I gaze at the screen of my phone and see interesting people in interesting places. The beautiful vistas and situations might as well be department store window displays populated with carefully dressed mannequins, staring back at me from the other side of the glass. This is tragic. I am on the dusty sidewalk—the real world—staring into a simulacrum.
What is the reason behind my voyeurism? Why consume McDonald’s if I can eat real food? Would I rather watch porn than make love to my partner? Would I need religion if God was speaking to me directly?
The device in my hand displays high-definition images of where I’d rather be but my brain is fooled into thinking I’m there. A convenient seduction, just a hand reach away into my pocket. The more I engage through the touchscreen, the more I’m compartmentalised, a once active being, now a fly trapped in digital amber. My nervous system almost satiated, my soul atrophying.
Deep down, we know this stuff is bad for us. Recent research also suggests this. If I charted the amount of time I spent on social media (digital time) versus meaningful activity away from social (adventure time), the graph would look like this:
This is sobering. Hope though resides in what I spend my time looking at. If I was simply gazing at lines of code or robots having sex, I might as well join the transhumanists and await the day we upload ourselves into the cloud. That’s not the case. My heart belongs to the ocean, and content relating to it is what I populate my social media feed with.
What do I really want? I want to spend time freediving in the ocean with like-minded people. Each digital interaction must result in a real-world, shared experience — adventure time. To this end, I promised to myself each post I made, each photo I uploaded, and each message I sent would increase the probability of adventure time.
For the last few months, my personal use of social media has been completely mercenary. I get in and get out, all with the goal of meeting up with other freedivers to go diving. No photos of my breakfast, my children, or sharing news stories that no one wants to read anyway.
It did not take long for my life to take on a richer texture. I met complete strangers who were briefly my dive buddies (and hopefully will be again). Flesh and blood people, I’m bonded to through shared experience. Far more valuable than digital-only friends. Following are some of these memorable encounters, only made possible by leveraging digital time for a greater purpose.
The first and only time I met Michaela, she was wearing a mask. Michaela had swum out to meet a small group of us already in the water. I was a little intimidated. Michaela is well known among underwater photographers for her moody and ethereal portraits of 40-ton humpback whales. I had not yet purchased a ‘real’ camera, one that I could manually set focus and exposure. Instead, I was fluffing around with my little point-and-shoot GoPro camera. Not a ‘serious’ photographic tool to point in the direction of a talented professional.
Michaela wasn’t here to laugh at my inadequate camera, she was here to dive. One breath and she descended to the sandy bottom. When she began her ascent to the surface, I fired off a shot from my ‘toy’ camera and captured the following image. It turned out to be one of my favourite shots, irrespective of the technology. It seems fitting my subject would be another photographer.
Jarrod is a network technology specialist and motorcycle enthusiast. I only discovered these facts after our dives together. When I met him, I sensed a kindred spirit, a busy person trying to balance work and family responsibilities with a longing to spend time beneath the water.
I chose the following image of him to summarise our time in the water. A wide, blue expanse speaks of possibility and potential. Jarrod’s wetsuit is also blue, helping him to blend in or ‘become one’ with the ocean, a condition I aspire to.
Naysan balances studying filmmaking with being a musician. He told me he saw the nature documentary The Blue Planet as a child and it changed the direction of his life forever. What I didn’t tell him… is I envy him. So much talent and promise in one so young. His future is going to be filled with adventure.
Case in point: on our third dive together, the water visibility was little better than pea soup. In search of excitement, we swam out to the breakers. For the next hour, we dodged surfers—some of whom cursed us—and were pounded repeatedly by the crashing surf. Both of us laughed liked drunken maniacs, even when my dive mask was torn from my face.
The weather on the morning of my dive with Jacey was less than ideal. A constant drizzle shadowed by miserable, grey clouds. I’d never met her before and expected her to cancel our appointment. After all, who wants to go to the beach when it’s raining? Not only did she show up to dive with a stranger (me), but she had to catch a bus and a ferry to get to our dive site. To her frustration, she’d left her towel on the bus.
I wanted to tell Jacey her lost towel was a good sign. I’ve found that surrendering comfort or convenience can be a gateway to something memorable. I didn’t get the chance. Instead I offered her this image. Jacey wasn’t crazy about it, but I find it compelling. The lighting reflects the moody weather conditions, but my attention is drawn to her eyes, attentive and curious. The human connection that first occurred from a post on social media.
Our use of social media should lead to a shared experience, sealed with a handshake, an embrace, or an adventure. Anything less, and we might as well be department store mannequins, working for free to keep Facebook, Inc’s stock price aloft.by