Being the definition of a millennial, I was a preteen at the turn of the century and recall life without the internet and smartphones. As I became an adult and was given adult responsibilities and released into the world, technology was ever at the ready. I was on Facebook when you could only join with a college email address and I remember the early, early days of Instagram with the array of filters and borders on each carefully crafted photo. I also remember that before I owned a smartphone and before social media, I wrote.
I have at least 10 fully completed novels written and a book of poetry, all composed between the age of 11 to 20. They may not be Pulitzer Prize-level fiction and poetry, but they were written passionately and more importantly, finished. I worked feverishly on those tales deep into the dark night during summer vacation, slept until late morning, then would spend the remainder of my day riding my bike around my neighborhood, sitting by the local lake, and drawing in my notebook.
I always had a notebook on me in those days. Whether it was to write down a note to a friend I would carefully fold into a little envelope or observations of my day, a notebook was always on my person. But when technology grew and grew, it seeped into every aspect of my life and my writing began to dwindle. My notebooks were left at home.
Over the last number of years, I’ve found that yearning to write filling my chest just as it once did when I was a teen but I’ve found it’s only been a feeling and hasn’t grown into much more than that. I’d sit down at a computer and no words could come out. As a teen, the feeling would soon develop into a plot, and the plot would engulf me until I simply had to get it down on paper or else I would burst. But not anymore.
In many ways, I feel there’s too much chatter. Facebook is filled with opinions and Instagram is filled with microblogs and texts have overtaken phone calls and there’s just this constant demand to be on and at attention. While this isn’t bad all the time, it has certainly given me opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had, it’s allowed me to learn better photo skills and educated me in areas I was lacking, and I have maintained and grown relationships with friends and family I likely wouldn’t hear from otherwise and yet…I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the noise.
And yes, I know how this sounds as I lend my voice to the noise in writing this very blog. But at least I’m writing and that’s part of my point.
After feeling overwhelmed and on call to provide for friends and family for the last few years with either wedding plans, pregnancy updates, or updates on my newborn, by December I felt exhausted. With another presidential election on the horizon I found myself already filling with anxiety over having to witness it through the social media lens all over again. Every time I logged into Facebook, something that wasn’t done very frequently anymore to begin with, I was left feeling ill by the time I logged back off the site. When scrolling through Instagram, I found I was beginning to have similar feelings. That, or I was falling victim to the endless ads and having a “I should buy this/why don’t I own this” attitude in a time where saving money was essential. And through it all, I kept returning to my summer vacation of years past. I remembered the summer bugs singing and the first bird chirping near 4 or 5 in the morning, signaling it was time for me to put away my writing and go to bed. How I slept well into the morning before getting up, stuffing food down my throat, and running out the door into the bright, warm sunshine to ride my bike down to the little lake only to write more or simply look up at the sky while laying in the soft grass. It was idyllic, even if it wasn’t ideal in reality (remember, I was a teenager at that time after all, and teenage years–with technology or not–are always rife with drama). But the biggest thing I noted of it all was the particular silence that filled the world around me.
There wasn’t the ding of notifications from a phone or the need to pick up the tiny device and look at the screen every few moments. There wasn’t that need because there wasn’t a phone. In so many ways, over the years I had grown addicted to my phone and I felt that this was tied to my loss of creativity and inspiration over the years.
I had already begun to use my phone in a different way since my son had been born. I took photos of him constantly, something I am unapologetic of and doubt will change. I used it during pregnancy to find support and ease my anxiety-ridden mind. And I made an effort when he was tiny and I would feed him, to sit the phone down rather than mindlessly scrolling through it and to focus solely on him. It was hard, and at times I allowed that mindless scroll on the days where he was angry and screaming and wouldn’t sleep. I allowed it in those moments to quiet my stressed mind and focus on something else rather than my own anger and exhaustion. But overall, I began to make a more valiant effort to lose track of my phone, misplace it, and be more in the moment.
Then, over the year as I watched him grow and change, and the closer I came to his first birthday, I found myself not liking how the stress of technology eased into my own behavior. I wanted to look more inward and I wanted to reassess, and so I decided that January would be a quiet month.
