Do you remember life before social media? Even though it's a relatively recent cultural addition, chances are you might not, and therein lies its power. According to this infographic, we'll spend more time on social media in our lifetime than we will eating and socializing combined. And while the addicting draw of social platforms can streamline coordination, aid communication, and create endless entertainment, it's good to remember that it takes us completely out of the physical world. In his convicting essay on "distraction sickness" Andrew Sullivan observes "Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter.". For those of us who value creative expression, we've got to find that Goldilocks balance between way too much and not enough in order to respond artistically to the real world, while still living in it, technology and all. In response to this dilemma, we asked writer Angella D'Avignon to go "offline" for three days and chronicle her experience. Can she do it? (Hint: she can, and you can too.)
Studies suggest that reducing one's use of social media and the internet can increase creativity and while I don't doubt this, I've just never tried it. I know that as a full time student, freelancer, and a woman with ADD this manifests in internet rabbit holes, too many tabs, and a completely fried brain at the end of the day. I remember life without the internet having been born in the eighties and I remember life after it, like two parallel dimensions, one involved being outside more and using my hands more and the second was a lot of staring, sitting, and typing.
In "Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life", author Adam Phillips writes that so much of our mental life is focused on what we aren't doing, what we would rather have, and the people and things that are absent. We live between two lives: the one we have and the one we wish we had and I wonder if the images and text we post to social media are a visualization of the space in between those two lives.
Today will be a good start to my social media "cleanse" (I'm remiss to call it that) because it's my day off from school and I have plenty of work to do. It's a snow day in NYC so Twitter will be 50% people talking about the blizzard, making me feel less FOMO, perfect. I have a FaceTime meeting with my friends Dylan and Kim about my April newsletter about space called Moon News and it feels like hanging out. I sneak onto Twitter for one minute to post an Inspector Gadget photo. I totally cheated. I restart the clock for 72 hours. 2pm!
I've only been off social media for about four hours and my head already feel so clear. I'm realizing there's nothing to do on my phone save for texting and news. I'm conducting a bit of research today and I need a reading list that I know for a fact is linked on someone's timeline on Facebook, dangit! FB is my least favorite of all the social media sites out there and I check it once a week and feel guilty for having not "participated" in people's posts but I figure if they need me, they can email me. A quick google search leads me right to the list. That was easy and now I'm not trapped scrolling through Facebook. #blessed.
I'm hoping this break will help me figure out what exactly is driving my google searches and internet browsing - a productive curiosity or fear of missing out?
I feel uncharacteristically focused. I knew social media was sucking up a lot of my time but I never realized what a distraction it was. This has been an especially busy week for me so it's good to have nothing to do but to finish my work. It's inevitably going faster. I'm exhausted though and I'm pretty curious to see what everyone's been up to, or is snapping pictures of. I don't miss Twitter that much. Although I do wonder if Anthony DM'd me.
I'm genuinely surprised at how much I don't miss social media. There are fleeting moments of FOMO but they pass quickly. Without anything distracting me I get work done much quicker. I even read more. It's the mental equivalent of having a clean desk. I can see where everything is, there's no extra clutter to catch my eye and remind me of other things I meant to do. I keep a list of things I want to google later, and by the time I get to it I don't even care to look it up anymore.
It's my friend's birthday and I can't find which bar she is and without social media I can't look up her birthday party invite. I text her but nothing. So I do something out of an episode of Seinfeld: I call the bar's landline. "Honey, there's 150 people in this bar, what would you like me to do?" the bartender says. I laugh. "Yell her name?" How did people find each other before social media? The more I think about it, the more I realize that 90% of the conundrums and hijinks on Seinfeld could have been solved with a cell phone. I eventually find my friend, but looking for her was half the fun.
Having to rely on my own wits was invigorating. A few weeks past, another friend left her iPhone in my car after a night out and getting it back was a feat. After borrowing a phone and texting me for my address, she drove the 20 miles to my place, borrowed another phone from my neighbor to call me (having written down my phone number), and figured out which apartment I was in by reading the last names on my complex's mailboxes.
There's a line from a John Berryman poem that I always return to: "and moreover my mother told me as a boy/(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored/ means you have no / Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no/inner resources, because I am heavy bored." By functioning through a baseline of boredom, I guess I've forgotten that I can entertain myself without looking up a famous rock climber's Instagram (because, why?), fan-reading the entirely of a favorite writer's Twitter feed, or hate-reading the comments section of an art review I disagreed with on Facebook. Life, my friends, is boring (says John Berryman), but the way I spend time is important to me and this little experiment has me feeling clear-headed and released from the clutches of FOMO so I think I'll stay logged off today, and the day after that, and (hopefully) the day after that.
All images by Kevin Russ.