First class, first semester of grad school: someone asked for general writing advice from our instructor. “Delete your social media,” she said, without missing a beat. “Do you think Mark Zuckerberg wants you to write a book?”
This, articulated in a way I’d never considered.
I didn’t quit social media then. I dug in deeper (who would have thought that I, when presented with an exquisitely designed distraction machine, would be the type of person who has trouble moderating my usage?). Most other instructors swore that without it, you could basically kiss getting published away. So I followed writerly people on Instagram, shared literary articles on Facebook, tried to project myself out into the world as a person whose opinions about these things mattered.
Do you know what I didn’t do? Get anything published.
It’s almost three years later, and her words still ring in my ears more loudly than pretty much anything any other instructor said. I’m finally ready to take her advice.
Doing the work of sobriety means I am now in the business of demon exorcising. If I had it my (overly controlling) way, I would address them one at a time, fan through the Rolodex of Strange Behaviors™ in an orderly fashion, but it seems they like to demand my attention all at once, if the last six months are any indication.
I don’t drink anymore, but do you know what I DO do? I scroll. I can lose entire evenings staring into my phone. I can break every last word to myself, I can ignore that stack of books I say I want to read, I can avoid reality, fill up every last inch of potential space in my brain in service of the scroll.
We all know people who can “take it or leave it” when it comes to alcohol. I also have plenty of friends who are the same when it comes to social media. They can pop in and out once a day, a few times a week, and somehow not get sucked in.
This is not my style (SHOCKER).
First, I tried putting specific parameters around usage. I bought an analog alarm clock and started to leave my phone in the kitchen overnight. I had my roommate change my Facebook password so I can only check in on my desktop, where I have that plugin or extension or whatever the hell it’s called that disappears my newsfeed. I leave my phone behind during long walks with the dog, have to talk myself out of the snap of FOMO I feel every time I see something pretty, or Tater does something cute when I realize that I won’t have a chance to throw on the ‘gram, talk myself down from the quiet terror that I will witness a terrible traffic accident and not be able to call for help. I leave it downstairs when I set out to write. But still. This wasn’t enough. You know how I know? Because these apps TELL YOU how much you are using them. I still regularly blow through my ninety minute daily Instagram limit. My phone even tells me not only how much I’m using it, but how much I touch it.
My daily meditation practice has me reconsidering how and where I am placing my attention. This podcast episode explained certain things about social media and smartphone usage I cannot unlearn or ignore. And of course, there’s my gut, whose messages I no longer run or numb from, that is tap-tap-tapping a tendril of awareness into my brain: you’re doing that thing you do, Dani. If you’re not careful, you’re going to keep missing your whole life.
I’ve spent too much of my life distracting myself from myself. I’m not going to let a handful of (mostly) men from Silicon Valley determine where I spend my time and energy.
So yeah. I’m taking the summer off. I have to check Facebook for a small part of one of my jobs, but I won’t be otherwise posting or interacting there. I will delete Instagram off my phone, ask my roommate to change that password, too, thereby removing any opportunity I might have to cave.
I wasn’t going to announce it. I know every time declares their departure from social media, I think it’s lame. Like, good for you, person. Don’t let the virtual door hit you on the way out. And. When I dig down, I don’t think it’s that simple. We are the guinea pigs, after all. We’re only just beginning to understand the long term effects of all this. So I’m going to spend the summer examining these habits, this constant slicing of attention.
I’m curious to discover what I’ll do with all this reclaimed brainspace. What will I write? What friendships will I deepen? How might this experiment impact, and hopefully improve, my sleep? How will I learn to simply sit and be, waiting in line, on an elevator, at a stoplight? You see, I have shit to do. And I can’t keep not doing it.
I am going to keep writing once (ish) per week on my blog. A humble request: if you like my words, please consider subscribing, so you’ll get my new posts sent directly to your inbox. I would love to connect with you there, especially you far off friends I don’t get to actually hang with in real life.
Brene Brown was the guest on one of Mark Maron’s most recent episodes (HIGHLY recommend) and their meandering, lively conversation ended with Mark asking her how the fuck we move forward in a world so fractured and divided. What do we do? And Brene responded that any change we create will happen face to face. That is where hearts and minds can shift, in connection with another. Not via indignant social media posts. Not in the 24-hour news cycle. Out here. In real life. Human to human. Which reminded me of that overly-shared Rumi quote:
Out beyond ideas of
wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Will you meet me?
(image by artist Jim Tweedy)