Monday, March 25, 2013

Disconnected

Upon mentioning to a girlfriend that I was doing a media detox this Lenten season, she urged me to read 7: an experimental mutiny against excess.  She even brought me her copy.  "I read it in two days," she said.

The premise of the book is that one month at a time, the author tells how she rids her life of excess by taking what some of us would call some extreme measures.  Her seven months of experimental mutiny include the subjects of clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, stress, and media.  What struck me as ironic was my whole purpose of reducing my screen time was for my son, Little K (whose name means hat-maker).  The author of the book?  Jen Hatmaker.  I couldn't not read it after that -- there is purpose in everything, folks.  Small, subtle, meaningful -- purpose.

While I am enjoying 7 (I have yet to finish the last chapter); the chapter on media was a bit underwhelming for me.  Maybe because my detox isn't quite as intense as hers.  After all, I am still watching television, texting, checking email, reading blogs, looking at celebrity gossip, using Instagram, looking at Pinterest, and -- of course -- blogging.  Although these activities have mostly been limited to the times when the little guy is sleeping, I think maybe I need a do-over.

Instant addiction.
I didn't even join this century by getting a smart phone until this past October.
Electronic games were pretty easy to let go of.  I was spending a disgusting amount of time playing Tetriblox -- which was very easy for my OCD brain to become addicted to.  Once you make a perfect line it disappears.  It's crack for the anal-retentive.  But I quickly found my brain was much less fuzzy once I decided to partake in real adult conversation rather than only half-listening to the world around me.  I will be honest and tell you that my sister introduced me to the game 4 Pictures 1 Word this weekend and I have cheated by playing it the last two days.  There.  I said it.  I won't do it again.
This is your brain on computers.

I'm not sure I realized just how hard quitting Facebook was going to be.  There were hundreds of time that I tried to pick up my phone to post something adorable that Little K had done, how awesome my workout was, or how beautiful (or crappy) the weather was.  It was very uncomfortable at first to live my private life in, well, private.  I was shocked at how insignificant it made me feel to not be able to share my private thoughts with my six hundred "friends" who probably don't really care about my workout or the weather outside my window anyway (I'm going to assume they all care about how adorable my kid is).  Maybe it's an innate need for approval rooted deep inside of me.  A need for validation.

I have been sad that I have missed 41 days so far  -- but who's counting -- of wishing happiness on birthdays, of missing the birth of children, health updates, engagement announcements, looking at pictures, and, most of all, posting pictures.  I have longed for the connection to friends that are scattered across the country.

However, what I also found was that I have felt a huge sense of freedom.  My life has been rid of so much negative energy.  I have felt a huge release from the burden of anger and annoyance (because let's face it -- we all have those "friends" that are annoying, and ones that are just plain irritating).


It has been incredibly freeing to not know who is reading my blog posts.  At first I was checking my blog statistics incessantly to see how many hits each new post was getting -- did I mention my need for approval?  But I also tend to be a people-pleaser.  And not knowing who was reading has made it easier for me to not be so guarded about what I say, to not try to stick to one subject because it made someone else happy.  In the past few months I had all but stopped writing about health and fitness because I felt like no one gave a rat's ass about what I was doing unless I had lost pounds.  Now my creative juices have been flowing like crazy, and I have been writing more (and possibly better) than ever.

What is more incredible is the time that I have had to focus on my son and my husband.  Our relationships have strengthened, our house is cleaner, and my mind is clearer.  We have had game night, wrestling matches, giggle-fests, painting parties, and Monster Truck rallies.   While my dear husband did not give up Facebook (he rarely checks it anyway), he has cut down his screen time as well (apparently The Chive is to men as Pinterest is to women), and has been more intentional about playing with and reading to 
Little K .

I have also felt like my time with the people around me has been more meaningful.  I don't think I realized how the constant need to check what else is going on is not only annoying to the person you are talking to (not to mention rude), but it doesn't allow you to be present.  It is nearly impossible to ignore the small red number that tells me how many unread emails I have each time I turn on my iPhone -- even though I know 99 percent of them are advertisements and junk -- I still can't not check it.  Same with Facebook notifications and text messages.  Not allowing myself to be linked-in has unhooked me from the drug that is social media.


Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford, said, "Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone's brains thinking. But we've got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can't ignore it."
I won't be resuming my Words With Friends, Scramble With Friends, or Tetriblox playing.  They have all been deleted from my electronic devices.  I will log back into Facebook when Lent is over -- although I'm still unclear whether Lent ends on Maundy Thursday or Easter Sunday.  I am honestly a bit hesitant (and a little excited) about it.  Because it is the main source of communication and event planning among my friends and family, I feel like I can't delete my account completely.  I do know that I will do my best to limit my Facebook time to when my son is sleeping and when my husband is gone and/or busy.  The relationships around me are way too important to ignore.

I will leave you with an excerpt from a New York Times article that was quoted in 7.
Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave.  They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats.  The stimulation provokes excitement -- a dopamine squirt -- that researchers say can be addictive.  In its absence, people feel bored.  The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cell phone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks.  And for millions of people these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought. interrupting work and family life.
Disconnect so you can begin to connect.  Thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

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