I wonder if we undervalue our offline lives.
On Monday, PC gaming critic TotalBiscuit publicly quit social media, citing health — and frankly, sanity — concerns. He’s had a turbulent history with the medium, deriving joy and, much more often, pain from what he reads and sees. He’s quit various social media outlets repeatedly in the past, only to slowly, inevitably, come back (with the exception of Reddit, which he reads but does not participate in).
I cannot blame him. Even beyond his battle with cancer, I respect his desire for some peace.
And it makes me think, too.
“Mental bandwidth” is a term I occasionally like to throw around. It means the amount of mental energy I can dedicate to everything that happens in my life. Everything. Some parts of my day job, running content for AYB, being “on” at a house party — these are high-bandwidth things. Sitting down for a game of Commander, helping out with the Level 1 Scrubs podcast, the other parts of my day job — relaxing, low-bandwidth things. I have a given budget in a day, and I need to do a mix of low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth things, or it’ll feel like my head is on fire.
I used to count social media as a low-bandwidth thing, but it’s really not. It’s high-bandwidth. Or at least, it raises the lower limit of bandwidth, significantly increasing the minimum amount I spend in a day. There’s a non-zero amount of effort I need to make in order to keep up with the conversations I’m expected to have kept up with — the ones I know people will ask me about later, the videos they linked, the plans they want my input on. Never mind the news and articles I want to seek out and read for my own sake.
It all eats up a healthy chunk of that bandwidth. More than I find I’m liking.
This is not to say social media is strictly bad — making plans efficiently is vital, asynchronous online communication is still a miracle — but let me tell you, as I actively de-screen and look for ways to see people in person, I am finding my mental bandwidth refreshing more quickly, and I am thankful.
I’m not going to quit social media. In part because I need it for my work, and in part because it still has some good uses — automatically populating appointments to my phone calendar, among other things.
But I’m certainly going to look at how I use it, and see if measuring and metering my mental bandwidth in this way improves my life, as TB is hoping it will improve his. (My thoughts go out to him in his fight.)
I encourage you all to do the same. And I look forward to hearing from you about it, when I see you next.
Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor of AllYourBaseOnline.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his opinions are his own.