Who Are You, Offline?

In the age of social media, the mega display, and the tech boom, we quickly forget that some things are better left to happen privately. Not everything needs displaying on a virtual platform. 

Who are you, offline? 

Necessitated by a need to be connected with others for work and to remain social, the pandemic increased, and our time online. Researchers are concerned about the impact on myopic behaviors and childhood development. Defined as short-sightedness, myopic is used in this context in a physical sense. Too much time in front of screens can affect eyesight. Could so much time online also shortcircuit our social and psychological behaviors? Is this something we need to step back from to look at more broadly? 

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The social aspect of technology can certainly be supportive in an increasingly isolated world. We find answers to our never-ending questions, reconnect to old friends and start groups that meet a unique niche. But overuse of social media indulges and conflates our desires for connection with our cravings for self-worth. And we fall into comparison traps. Sometimes, we behave more in ways online that we never would in person, throwing nasty and harmful comments to one another. When we’re more connected than ever, don’t we seem more divided?

There are endless subtle messages about how we’re supposed to be and behave, and this can become exacerbated when we live in a predominately online world. How much time do you spend disconnecting on purpose these days? Off-the-grid, without wi-fi, TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram. Here we can tune down the volume on the others: other people, the media, the rants, the noise. Without all the chatter, we can get quiet. Then we can finally hear something meaningful inside us. But it’s hard to disconnect when it feels like everything happens through our devices. 

In some ways, we make ourselves more vulnerable online. Someone can hack into our accounts. Young minds can become susceptible to distortions: hacked in ways of viewing themselves and others. 

Quickly, we get caught in a race of always trying to “get” something from others: more likes, more followers, more watches, more views, more shares, more stuff. Some of us might watch from the sidelines, never sharing ourselves, enveloped in envy and comparison.

We forget who we are when we’re constantly trying to be connected. In seeking validation from others, we give over control about who we are. We’ve lost power in our attempts to control something by what we choose to portray on our online platforms. We start to believe that life only is if it’s captured online. Hashtagged, followed, or retweeted becomes our sense of self. Lost in virtual reality, we start to care more about our image than our inner world. Everything becomes self-promotion.

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Societies expectations of us are often rigid, narrow, and confining; algorithms conflate them. People don’t see us how we are, though, and the media and our online presence can distort ourselves and other views. We see others how we assume they are. Socially, we all get lumped into boxes based on our cultures, races, genders, and various identities. These boxes are prescriptions and scripts for behaving and what we’re supposed to do in the world. But none of those categories ever mattered, and we got ourselves in trouble when we adopted those beliefs for ourselves. 

We can hardly undo all the subtle subconscious internalizing our culture has programmed into us. Often we don’t pause to question these behaviors or cravings ourselves. It takes undoing when we decide to step away from online life consciously. Something forces us, often at midlife or after a crisis, to reconfigure what we’re after while we’re alive. Away from the noise, we start removing the assumed “shoulds” about what your life should look like, who you should be, how you should act, and how you should feel. Those pesky shoulds will set your authenticity on fire. What are we projecting out into the world? Were they even our ‘shoulds,’ or did we inherit them?! 

Intimacy with ourselves and others is lost when we focus solely on the social aspects and feedback about our online personas. Our real lives are in the private moments at the end of the day when no one is looking, and there’s nothing to prove, gain or get.  

Who do you want to be while you are here? 
Are you living that way now, and if not, what is stopping you?
What are you choosing?

Offline, behind the scenes, when the door finally closes, you can stop trying. You can finally feel into the quietness with raw honesty. Placing your sense of self in the validation of another like social media is a setup: when others’ opinion of you matters more than your relationship with yourself, you’ve already lost. It’s when we set down the need to please others or outsource our validation that we finally let ourselves relax.

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Consistently finding areas that allow a softening, you can begin to let your life be what it will be—allowing yourself to emerge as you are without trying to capture or publicize it. 

Life only affords us 4,000 weeks. How do you want to spend it? 

I have not met a person who said they wished they had spent more time caring about others’ perceptions of them. (Let me know if you have.) Our elders would remind us that it never mattered anyway what the people around us thought. In the end, what will matter to you? Were you true to yourself?

Our difficulties quieting down and disconnecting leave us little room, to be honest with ourselves. In an engaged, authentic, and purposeful way, what if you made more room was to focus inward? Let yourself unplug. Turn the phone off; Put the device down. Talk to the trees (they’re good listeners.) Ask yourself better questions. What it’s all this for?

It’s all a process, this life offline. What happens offline in those minor, quiet, sometimes painful moments that no one else sees? The intimacy. That’s where we finally meet ourselves. You only have to figure out how to live with yourself, as you are and as things are right now. In the end, our relationship with our authentic ourselves is the one that matters most- not what is portrayed on some pages for others to like.  

When we care more about our image than our inner world, we outsource and ask for something from others that no one can ever give us. It’s a losing battle, one we lost long ago. We didn’t get the love or validation we needed from somewhere early on, so we made all sorts of systems to try and create a false version of it.

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We stay small when we stay comfortable with the people we are right now, glued to devices and frightened to step away. We can’t get honest with ourselves when we’re crowded with all the noise of technology, tweets, and news. Behind the scenes, off the screens, we are invited to meet ourselves. Offline, when no one else is looking, we can purposefully create authentic relationships. You can finally look at yourself in the mirror. Not needing to perform, promote or inflate in any way: the place of inner peace. Whatever the mess, whatever the suffering, whatever the feelings, whatever the joy: Be with it; it’s changing as we go. And it’s alright. 

Maybe there is a new life coming, one that you’ve been constructing behind the scenes, under the pain. How do you birth something new from inside you when you don’t know which way to go? What happens when you feel all that grief? 
Define yourself, for yourself. Become more of who you are. That’s how you set yourself free. 

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