Escaping the social media bubble
I’m at the end of a voluntary (and now I’m thinking I totally could have done something extra with it like got people to sponsor me in a whole Sober October kind of way) Facebook break. I decided on an arbitrary amount of time that I thought would be enough to give me more insight into my Facebook habits and also help break some of them. So it was for ‘at least two weeks’ and it’s done now.
How has it been? Remarkably similar to giving up any other substance you’re addicted to, to be honest (or, indeed, like a detox and this kind of break has been described as a digital detox). The first couple of days I was quite jumpy and reaching for my phone or opening up Edge on my desktop, almost certainly with the subconscious intent of hitting Facebook. And now, almost two weeks in, I’m finding I miss the habit of it (just like I missed the habit of smoking for a few weeks after the nicotine had left my body) more than the actuality of it.
Mostly, the habit that is still niggling, is the having a moment to wait for something – a pause in work, a kettle to boil, the school bell to ring… I’m doing it less, but I am still automatically reaching for my phone (or the browser icon on the computer) quite a bit. That seems to be one of the things that smartphones and social media has brought – a need to fill every moment with something, and the fear that not doing so will somehow make us inefficient or unproductive or whatever. But I think those empty moments are really important for mental health and maybe even physical health (no, I don’t have facts and statistics to back this up, this is just me mulling over my personal experiences). At first, I started just replacing Facebook with something else digital and online (looking at the headlines, scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, trying to find other news or commentary sites to read when I’d read everything on The Guardian (OK, probably not everything, because I rarely click through past the front page)… But I’ve gradually started reaching for a magazine (I have three subscriptions now and I’m behind in reading some of them – I did, just, manage to finish the previous issue of Flow the morning before the new issue arrived, but I have two The Simple Things to finish and the new one just turned up (beautiful cover!) and I have one and a half issues of Breathe to catch up on, too) or a book, instead. Or, I have a couple of mini sketchbooks that sit in my bag and a few pens, so I can doodle or draw when I’m out and about. When I’ve been at my desk, and found myself at a point where my fingers are itching to open up Edge and look at something online I’ve instead put my hands together, taken a few deep breaths (yoga practice coming out, there), and gone back to work. Guess what? Actually more productive and efficient that way, rather than taking ‘breaks’ to scroll through page after page of social media statuses (and adverts). Who’d have thought it?
I’m finding there’s really not much I’m missing by staying off Facebook. I don’t feel I’m going to shut down my account or anything that drastic. But, I think I’ll mostly stay off it. I popped on briefly today and there were a crazy number of notifications, almost none of which were actually of interest, but which would normally have grabbed me away from something else immediately they appeared – things like Friend X commented on the same post as you in Group C, Person B posted in Group Y, etc. etc. So, next time I look in, I will be turning off all of those kinds of notifications. I will look at the groups I’m in and remove myself from some and keep others, but just look at them maybe once a week or a fortnight to see what’s been happening. Usually, there are one or two interesting posts that have a bunch of comments on and that I end up being drawn into every time someone comments. Reading them when people are mostly done commenting will be easier and just as useful as seeing it all ‘in the moment’. I had a brief scroll through my own timeline (my Instagram posts have been automatically posting to Facebook, so not everyone will have realised I wasn’t actually there) and saw that there were some likes and a few comments on the Instagram pictures (mostly daily practice paintings) and I appreciated this, without needing to have seen those likes and comments the second they were posted.
Next thing I’m going to need to deal with is cutting down on looking at Instagram – the same thing applies, that they will still be there if I see them all at once at the end of the day, or in the morning, rather than checking in multiple times to see how many extra likes I’ve got on the latest picture I posted. Though, I actually feel I’ve been cutting down there, too, as a natural adjunct to the Facebook break. It started with probably spending more time on there (and Linked-in, for some reason), but the recognition and self-realisation I’ve come to about Facebook is clearly also relevant to Instagram and others, and my urge to reach for the phone has reduced, which has naturally lead to less Instagram scrolling.
