I made the mistake of checking Twitter this week (alas, you don’t need a Twitter account to check Twitter). I don’t know what I was thinking, probably a momentary lapse of judgment due to boredom. When you rarely check the news or social media, you can almost physically feel the rush of content grabbing your attention and splintering your brain when you do check in. At least I did.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether social media, news, and other attention grabbers actually harm people who do creative work. It makes as much sense as a chef using her knife to chop wood–it damages your most valuable tool. I recently saw that Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens came to this conclusion too and decided to quit all social media. For me, at least, I need a lot of brain space to work, and disconnecting is the best way to ensure I have that space. I suspect I’m not the only one.
Sometimes you read a blog post that so perfectly encapsulates what’s going on in your head that you have nothing to add or change. Chuck Wendig recently wrote a writing advice post that made me laugh in recognition. For anyone else who’s struggling to create in these, um, interesting times, know that you’re not alone.
As I slowly get back online, I’m carefully choosing which digital tools to put back in my toolbox. A tool that did not make the cut: social media.
I’m glad more people are viewing social media with a skeptical eye. Professor Cal Newport recently wrote a post about digital decluttering, which mirrors my experiences with being choosy about where and how to engage with the outside world. Like the people in Prof. Newport’s experiment, temporarily disconnecting from everything made me more aware of how I spent my energy. Creativity coach Dan Blank encourages us to act with intention, not reaction, and I learned I could only do that when I disconnected. Even a few minutes on social media could kill hours or even days of work because my brain was too busy reacting to the chatter or the current outrage.
Yes, I know there’s plenty of advice out there saying I need to be on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/whatever. I also remember when Amazon tagging parties were a thing and Ello was the next must-join platform. Experience has taught me to be much more aware of how I spend my time and, more importantly, my attention. Other people may have enough brain capacity to create cool things while still being active on social media. I envy them since I’m not one of them, and I’ve finally learned to accept that. It’s challenging enough for me to keep my mind healthy without ingesting mental potato chips.
I’ve had to put up site blockers and reconfigure my phone, which shows how tough it is to resist the pull of the screen. It’s the equivalent of not letting potato chips into my home (yes, I love chips. Mmmmm, chips). I can’t depend on willpower to keep my digital life decluttered–I have to engineer my environment instead. In future blog posts, I’ll share some of the steps I’ve taken. I hope you’ll find them useful.
I used to be braver.
I used to share my thoughts more freely. From a college-wide chat room in the late 80s, AOL in the 90s, blogs and forums in the 00s, and Facebook and Twitter in the 10s, I wrote without second-guessing myself.
I don’t do that anymore.
A few years ago, I dropped off the internet. I deleted Twitter and Facebook, stopped posting on forums, deleted my website, and went dark. There wasn’t any one thing that made me flip the switch. Instead, it was the accumulation of lots of experiences and observations that made me prefer to hide. I turned into a digital agoraphobic.
Not that I didn’t have a reason to feel that way. Many people, not just me, found large swaths of the internet to be inhospitable. Also, all the advice about author branding, best practices, pitfalls, and the “right” way to act online paralyzed me. There is such a thing as knowing too much.
I’m now back online with a new name. The new name helps me feel emotionally safe enough to write at all, especially in today’s environment. I hesitate to say I also have a new outlook because I’m still figuring things out. I still second-guess myself, but I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I’ve done that for too long, in too many contexts.
As Sara Bareilles says, it’s time to let the words fall out and be brave.