Video, audio, and text form to follow:
Jazz made me somebody. I was in the 7th grade, unathletic, short, awkward, you know the story right? I wasn’t noticeably good at anything but deeply desired attention. I opted for a class clown persona, loud-mouthing and doing obnoxious stunts (like freezing a photo of my face on the projector and hiding the remote… haha that one was pretty funny).
We live in a society where “pretty good” and “above average” just don’t cut it. Because we all think we’re above average. If you’re not the superlative, you’re unremarkable.
At this point, I was maybe smart, a bit funny, but unremarkable still. Even musically, I never made the top chairs as a classical musician; I was just pretty good. Then I found jazz and all of a sudden, I was the best. I was named the best high school jazz saxophonist in the state of Texas my Freshman year. I couldn’t even coherently play through a Bb blues or identify what key Autumn Leaves was in, yet by some freak judgement (and a very low bar), I was now remarkable.
That was the moment. No, not that moment! The moment I found out… that was just an excited yell to my parents. Rather it was the moment I posted it.
This was the most attention (likes, comments, mentions in school) I’d probably gotten at any point in my life up to that day. Every dopamine receptor in my ~15 year old brain was screaming for me to do more things like that! Correspondingly, I became obsessive. I was making videos of my licks, entering competitions left and right, and posting photos from every gig, and each time I did, the internet rewarded me. Before long, I had gathered one of the biggest social media presences of any person at my school, each video would bring applause, each competition win would bring respect, and photos of me playing in cool places brought me some of the first female attention I ever got. I told myself that I loved the music, others told me that I was born to play jazz, but in truth, I was addicted to being the jazz guy. Known for something, a topic of conversation… in a word: remarkable.
Some of you may be confused, what’s the issue? I got some popularity what’s the problem?
The problem has been made extremely apparent to me in recent years.
I was attracted to jazz for all the wrong reasons. I played everyday not out of an intrinsic joy and love for saxophone playing, but for the attention and respect I would get from it. Now here’s the kicker, take away the attention and respect and you’re left with a recipe for a real mental crisis.
I almost titled this post “Why Quitting Social Media Made me Depressed” but I didn’t want to give false prescriptions. But here’s why:
My social media rise continued into college, my audience from high school stayed and enjoyed beaming at cool things I was now doing as a “NYC Jazz Musician” and all was well. However, I started noticing some very disturbing issues (If you have any of these, you may have suffered similar miswirings):
1. I was constantly checking my socials. The “pull down to refresh” might as well have been an orgasm button. Each pull, I saw a red bubble with a like, comment, or other dopamine packed goodie.
2. The reach of my posts was affecting my self-worth. If my posts were doing well, I was on top of the world. If something didn’t get the likes I had hoped for, I was questioning all the things I was doing wrong and comparing myself to all the people who looked like they were doing better.
3. As my pond grew, so did the fish. I wasn’t just comparing myself to high schoolers anymore, here I was comparing myself to the most popular musicians in NYC and the world.
It became very apparent to me that my attachment to social media was unhealthy. I tried deleting the phone app, a social media detox, and just found myself continually coming back and looking for likes.
So the summer after Sophomore year of college, I deleted my social media. All of it. My Instagram with several thousand followers, Facebook with thousands of “friends”…
I thought it would be a big event. I had built up this self-importance that my followers really wanted to hear from me and expected texts and calls wondering what the hell happened. But this self-importance was just an illusion. In reality, nobody cared, nobody even noticed.
About a month later, I moved to Amsterdam to study abroad. I went with no friends and arrived in the country with the realization that not a single person in this entire nation (except for I guess the registration staff of the school I was supposed to attend) had any idea I even existed. This event, combined with the fresh wound of deleting all my social, gave me this crushing realization: I could disappear and no one would even notice for weeks… This was not me being an emo teenager, but an objective reality. I had spent years thinking the world thought I was something special and now realized it was all a façade. All the likes, comments, and emojis were nothing.
The first month in Amsterdam was real rough. I had no friends. My US friends couldn’t reach me because my phone number didn’t work and my social media was gone. I stayed alone in a studio apartment with my only human interaction being trips to the store and phone calls with my parents. I started school at a foreign institution where I knew no one. Musically, I stopped practicing altogether. The earlier realization that I got into music more for social validation cues than the joy of the practice itself was really hitting hard. I had no motivation to practice because I had no one to show off to…
Fortunately, this turned around rather quickly. I developed real and true friendships that gave me more joy than an internet audience of any size could. I even had the guts to talk to a girl I met at a nearby grocery store and remain friends with her to this day. Things I would never have done when I was glued to my phone. With the additional time I had from no more social media, I read inspiring books, made my first music videos, explored photography, developed a daily exercise habit, and started this very blog you’re now reading.
I’m not writing this because I think everyone should know my story, but because I know these problems ravaged the minds of my entire generation and continue to do so to today’s youth. I recently learned that the highest paid YouTuber in the world is a nine-year-old who rakes in nearly $30 million a year. Today, countless 13 year old girls are pressured to dress and look like they’re 21. All of this, in the pursuit of appearing remarkable. To look like the superlative.
Now, there certainly are exceptionally remarkable people that deserve every follower they have. But why are we giving this rat race to kids? To be clear, I do not support erasing social media from the planet. Most recently it gave us the incredible middle-finger to Wall Street that was the GME Short Squeeze, it raises billions for non-profits and charitable work, and has made learning and free education accessible to even some of the poorest in the globe. However, social media is truly not for kids. In such a formative time, with crazy social validation needs, brain development, and hormonal activity, it’s no wonder why teenage depression is up around 60% since the rise of social and suicide is now responsible for nearly a quarter of teenage death.
I’m now heavily back on social media. For my career goals, it seems to be an indispensable tool to spread messages like the one you’re reading now. I’ve put up major walls for myself. Biggest of all is that I no longer own a smartphone. I’ve been a proud flip phone user since March of last year. Social media is all done on my browser on my computer or at home on my iPad for Instagram. Of course, all notifications are off. Trust me when I say, I’m not cured. I constantly battle demons of social validation and self worth and still struggle to maintain a regular music practice that won’t get posted anywhere. That’s where I’m at now, this story is to be continued…