Early in my dotcom career, 2002-ish, I remember going down to Orlando, from Cleveland, to spend a week in November with Stephanie. This was largely a theme park endeavor, which was more my thing than hers, and I intended to cover the annual IAAPA show for CoasterBuzz. These were the days when the young web sites could reliably net four figures monthly, and I spent way too much free time working on events and stuff. That was the third year I went to IAAPA, and I realized quickly that my audience really wasn't that into it because, well, it's a trade show. Trade shows are great for relationship building and conducting business, which I was interested in, but the kids on the sites just wanted to know about roller coasters.
Anyway, I blew off the show after a few hours, and we went back to Universal, where we were staying. That week, we did a marathon day through three of the Disney parks, free on a retiree friend of my then grandparents-in-law, a road trip out to Busch Gardens Tampa, locally to SeaWorld, and of course, lots of time at Universal. Man, all that running around doesn't even sound fun to me now when I say it out loud. Steph was a saint for tagging along on that one. Anyway, paint the picture in 2002... there were no smart phones, there was no wi-fi. I did have a cell phone (a Motorola StarTAC, because that's how I rolled), but I remember in cases like that I didn't carry it on me, because why bother.
That was blissful disconnection. My sites were "social media" before it had a name, and operating such a thing was exhausting. I rarely viewed other sites of any interest, because I just didn't have time. However, the surprising thing about it is that these sites connected me with people that I consider good friends, two decades later.
I wouldn't experience disconnection like that again until early 2013, on our first cruise. For three nights, there was no Internet, no social media, no news feeds, just people feeding me and entertaining me, along with my young family and in-laws. Even years later, when you're at sea, there is no connectivity (because Disney isn't gonna give you that for free). I don't have the discipline to just turn things off at other times.
I want to be an informed person, who learns things, is challenged to grow, and contribute to the world. There is no question that the Internet has made this possible. Yes, I've read scientific papers (most recently, about the reduced instances of IBS symptoms in people taking antihistamines). I've really boned up on history, filling in a lot of blanks. I've tried to better understand statistics, especially this year. The Internet is essential for this.
Social media is only as good as the connections it offers, and many of the people that I've met over the years and addresses simply don't use it very much anymore, if at all. There's one guy we used to meet up with every year or two who has essentially disappeared from online use, and that's sad. This is hardly surprising, because the algorithms intended to build engagement have mostly minimized its usefulness. I estimate there are at most 20 people still using Facebook that I go for, and if they split too, I'm not sure how I'll be able to maintain even a passive relationship with them.
The mobile revolution has had some really terrible side effects, and you can see them all of the time. Was it so terrible, in 2002, when we were waiting in line for a theme park ride, to talk to each other? Even strangers from time to time? Now, everyone is always looking down at a screen. I am very deliberate in trying to keep my phone in my pocket in these situations. Although, people watching is pretty boring when everyone is doom scrolling.
Speaking of doom scrolling, when social media is filled with links to news, especially politics, that's exhausting. I know people who run multiple news apps, and look at every notification. (I'm guilty of just one, the NYT, but it only alerts on "breaking news," which averages less than 5 notifications anymore.
But here's the other weird thing I use Facebook and Instagram for... they're my time capsule. I have no fucks to give about the number of likes I get, but it's absolutely useful to me to see what I was up to on this day in 2010.
There's a part of me that just wants to build a social media site for me and a few friends. Get in, post stuff, read only actual friend stuff, and get out, but it might not be useful if no one else uses it. And to handle my time capsule, build it to import Facebook exports (that's more straight forward than you'd think).
Still, the reality is that the Internet makes me feel less connected, not more, but I value that small handful of people around the country that I don't want to lose touch with.