An Overabundance of Media

This past weekend I made the very conscious decision of limiting my social media intake. In fact, I limited intake of all media. 

At the start of this year, I made an effort to take breaks from the two social media platforms I frequent (Facebook and Instagram). After deleting the app from my phone, I wouldn’t log into Facebook for weeks at a time, and I went through my Instagram and deleted all the influencers, all the people who didn’t post, all the people whose content I would scroll by and not actually interact with. 

At first, I found this to be a great success. I felt more at ease, less anxious, and realized something that I’ve come to understand repeatedly in my adult life: stepping away from social media is a good thing. I realized it years before when I gave up Twitter for Lent, I realized it again when I gave up Twitter for good, I realized it once more when I made a conscious effort to not use Facebook as frequently, but I still found it infiltrating my thoughts and emotions. 

When the pandemic began, I was sucked back in. With the world changing so rapidly, and fear and worry for our loved ones, I was on Facebook daily to look for informative updates on the wellbeing of my loved ones, but also of my state. It was an information hub that slowly began to become increasingly political again. Feelings flew high, opinions stood firm, and when George Floyd was murdered, it seemed to bring on a tipping point. 

I realized how many people I had in my life that were toxic. How many people in my life did not view all lives as equal. I realized how flippant people were about basic practices for the safety of others and I realized I don’t want these people in my life. I don’t want to have to consume their toxicity.

I deleted and blocked numerous people on Facebook and logged off again, only going on it occasionally to share general updates or a photo or two. It returned to the basic necessity I had sought it to be originally: a way to stay in touch with people. But I continued to use Instagram and I was still finding myself feeling exhausted and empty.

That emptiness was unnerving and the blabber of Instagram seemed to drown out the searching voice that could provide me with some guidance as to why I was feeling so empty. We never had the chance to truly make outside connections in our new home before the pandemic forced us indoors and away from others. Instagram was a way for me to still socialize, something I desperately needed, but when does it go from providing an essential source of socialization in a pandemic to something that is also toxic in its own right? I was only following like-minded people or educational sources, but I was drowning.

After a week that was particularly tough in my life (situations outside of social media), I felt frayed at the edges and delicate. I felt like I couldn’t handle the constant consumption of what other people were doing, what injustices were going on in the world, what new thing I had to worry about–who I had to worry for–when I was already struggling from worrying about my own issues.

So I stepped away from it all. Two days, that was the goal. Two days of not consuming any social media other than a quick check and response to messages. I have done this before where I would say “no consuming this, except in this instance” and failed to follow that promise entirely, but this time I stuck to it. I recognized that I had privilege in being able to do this, in being able to essentially shut off the figurative tv and turn my attention away from injustice and all else that was wrong with the world, but I felt more deeply that if I continued on the path of anxiety and stress of which I was on, I wouldn’t be any use to anyone or any cause.

In the past when I would take a break, I felt like I was fighting through the breaking of an addiction. The first couple of days were the hardest and I had to fight off the constant urge to use the platforms and scroll aimlessly. I would make tiny deals with myself, “Only for a few minutes, only just for this, only just for that,” and I would always break that promise. Unsurprisingly, when I logged off one platform on Friday afternoon, I found it deeply hard to not return to it that entire evening. I logged off of the other platform before bed and I think, perhaps, spacing the two out helped a little.

Then Saturday came. The first Saturday in well over a month where we were able to sleep in silence with the windows open, the cool (for once!) summer air slipping through, and no drone of an air conditioner. I woke to the sound of birds, robins specifically, singing loudly in a way I hadn’t heard since spring.

It felt like such an example of my internal mind. We shut off the air conditioner to give it a break as the weather had changed and opened the windows, and sure enough, I was able to hear clearly. My mind followed similarly, I had the social media sources blocked to give my mind a break, and I woke with a clearer mind.

By Saturday’s end, I found myself sitting in bed far past my bedtime, typing away at my laptop in a way I hadn’t done in ages, and balancing a continuous thought in my mind: what is it that I want out of life?

My husband and I had a blunt conversation some hours beforehand regarding how seriously local college students would take the risk of COVID and whether or not we would if we were college students as well. He felt he likely wouldn’t have taken it seriously and behaved similarly while I expressed I would have probably been afraid. 

“You have multiple people die in your family every year,” he pointed out, factually, as my extended family is rather huge so death does come frequently. “You know that fear.”

Perhaps that conversation stuck with me more than I realized because as I went to bed, I considered all the hub-bub of the world and what I wanted to think of when I am old and dying. Do I want to remember all the time I spent scrolling through my phone? Do I want to recall how mindlessly I would stare at the little structure and feel predominantly emotions of stress and anxiety? 

Social media had often served two good purposes for me: it provided me a way to stay in contact with friends and a way for me to find creative inspiration or to learn. I realized, as I sat in my bed with tired eyes, that both of those things were still possible while not spending hours mindlessly scrolling was also entirely possible. It wasn’t, however, something I could just magically get to. It would be something I would have to be patient about and learn with practice. I could still use those forms of social media, I could still stay in contact with friends but choose when and how I checked in with them. I could find my inspiration by further shortening the list of who I followed. But… I still needed to figure out what I wanted in life.

So I considered what brought me the most peace, what brought me the most joy, and I found many examples of it in my media-free day. 

It was early morning with tea and breakfast being made and no phone in sight. I worked on mixing and cooking the ingredients for our meal, and found joy in the morning sunlight dancing over my work. 

It was writing in the morning when my little one went down for a nap. Words to keyboard and paper, and how I felt a release of my soul when performing this task. 

It was in reading deep thoughts of fellow creatives and finding a bridge in experience from across oceans.

It was in driving to the farm and picking vegetables and flowers in the hot son and forgetting, if only for a little while, about keeping the world up to date on my cell phone, or the coronavirus, or the possible destruction of democracy. It was an hour of being fully focused on my family.

And it was the evening where we didn’t have the TV on, the birds could be heard outside, and my son walked back and forth between his father and me with the little slap of his bare feet on the hard floor as he brought us books, wanting each of us to read to him.

Alternately, Sunday brought on an entirely different experience. I was forced to grapple with some emotions I had only been vaguely dealing with over the previous week. I would often brush them off, push them away, and turn a blind eye to these emotions because I “didn’t have time.” But who ever has time to deal with the less ideal? Without social media to distract me, I was left to look at these emotions dead in the eye and after a week of build up, I finally let them go. I felt much lighter afterward.

So how do I proceed? What do I want in life? When I think of pure bliss, a cell phone isn’t in the picture. It’s writing, it’s the blue light of dawn, it’s birdsong and walking in the woods. I have social media pages that have distinct purposes. Something for books, something for travel, something for art. Pages that I don’t necessarily use daily but still bring inspiration when the need arises. Then there’s my main page which has gone through changes over the years: it once was the stereotypical Instagram where I posted pictures of meals and what I was doing in the moment, and slowly that changed to become something of a diary. I shifted away from sharing photos of people in my life, and have started to decide what information was available to the full public versus what is not. So while I’ve become much more conscious of how I use these pages, there must be a shift in how I consume the media from them and what little changes I’ve made already have been helpful but there’s necessity for more.

I feel this will continue to be an ever-changing platform for me and my uses for it, and I’m fine with that. For now though, I appreciate the address of issue, the need for balance, and the realization that there are important questions of this life that I do not have the answer to. Answering those questions, figuring out what I seek in life, is so much more important than follows, likes, and comments.

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