Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What I Learned From My Two-Month Internet Break

This summer, after years of both working in social media and having active personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, a spate of ugly events caused me to shut down my computer and walk away. I didn’t plan this, nor did I have any idea if I would ever open it again. My computer remained shut for two months.

At first, I walked around in a daze, unsure of where I fit or what I was supposed to be doing. I scrubbed my counters. I completely re-landscaped my front yard. I tried writing with pen and paper but it felt weird and I was too upset by aforementioned events to write anyway. I decided that if I didn’t know where I should be, then I would just ‘be.” I walked my neighborhood in the quiet of the early mornings. I meditated. If I arrived early to an appointment, I did nothing but observe my surroundings, while the people around me sat with hunched shoulders, heads slumped forward like human question marks, their eyes focused on their phones and the postage stamp-sized world inside. I watched them plummet down the rabbit hole, completely tuning out to the here and now. I doubt any of them even knew I was in the room. I felt like a sober girl at the cocktail party of life.

After a few weeks, I could feel I was changing. I noticed that gradually my posture improved because my head was above my shoulders where it belonged. I was aware and engaged with my kids, not distracted. They, in turn, behaved better, and I had a level of patience I had forgotten I was capable of. I was experiencing a strange, unfamiliar feeling. Some might call it calm. While driving, I no longer checked my email at every stoplight. Instead I watched the characters that walked past; Two homeless men sharing a meal in a fort they had built under a shopping cart. A hispanic woman with a significant limp who crossed the street every morning at 7:42 am. The veteran in a wheelchair with the American flag mounted on the back, pledging his allegiance to the country for which he sacrificed his legs. I had been missing all of this for so long. For anyone to miss this is a shame, but for a writer, it is practically a crime.

I stole away with my family for a weekend in Idyllwild where I sat in a hammock and read books, or sometimes just watched the leaves shimmer in the breeze. I noticed things, like the way color and light changes within a flickering moment. I noticed the life buzzing right in my own front yard – for instance, I now know that Monarch butterflies do not welcome Painted Zebras into their habitat, and squirrels rub the sides of their faces against the rough pine bark to get sap off their whiskers. Suddenly I understood that I was living in an ordered Universe, and this made me feel safe and at peace. This also felt more important to me than anything I had read on Facebook.

I’m not knocking social media. I have met wonderful people and had incredible opportunities come my way through it, not to mention that working as a social media manager is what has paid my bills for the majority of this year. I’m grateful for it, while also having a new awareness of the dire need for balance.

I came back slowly to social media, and saw that nothing had changed while I was gone. The same problems and arguments raged on, just like they did before. I noticed right away how my brain waves changed when I engaged online. I became more irritable, easily distracted, my thoughts scattered. At the same time I was happy to be re-connected to the beautiful community I’ve found online.

My new challenge is to remain mindful of the time I allot for checking in with friends and colleagues, to focus on and share positive posts, and then to shut the computer and check back in with the world around me: to feel my feet on the floor, take in the sights around me, notice my breath. Like waking from a dream, re-entry into the real world takes a minute, but I’ve rediscovered that the world outside is a glorious place. I’m also reacquainting myself with my world inside – and that is where the real fun begins.

Here is an interesting article author Dani Shapiro just wrote in the New York Times about our reliance on social media: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/memoir-status-update