(This is an edited post from 2011. I was asked to share it again…)
So, I did a FaceBook experiment yesterday. I didn’t go on the site. Not once. All day. And this was trickier than it sounds. Here’s why:
I work for myself. I’m a painter, and I wrote a book a few years ago. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, at least not so elegantly, if it were not for social networking. I have a fan page where folks can choose to follow me, or not, at FaceBook, which in turn forwards to Twitter. People I’ve met, or painted (I paint skin at various festivals around the country, too), or who collect my art, or who learn about me from friends of friends – all of them can come to the Marrus-clearing house to see what I’ve created lately. They jump on the page, or jump off when they’re ready.
I try my damnedest to interact with as many as I can. I’m grateful that folks care enough about my work to follow me.
But it’s a timesuck. I get caught up in multiple conversations about politics, or some new movie, or a young adult novel which doesn’t pull punches, or, or, or…and all these things detract from my own work. And, I’ve noticed something more frightening, more insidious than just that.
Social networking is changing the way the human brain operates, or at least, MY human brain. Maybe you have a similar experience.
I think this “always connected” life we lead, is breaking our heads. I dunno about you, but I can’t focus on a task for longer than fifteen minutes before I get twitchy. I sit down to write, to paint, and the happy hours where I’d just lose myself don’t happen as often. Now, I need the TV on, or music, or a chat window open, or to see if I’ve got email, or maybe somebody responded to my last blog post.
I don’t think this pigeon-head-bobbing attention span is healthy. I kid myself that it’s necessary, I’m running multiple businesses, I need to be connected, but the cyberworld does not need me constantly massaging it.
It’s gratifying, tossing a thought to the void, seeing who picks up on it, seeing where it goes. I’ve recently learned about “legend maintenance”. In this age of short attention span theatre, we must constantly remind our audiences we’re still out here. Our hydras demand to be fed, but at what cost?
I propose a challenge. On June 30th, just for one day, let’s let go of FaceBook. Realize how often our fingers reach out for the mental stimulation comprised of someone else’s lunch, or sports gossip, or baby pictures, or cute kitty videos. Wonder, without the mind-numbing pabulum of scrolling through other peoples’ lives, how better our time might be spent on our own. The human capacity for willful distraction is immense – let’s reclaim our time, our lives, the relationships right in front of us.
Here’s how hard it was for me: I had a doctor’s appointment at 8:45 am. I rode the several miles on my bike, getting to the hospital at 8:40, only to be informed that I was 23 hours and 55 minutes late, but if I wanted to wait til 9:30, perhaps the person in that time slot might not show up.
So, I waited. The TV was on, tuned loudly to a strident morning show host who kept singing snippets of showtunes, poorly. The people around me coughed and dropped things and did what strangers do when forced to wait in a small room together. My fingers twitched to check in on my phone with the folks I CARED about, but no. I got a few magazines and read them until it became clear that I’d have to come back Friday.
I headed to the gym. The elliptical trainer is boring at best, but I split my cardio time between music, the TV, and hopping online. It makes it go faster. Mebbe someone will post a cool new video that will become part of my workout mix. I fought the urge, but I fought it.
Finishing my workout, I had an appointment at one, but I was starving. I headed to my favorite restaurant for lunch. I called a friend to join me, but he was out of town, so I ate alone. Great time to look online, see what folks are doing, have a virtual lunch with someone rather than a realtime one alone. I resisted. It was hard. Instead, I focused on the fabulous food, the texture of the walls, the happy conversations around me.
Off to my next appointment. I was a half an hour early. The pull of the net was strong. I had conversations with the people around me instead.
I have a heavy smoker friend who calls her cigarettes “20 friends in a box”. With the advent of these social networking sites, we now have 200, 2000, 2,000,000 “friends”. So many distractions. No time to be quiet in our own heads, no time to work out our own conclusions, no time to just be ourselves.
Downtime is not evil. A little boredom lets us regroup. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m in a lull. Since all this connected-madness started, my attention span has changed. Someone’s WRONG online, I drop what I’m doing. Micheal & Sarah are now friends? GREAT, that’s two seconds of my life I’ll never get back. The phone is ringing, it could be a job, or someone calling to invite me out, or a wrong number. An email shows up..a text dings…it’s the world outside our own sacred selves clamoring for attention. My thinking is fractured, I fall asleep with a the ideas of other people clamoring for attention. I’m guilty over a “friend request” of someone I genuinely like hovering in the void, but I don’t have room for even one more new voice in my head. There are already too, too many.
We must step back. We must say “no” to all these distractions so we can say a better “yes” to the things that really matter. Our own lives. Our own thoughts. Our own children, plans, creations, and yes, even a bit of boredom.
So, June 30th. Who wants to join me? We are not 140 character tweets. Those 4300 people are not your friends. “I ate a pastrami sandwich” and “My father died today” should not scroll by with the same level of gravitas.
Let’s take back our time. Let’s remember what friendship truly is. Let’s call this phenomenon what it is: an addiction.
Who’s with me? Look! There’s a FaceBook Event! (And yes, I can taste the irony through my keyboard…wonderfully delicious irony.)