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Why you need to disconnect

COMMENTARY Facebook's social mission is "to make the world more open and connected." Google (GOOG) is "focused on improving the ways people connect with information." Twitter "connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting."

Connect, connect, connect.

We've become obsessed with the need to connect. Why? Because it makes us feel important. Unique. Special. Recognized. It's not enough to just be a good person, work for a living, get stuff done, and have some fun once in a while. Now we have to feel important all the time. Look at me. Pay attention to what I think is cool, funny, inspiring.

Me, me, me.

Instant gratification. Constant distraction. That's what 99 percent of all those texts, tweets, likes, posts, updates and shares are all about. But hey, I get that. I'm more than a little neurotic. I feel the urge to check my email, Twitter status and blog metrics all day long. I admit; it's hard to resist.

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Even worse, I used to be a big-shot executive. My calendar was perpetually full with travel and meetings. I was never around and always busy. By comparison, writing and consulting is more Zen-like. It's great, except that when things get a little too quiet, I start to feel a little less relevant. So I get the whole "need to feel important" thing.

But there's so much about social media that I don't get. I don't get why anyone would think that all the endless stuff they post and tweet is important to anyone else. And I don't get how anyone has time to write all that useless garbage. I know nobody has time to read it, that's for sure.

It makes me wonder what everyone is giving up so they have all that time to connect and network. Do you think people are watching less TV? Playing fewer video games? I seriously doubt it. They're certainly not eating and spending less, that's for sure.

It's not as if we all woke up one day and realized we didn't have enough to do that provides us with a sense of gratification. Why the sudden addictive behavior to the point where we can't put our iPhones or iPads down for 10 minutes without feeling disconnected?

The cold hard truth

I've given this way too much thought and, basically, I think it comes down to this:

We're not really important, unique or special. We're all just flesh-and-blood people. We're born, we live, and we die. And what happens after that, nobody knows. So, not only are we more or less insignificant, but we don't even know where we're heading. It's sad, depressing and scary. Nobody likes to feel that way. So we stay busy and try to feel special. But it's just like wearing unique clothes, getting a tat or a piercing, or dying your hair fuchsia. It's all surface. Skin-deep. It's an illusion of significance.

We're acting like children. Children are, by nature, selfish, manipulative, egotistical narcissists. That's because their survival is dependent on their needs being met, on making their parents' lives all about them. But somewhere along the line we learn that the world doesn't actually revolve around us. That's called growing up. When we, as adults, act self-important and seek instant gratification, we're acting like children again.

We're trying to control our environment. When I sit down in my office to write or work on a strategic plan, I feel very much in control. My problems and fears just melt away. It's comforting, like a warm, cozy cocoon. If only life could be like that all the time. No bubbles bursting, financial crises, relationship problems, or health issues. There's nothing like dealing with other people's problems so you don't have to face your own.

Look, this is all starting to feel just a little too preachy, even for me. Let's get real for a second. I grew up with the tech industry. It's in my blood. But one of the reasons I cut a lucrative career short after 23 years is because I was feeling disconnected to what's important in life. My priorities changed. And I'm not about to go back to a life of self-importance and distraction. Not me.

The cure

You know what? I don't want you to fall into that trap either. So, when you feel the tug to tweet, the lure to link, the pull to post, I want you to consider three things:

Your goals and priorities. For example: Does blogging make me feel needed, perhaps important? Yes, of course it does. Actually, I get a real charge out of sharing insights and what I've learned over 30 years in business. It's gratifying to know it helps people. That's why I do it. Also, it's marketing for my consulting business. It's how I meet my goals. It's part of my job. Beyond that, I have no illusions that what I have to say matters.

Your feelings. One of the great ironies in life is that the only real cure for narcissism is to focus on you. Really, it's true. When you're constantly trying to expand your sphere of communication, you're actually trying to get people to pay attention to you. That's narcissistic. The fix is to spend some quality time alone. If you focus on you, you'll come to understand what's going on inside your head and be a little more present.

Embrace the chaos. Life is ugly, messy, chaotic. If you spend too much time trying to comfort yourself and control your environment, you're escaping from the realities of life. Yes, life is scary. If you're not scared some of the time, you're not living. No pain, no gain. No risk, no reward. So throw caution to the wind: disconnect, embrace the chaos, and live a little. You'll be happier and more successful. I guarantee it.

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