During the sixties, when Perilous and Sparks were teens and I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye, Timothy Leary coined the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” In his autobiography Flashbacks, he explained the phrase thusly:
Turn on meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment…Tune in meant interact harmoniously with the world around you—externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives...Drop out meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change.
Today, I’d like to offer a slight revision that’s more appropriate to the modern technological era, which is Tune out. While I’m a fan of activating your neural and genetic goods, interacting harmoniously, and developing your self-reliance, being too tuned in today can result in addiction, depression, and loneliness – none of which are conducive to optimal thinking, harmony, or self-reliance.
Apps like Facebook are addictive by design. In other words, they are designed to be addictive. (I know those are the same words, but according to the rules of propaganda, if you see something three times, you’ll believe it, so once more for those in the back: the apps that you find irresistible were designed by developers with the intent of addicting you. Here’s an article with quotes by one such developer saying as much.)
Furthermore, extensive use of social media platforms are strongly correlated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to science. You heard me. Science. The science that brought you medicine, trips to the moon, and yes, addictive technology. (What can I say? We live in complex times. Here’s a link to a scientific study on the subject.)
About a month ago, I followed the example of Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein and blocked Facebook from my computer and my phone. I can still get to it, of course. I’m a clever monkey. But it’s more difficult now. I have to think about whether I want to be on the platform rather than mindlessly heeding its seductive siren call.
At first, I had to make daily lists of things to take the place of the habit. I kept a stack of books close at hand for those moments when I needed an instant distraction. I kept my journal and pen near. I supplied myself with scraps of paper for doodling. I even made time for *gasp* Algebra!
Over time, I’ve learned to enjoy the quiet and the boredom. So much so that I’ve extended my limited access to other mass media, restricting myself to small doses of the news and television and even my perennial favorite Instagram.
My days of tuning out have been an enlightenment. I’ve spent more time reading and writing, making art and talking with my son. I’ve not felt overwhelmed by hopelessness and despair or anxious about what someone might think about this or that thought I shared. It’s been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.
I still pop in to those platforms because they are an integral part of our society. To completely disengage would be to ostracize myself from friends, loved ones, and a large swath of modern human experience. But I do so with caution and a critical mind, remembering that they were designed to be addictive, which is about as nefarious as anything I can imagine and reason enough to be trepidatious.