First, I went through my Instagram page and reviewed who I followed, axing the number by half. Then I went through those remaining and for those I was uncertain of, those people I wanted to follow but wasn’t completely sure if I would continue following for long, I muted. Halfway through the month I unfollowed a number of those people as I realized I didn’t particularly miss following their pages–it had just become a habit.
Then, I logged out of Facebook on every computer and deleted the application from my phone. I only logged into the website once during the month to check on when an event was scheduled and write down the details, I didn’t even look at the high number of notifications I had–most were likely bait to get me back into the endless look of Facebook updates.
After that, I unsubscribed from all Facebook updates that were emailed to me. I didn’t even realize I was set up for these notifications and noticed I only received them in email when I didn’t actively log into Facebook for a few days. Suddenly I’d receive an email that so and so posted a photo, or so and so is going to an event. Disgusted with the tactic, I rid my inbox of these emails quickly and continued to unsubscribe from every update I received from stores or websites that I had previously just sent to spam or deleted.
I turned off all notifications on my phone and set up time limits on social media. I shortened the length of time allowed for social media each week by 15 minutes, as well as downtime set for a specific chunk of every night so I wasn’t tempted to lay in bed and scroll.
I got a paper journal and set the intention of writing an entry every day, no matter how tedious it could feel or how boring my life seemed, if only to get back into the habit of writing.
Towards the end of January I found my world had quieted quite a bit. I noticed there were moments where I realized I had misplaced my phone and hadn’t had it for quite awhile and didn’t immediately rush to find it. Moments where I sat by a window and simply watched the world, rather than staring at the glowing screen of my cell. Something else also changed, I was left to my thoughts and felt inspired. I began doing more crafts and writing than I had in ages.
The stirring inspiration to write out a novel hadn’t returned, much to my disappointment, but I was still getting pen to paper, word to computer, and feeling successful to form words and tell a story, even if it wasn’t quite a novel. With less time spent mindlessly focused on the internet, my internet time began to take more intention. I started to be selective of what I followed and read, checking in on myself to ensure that what I did keep track of didn’t cause envy but inspiration.
Prior to January, I was so wrapped up in checking my phone and looking through different applications so often without much mind to it, I couldn’t tell you what I had looked at. Books lay unread, I found I didn’t get the instant gratification I did from reading the short descriptions of Instagram or watching people’s stories and lost interest quickly. I couldn’t make it through any crafts because my interest drifted off midway through. I had daydreams of things to do around the house but they never were accomplished.
Once I began to remove the distractions, I became all the more productive. I found gratification through accomplishing tasks that were physically there, rather than on my phone, and it felt all the better and it trickled into other elements of my life.
With the added time I had, a cleaning schedule was created, budgeting was a habit, and meal planning found its way into our lives, but I also found my creativity spreading into different elements of my life. I began collecting the remnants of our beeswax candles, rather than throwing them out, to melt down at a later date and make candles. I also started a sourdough starter, happily feeding it daily, which also caused me to dive into our baking cabinet and sort it. I sat and devoured book after book, and began reading to my son more as well. My paper journal had entries every day and only a very few were short; I rediscovered how good it felt to let go of my worries and stresses to a paperbound friend.
I also took note of my surroundings and spent more time commenting on it to my son and being truly present in the process. “This is a button,” I explained to him as his chubby finger gently poked at the button on my shirt. “Do you see the tree? Do you see there aren’t any leaves on it?” I’d murmur as we paused on a walk. I had done this before, of course, but it was always something said halfheartedly while my attention was always going to the next thing.
And so, February came and I had reached the end of my one month goal span. But I found myself not rushing back to Facebook, I found myself settled into what I had already been doing. It felt more honest to the girl I used to be, to continue this distance from what had become so popular and instead looking to what previously gave me joy. I even attempted to find more ways to continue this quiet reflection through baking my own bread (alas, not sourdough, that seems to be destined for a later day) and drawing in a notebook for the first time in ages.
While the sun is setting later and there is the promise of spring, light, and outdoor activities, I am also looking to find a job, so I realize my time spent with my boy and with my mind in our little home with our entertainment at our fingertips may be growing short as the quiet season is growing closer to an end. But what lay outside our door? How could we reflect the quietness of our home with the great outdoors? That is yet to be discovered and I am excited for it.
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