kindness · mental health · slow academy · you're awesome

To Connect or to Disconnect

I came to Facebook rather late, and it was as much a reluctant step as it was a strategic one. I joined once I had handed in my dissertation, and people who knew I was on the job market started sending me postdoc opportunities and such that were posted on Facebook. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, I thought, then I’m not making a stand here, really, by opting out, but merely depriving myself of opportunities. That was in 2010.

It turns out, my then line of thought finds itself in good company, and it is no coincidence. Apparently, famous business women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. I haven’t read Lean In, but it would be highly surprising if a Facebook executive would be advocating anything other than staying connected. Marissa Mayer–of the no-Yahoo-employees-shall-work-from-home-and-I-only-take-three-weeks-mat-leave-cause-I-can-build-a-nursery-in-my-office-bitcheeez fame–also advises us to stay permanently connected if we wish to succeed. The “we” here comprises the usual audience of such dicta, I assume, and I’m not sure I would count myself included. However, it’s no coincidence that social media corporate executives urge connectivity for the ideal neoliberal subject. But I digress. Anyhoo, I’ve decided to opt out most of the time, and to stay disconnected as much as possible, especially when compared to my previous presence and usage.

You see, between Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, and the like, and enabled by my smart phone, I have developed an addiction. I’m not using this term lightly: if I had a moment free, e.g., on my way to the bathroom, or waiting for my coffee to brew, or walking towards my office, I would check any and all of the above. And if I didn’t have a free moment, I would make one. I was enough aware of the extent of the problem that I abstained from getting a data plan. Honestly, I knew I’d check email/social media anywhere, and there would really be no stopping. Plus, I told myself, there’s wifi everywhere these days. Even Safeway. Which means, every time I’d get into a store/coffee shop, first thing I would do is check email/social media. Stuck on the right word during a pomodoro? Check FB. Feeling low? Check Twitter. Yeah, like that’s gonna get my spirits up.

gratuitous picture of the Columbia Icefield

And that was exactly my tipping point: the realization that I was looking outward instead of inward. No wonder I felt like I lacked direction. I was expecting other people’s status updates, tweets, emails, to bring me calm, serenity, and happiness. And you know how often that happens. I was putting stumbling blocks in front of my already-wobbly legs. Whenever I was writing, I would mentally check in with myself, thus breaking my own advice, not to mention my flow. “Hey, I’m doing pretty well here, and I’m sure I’ll be able to pick it up after a brief FB break. I deserve it: I wrote a whole 100 words.” You probably know as well as I do that a “brief FB break” turns into an epic read-athon of updates and interesting articles that my wonderful friends post, and that I simply have to read the moment I encounter.

It’s not productivity or its lack that I’m worried about here. No. It’s mental health. Breaks, true breaks, are good for me. In fact, my brain needs down time in order to process stuff. I used to feel really bad when I was writing my dissertation, because I spent a lot of time doing nothing with a palpable result (read: words in a document). But then I’d sit down to write, and words would flow, because, you see, while I thought I had been doing nothing, my brain was actually working, mulling ideas, finding its way in a maze, synthesizing research, compiling evidence, putting ideas together and articulating them to the overarching concerns, etc.

gratuitous picture of a pine cone

You will notice I used the past tense and its variations a lot in the previous paragraphs. It’s been about a week–I’m not a big fan of milestones, so I didn’t write down the day that I actually started–and things are going well. I’m much calmer, and I’ve been managing the withdrawal with more exercise, more actual down time, and more reading of books that are printed on paper. And other stuff, which I’ll list here. Things like

Read a poem
Read a book (or part of it)
Do a quick savasana (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Take a nap
Get a coffee/tea/water while looking into the distance
Walk your dog
Pet your cat
Sit/stand while looking in the distance
Pull weeds
Do other gardening
Listen to your favourite music with your eyes closed (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Go for a walk/run
Play an instrument

I can’t think of any more, but please do add your own suggestions for alternatives to social media procrastination.