There’s something in us that yearns to be recognized and valued. Even the humblest among us feels at least in some degree the need to be needed. Despite what many of us have been told in our lives about being a unique snowflake with value beyond compare and you are the center of your life’s drama, this isn’t entirely true. I’m not here to say that nobody matters. Everyone has value, and everyone needs to be viewed as important. We are individuals with highly distinguishing features and frailties that make us who we are. They define us and help us understand ourselves and others. Nobody can and should dispute or disregard anyone’s personal value. I’m also not here to preach that “you are one insignificant grain of sand on a beach, and no one will ever care about you and you matter less than you think.” While there is some truth to that statement (there are currently seven-billion+ people currently living on the earth, mind you), we sometimes don’t feel valued and that’s okay.
Recently, I’ve taken the steps to establish more of a web presence on online communities like Twitter, Instagram, and even Reddit. I’ve used these platforms to find and connect with people like me: the nerdy, book types who write about literature. However, I’ve mainly been using these platforms to promote and share my analytical and creative writing as well as a podcast I do with a friend of mine. As good as I think I am at writing or putting together a podcast, the content I’m producing usually falls on blind eyes and deaf ears. Also, I’m not using this as a way to throw blame or shame at people who don’t like my stuff. You can like or not like what you want. I can’t force you to do anything.
I’m using this to set the stage for something else, so don’t feel like I’m trying to coerce you into following me on Instagram, Twitter, or giving me those sweet karma points on Reddit. I’ve realized that the number of followers I have or the amount of likes I accrue doesn’t and shouldn’t be a deciding factor in my worth as an individual or as a creator. It’s honestly my dorky intellectual habits and pursuits are in part what define me.
I learned this lesson recently when I accidentally left my phone at my apartment when my wife and I went to one of her photo shoots. We left around 11:30 am. The location was about an hour and a half drive from our apartment, so we had some time to talk about our week and how things were going. One of the things we talked about was what we were going to do about replacing a tire on my car. A few days earlier, I had driven home from work and run over a bent metal plate that had fallen off of a truck in front of me. The metal punctured my front left tire, but I didn’t know that the tire was flat until two days after the incident. I wanted to know how much a tire would cost to replace. I reached into my pocket to check my phone, and as fate would have it, my phone was not in my pocket. I asked my wife what time we would be home, and she said that we wouldn’t be home until around 10 or 10:30 pm. Dread sunk in. I was off the grid. I had unintentionally gone rogue. To make things more intense, my watch had recently stopped ticking. I was phoneless, without any concept of time except for looking at the shadows being cast by vertical objects, and kind of without any way of knowing how much tires cost. In the same instant, I thought, “I’ll probably get text messages that I need to answer, calls, notifications on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. How am I going to respond?”
Luckily, I had something to read while my wife was working her magic, and we were able to spend unadulterated time together between the wedding and the reception. We went to Ramen Haus in Odgen, Utah, chilled out at a library, and ended up eating sandwiches from Walmart at around 9:00 on our way back. We got to talk to each other, listen to each other, and just spend time. It was refreshing, but even toward the end of the evening, I still had the thought of “what have I missed? Did anyone miss me?”
To my surprise, the only notifications I received the entire day were from my news app. Nothing. Silence. My mother had called earlier in the day three times, but after no success in reaching me, she called my wife. Even then, I was not asked about and my wife was able to answer my mother’s questions. I was off the grid and nobody noticed. For about five seconds I felt like my attempts at establishing a web presence were a waste and that no one would ever like anything I posted ever. I felt like no one cared that I was gone. After those five seconds, I thought back on my day: the ride up to Ogden, the reading, and most importantly the conversations I had with my wife and the time I got to spend with her. In that moment, the notifications faded, and I was reminded that my personal value doesn’t come from the likes I receive or the followers I amass on social media. I didn’t matter that much online that day, but on the ride home, my wife thanked me for coming with her and told me that she appreciated that I took the time to come with her and just be there. What started as an accident, ended in a nine-hour step back off the grid from what I thought mattered. I saw more clearly that evening that what really mattered wasn’t my interaction on the web with complete strangers, but my interaction with the woman I love. I realized that even if all my followers unfollowed me or stopped liking my posts, I would still have her.
So, if you feel like you don’t matter or that your presence online is defining you, take a second and step off the grid. It will give you the perspective you need to understand that even if you don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of social media, you can define yourself and understand your value. Unplug, step away for a while, and try your hand at off-gridding. You never know if someone close to you needs you to just be there with them.