I have certain traits that typify a writer. I am an introvert. I prefer solitary days at my computer versus working with a team in an office. I would rather talk to my dogs than people on most days. I loathe self-publication and networking. Consequently, when Facebook, MySpace (remember this?), and other social media sites started showing up on the Internet, I shunned them. Why would I want to make anything I do so public? I stayed off these sites for a long time.
I think it was our impending move back to Boston that finally prompted me to try Facebook. I wanted to start connecting to some old Boston friends, which I did. Then I connected with old college and high school friends. Maybe Facebook wasn’t so bad.
After I got a whippet, then two, Facebook became a boon. Instantly, I was connected to whippet people, who could answer questions or help me get into certain whippet sports. My whippet owning friend list grew. I became Facebook friends with a woman in Slovenia, who does agility with her whippets. On her blog, she recommended a particular online training course offered by a woman in Canada. I vetted the program on another dog page on Facebook. I decided to take the course, and so far, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding training for my dogs. Facebook was awesome!
Awesome until I became addicted. I wasted time – lots and lots of time. Why tackle that hard scene in my novel when I can scroll through Facebook? Instead of deciding what my protagonist’s concrete desire was, I’d check email. Instead of figuring out what my secondary character’s motivation in a scene was, I decided that there had to be another dog group to join on Facebook. I think I gave my brain some sort of whiplash from the all the back and forth I put it through. Gone were the days of sustained concentration for hours on end. I realized I had a problem when I read Russell Banks’ Affliction. The book was written in the eighties, and instead of enjoying Banks’ long passages of description as I used to, I got annoyed. Then I thought about all the time I wasted checking social media sites when I should be blogging, tumbling, tweeting, and facebooking to build my writer platform. Then I got overwhelmed. Then I checked Facebook to take my mind off of my problems.
I’ve considered lately why I find connecting to whippet people via social media exhilarating and to writers exhausting. I had worried that I missed my calling, and that I shouldn’t be writing a novel but should be training instead to work with dogs. I’ve concluded a couple of things: 1) the whippet world is much smaller than the writer world. I cannot keep up with the writing posts I get whereas I can keep up with the whippet posts, and 2) there is not a lot at stake for me in the whippet world. There is no pressure to get my name “out there.” There is no ramification if I misplace a comma. Connecting to whippet people is fun. Connecting to writers is work and pressure and expectation.
I got so overwhelmed a couple of weeks ago that I decided to unplug for the day. I spent one Sunday not checking email and not checking any social media sites. I left my phone on the kitchen table and went about by day oblivious to time (no phone, no clock). I spent the day actually doing things that I had written on my list instead of adding more items. I got a lot done. I felt better. I did not miss being connected to the Internet. I paid attention to what was going on around me and to me.
Though we have gained much through technology, we have also lost a lot as well. We’ve lost some of our ability to connect with others outside of a screen. We’ve lost the ability to spend hours focused on one task. We’ve lost the ability to do nothing. We don’t even wait in line anymore without checking our phones. I think most importantly we’ve lost the connection to ourselves. Much of the time we are more interested in capturing a photo to post on Facebook than on just experiencing the moment. We’ve lost the ability for self-reflection. We no longer stop to smell the roses, and as writers, we need to. We need to reflect on that rose, on how it smells, how it feels, what we think about it. We need not to think about how to frame that rose in a Facebook-worthy photo.
I am not ballsy enough to drop my social media sites entirely, but I will continue to have my wireless Sundays with the goal of working up to entire wireless weekends. In the meantime, I intend to interview Crystal King in a future post, hoping she can give us all some insight on what we’ve gained through social media and on how best we can use social media to our advantage without getting overwhelmed.
And with that, it’s now time for me to check Facebook.