I use Instagram almost entirely for art-based interaction and inspiration. I have got work through pictures people have seen on my Instagram. I love seeing work by others and giving back in some way, by commenting on and liking others’ work (I don’t like and comment on every single picture in my feed, just the ones that really jump out to me). So, I’m not going to give that up. BUT… One of the elements of self-recognition is to understand that Instagram and Pinterest as inspiration are kind of hollow versions of true inspiration and they are their own kind of bubble. They can both lead to the ‘I’m not good enough’ trap that most artists fall into regularly. When you expose yourself to thousands of pieces of art a day, much of it by people at an entirely higher level and far further on in their art career than you, the ‘inspiration’ can lead both to inadvertent copying (one of those images that flashed past you today, may be the source of that awesome idea you have a couple of days down the road, without you realising it), to a feeling that you will never be that good, and to an inability to settle on your own style or preferred method or media. Experimenting with new materials and ways of working is a really important thing to do to grow as an artist, but if you want to do so on a daily basis because of that awesome art that Artist C has been posting this month, or the amazing range of work you’ve seen on Hashtag Q, you’re in serious danger of losing your own focus.
So, I need to come up with a more defined way to cut back on Instagram, without losing it entirely (at least for the moment). There is this idea that there’s lots of work to be got through Instagram and Pinterest, but actually, while there are artists who do get clients and commissions a plenty through social media, many don’t. If I spent half the time I do on Instagram researching and contacting potential clients it’s quite possible that this would be a much more productive and lucrative use of my time. And, obviously, there’s also the whole making art rather than looking at art. The less time we spend scrolling and liking and pinning and tweeting, the more time we have to paint, draw, ink, scribble…
The other thing I think I’ll probably do is remove all the news and political sites from my Facebook feed. I don’t really feel any worse off having got my news direct from the news sites and the ones I haven’t seen in my feed (either through their own Facebook page or through friends sharing them) I don’t feel the loss of. I haven’t really done it yet, but I feel like I may be more likely to get back into writing blog posts about issues that concern me in the news or in politics (or just in general), rather than typing a brief(ish) Facebook status, or a mini rant when hitting ‘Share’ on an article. I kind of feel as though Facebook sucked the writing out of me. Because there were more people who would read and (more ‘importantly’) interact with a post on Facebook than an actual blog post, it became easier to engage with people through Facebook than my blog. (Facebook probably didn’t help this, by mostly not showing people links to blog posts!)
But… while interaction and readers are great, they are not what I ever really blogged for. If you’re new here, you might not know that I was a ‘parent blogger’ – I refuse to call myself a ‘mummy blogger’, sorry – over at www.wahm-bam.org – and got to the point where I was making money from it and getting lots of ‘stuff’ to review. When I started blogging it was purely for the act of writing and to get stuff out of my head and onto a page, which was a really useful and mental-health-friendly thing to do. It was also a good way to share pictures and information about the girls with their grandparents and aunts and uncles. I gradually started writing other things, too, some related to parenting, and some not massively (political, philosophical and personal meanderings through my thoughts and opinions and principles). I wrote up recipes and created new ones. I gathered a small group of other (mostly parent) bloggers around me and we ‘hung out’ together, commenting on each other’s blogs, and sometimes met up in person at conferences or small meet-ups. It was like a virtual coffee morning, or sitting on a friend’s sofa for a couple of hours chatting about the world. And I think social media kind of took that and ran with it and somehow turned it into something else entirely. (For me, at least. I think there are still people who probably get that feeling out of social media and don’t get the whole overwhelm thing.)
The writing was always the most enjoyable and fulfilling part, though. And mostly I’ve always been a dump-it-all-out, rambling kind of writer, rather than someone who plans it all out with headings and bullet points (though I can do that, too), so it’s not really about the craft or even creativity, but maybe more about quietening my head. (Painting and drawing quietens my head in a whole other, much more mindful, way, which is equally as useful.)
I’d love to get back to doing more of this kind of writing (the kind that this whole blog post has been, in fact) and Facebook (etc.) is not the place to do that.