tattered Sweet Valley High novel from the library—and it felt like only minutes had passed.
Muller’s quote hit me hard enough that I’m inspired to pause and enjoy the moments, without the need to document them.
We need to ask ourselves: what are we going to do for today’s self? When are we going to stop doing so much work for our future selves, who never end up appreciating much of it anyway, and for others, who can only offer brief dopamine hits with the like button? Is that really a good trade-off?
When are we going to start living our lives in the present moment?