The asocial side of social media: TED Book author Damon Brown on our “virtual shadows”


TED Blog

Our-Virtual-Shadow-Q&AAre your endless tweets, status updates and Instagrams robbing you of enjoying what’s special about the moments you’re trying to share? Damon Brown fears they may. In the TED Book Our Virtual Shadow: Why We Are Obsessed With Documenting Our Lives Online, he lays out a compelling case for mindfully balancing your online presence with being present in the here and now.

We caught up with Damon to get a better sense of why he feels that social media may have an asocial downside.

You argue that the electronic umbilical cord that connects us to others – Facebook, Twitter, etc — may, in fact, be strangling us. But you also say that this only happens if we let it. How so?  

Technology has always been an issue for us, whether it was a child in the 1950s watching too much TV or a prehistoric caveman playing with a new discovery…

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A big lesson I’ve been learning, especially in the last 6-7 months, is about the quality of friendships.

For most of my life, I’ve looked at my life and considered myself “fulfilled” when I had a LOT of people in my life.  I always looked at the quantity of friends I had, never thinking about the quality of it.   It wasn’t until a season in my life where, literally, my only friend was my sister.  The people I had surrounded myself with had all gone on with their lives, or had found other people to hang out with, so my sister and I (who share lots of mutual friends), were sort of left by the wayside.   Back then it was a hard thing to go through, but now, looking back, I can say that I am glad that it happened.  I don’t think those friends “left” maliciously, it was a part of growing up that we had yet to experience.   Unfortunately, we experienced it all at once, at the same time, and it hit us like a ton of bricks.

After that season of our lives, my sister and I learned to become a lot more meticulous about the people we chose to surround ourselves with.  Although there were people I wish we never encountered, it was necessary for us, because it was just another lesson learned.   But we never prided ourselves on having “LOTS” of friends.  We were just looking for a few GOOD friends.

Now, the lesson I’m learning is, even with a few GOOD friends … are these the people I want to surround myself with?  Are these the people who will be down with me for the long haul?  Do I see myself growing old with them?  Having them over for play dates with our kids or dinner dates?  Are these the people who will come over when something tragic happens?   Are they the ones that will pinch hit for my family and I when we need them?  Are they the ones that will be praying for us and defending us?   I think about that a lot.   Not just what they’ll do for me, but what am I willing to do for THEM?   What makes this harder is that the “friends” I have now are in a completely different season in their lives.  They’re either married, getting married, have kids, pregnant, or dating someone who all of those things will happen with.  I, on the other hand, am not even in the same time zone as those areas of my life.  I feel like I lack anything in common with them now.  I can’t relate to them.  And they can’t relate to me and what I want for myself. So, unfortunately, my questions are going unanswered.

With unanswered questions, comes lots of feeling of being unfulfilled.  I am grateful for the friendships that I’ve made along the way, but a part of me longs for friendships that are challenging, uplifting, and encouraging.  Not that the friends I have weren’t those things — they were — THEN.   But in this exact place in my life, I don’t feel that way anymore.   I find myself asking, every time someone comes into my life, “Is this person adding or subtracting to my life?”   I’ve had too many “friends” who have subtracted from me, too many that I gave my all to, and never reciprocated and I”ve had too many “friends” that never really added anything, even though I convinced myself they did.

So, here I am at 29 and 7 weeks til I’m 30, still looking for my inner circle.

Now taking applications.