It's been just a week since I deleted all my social media accounts and, barring the first few days when my fingers would automatically type fa... on the browser only to quickly close the browser when auto-suggest would bring forth facebook.com, I haven't had the urge at all to go back on social media.
That's because I've known for the longest time that what I was looking for was not to be found in social media ... because even after all these years of browsing and posting and commenting, I had not found it. And frankly, I didn't even know what it was, whatever I had been looking for.
why I believed I needed to be on social media: FOMO at play
I would have quit long back but every time I told myself that I had stay because of the several indie writers' groups I was part of on FB. I worried that if I wasn't connected or clued in, I'd miss out on some important development in the industry, something that would directly impact my writing and publishing work.
But that was FOMO all the way, because the truth was that I had long stopped following the conversations in those groups. In fact, I had snoozed/unfollowed several of these groups simply to keep their often repetitive, mostly angst-filled posts from showing up on my feed.
A simple assessment further revealed to me that I don't, in fact, rely on my FB feed to stay in the know when it comes to publishing-related matters.
(In fact, FB's algorithms kept insisting for the longest time that reels of men getting a shave and a haircut are what interested me the most!)
All that I need to know about writing and publishing comes from exactly 3 newsletters that I subscribe to; two are weekly, and the third is less frequent, but all are from industry experts who walk the talk, and these are enough to keep me well-informed.
I take the time to read these ones carefully, and that is enough for me to know what I need to know pertaining to the industry as it applies to me in the short-term.
For instance, I'd like to stay updated on how AI is changing the industry, dabble in some of these tools myself, find out what works for me and what doesn't, instead of getting caught up in the pro-AI versus anti-AI debates that have been raging everywhere off late.
Another example is that I don't need to know what kind of promotion strategies authors with 20 or 30+ books in their backlist adopt because I'm not there yet, and by the time I build up those many books in my arsenal, the market and those tactics would have changed drastically anyway.
What works today would have most certainly become obsolete in 5, 10 years from now. I can cross that bridge when I get to it.
Instead, for the time being my focus is simply on writing and publishing and so, to me, everything else that I thought was of great importance and immediacy is not really deserving of the kind and amount of attention it seems to demand from me.
why I really was on social media: a salve for loneliness
It wasn't until after I had deleted my social media accounts and had spent a few days completely abstaining from these platforms that I could see for myself what I had been seeking in that non-stop flow of images and videos and boxes of text on the screen: an absolute salve for my loneliness.
And the reason I realized this was because I broke down often this past week.
I missed India with a painful pang. I thought of estranged family members and realized that as we grow up we can, and do indeed, grow apart from the people we love. It hit me hard how tenuous all this is – life, love, work, relationships.
I looked at all the friendships I have; most in my current reality seem to have arisen out of a mutual need (children in the same school!) rather than a desire to know and love the other person for who they are (H, M and S, you come to mind and I am so very grateful for our friendships that began long before I became a parent).
It took KrA's wisdom for me to see what I was doing. He said, "Just because D is friends with X doesn't mean you have to become friends with X's mom too."
It was then that I understood the difference between friendliness and friendship. Being friendly is not the same as being a friend.
Which is why stories of great friendship and true love, of bravery and courage in the face of all odds, of fierce loyalty and steadfastness in difficult times, have the power to touch our hearts and move our souls.
Which is why I read too many books and watch too many Bollywood/Indian movies and, when I'm not mindful, commit the folly of seeking and expecting and demanding those ideals of myself and others in the real world and almost always end up disappointed, both in people and in my desperate need to be seen and accepted, to love and to belong.
But the inescapable truth is this: Everything, and I really mean, every person or being or object, that is external to us, is incapable of filling the void within.
For a long time, I defined 'everything external' in a way that excluded KrA and D, sometimes even some of my close friends, but I've finally had to accept that they too are their own individual selves, and the fact that we live under the same roof or share great moments of friendship doesn't render them as solutions to my loneliness.
At first, this sounded depressing. But the very next instant, it felt extremely liberating.
For a while, I had been so enmeshed in my personal relationships – both the ones I have and the ones I've lost – that I had quite forgotten what it was like to truly turn inwards.
There is no one like clinical psychologist, Dr. Shefali, who calls out cultural BS the way it is.
We never truly make friends with ourselves. We never know what it means to sit in solitude, to sit under a tree in quiet, to be on our own on a beach or on a vacation or at dinner. We look at being alone as if there is something wrong with us.
We are living in a culture that doesn't encourage us to spend time with ourselves. In fact, we are encouraged to always be with other people or other things or distracted, but in truth, if we are at home with ourselves, if we truly feel as if we are our most valuable companion, then we will never feel lonely, you see, because we are with ourselves.
It's because we don't believe that we are ourselves a worthy companion, we are not fascinated with ourselves, we don't believe that a conversation with ourselves is important that we keep looking for others on the outside to fill this void.
... the feeling of loneliness really arises from a feeling of not being at home with the self. But what if this were to change? What if you began to look at yourself as the most prized treasure and possession ever, that you look forward to your company every evening, that you desired your own solitude, your own thoughts, your own talk, your own conversation?
~ Dr. Shefali
By this measure, which happens to be the only measure that matters to me, the 'loneliness' I have gained by quitting social media has truly been one of the greatest gifts I've ever given myself.