One month ago I posted the image below to my Instagram account. The responses were to be expected from friends who are similarly connected 24/7 to a variety of social media apps – they were shocked and unsure of my motives for giving the finger to social media … even temporarily. I guess my text speaks for itself in regards to my motives … I needed to escape the connection to something that felt ‘other’ than the real world.
It is a curious world we First World kids inhabit. We spend much of our lives working in order to pay bills and purchase stuff we feel is important, and then we we come home we spend much of our time online accessing information, entertainment and connecting with people. For me it was the latter that preoccupied the majority of my time – even when I was at work. There are many, many stretches of writing that praise this connectedness and seek to inspire others to similarly connect. I have written a few stretches about it myself, right here on this blog. But the thing I haven’t read much about, and have never written about, is the need to disconnect.
A couple of years ago I was given the book ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry’ to read. It was a purposeful lending because the person who offered it to me could see me sinking under the weight of my connections. It took me two years (after reading the book) to finally feel the burden of social media threaten to break me.
So what was the metaphorical straw that broke me? Questions. Each day, through a variety of platforms, I would be asked and would ask questions. What about? Anything really, but mostly education related stuff. My incessant question-asking, my eagerness to know and try new things simply garnered answers and further questions (from me and from the people I am connected to). Then there were the questions directed at me from people interested in things I have said or done and shared via social media. I felt pressured and strung-out. The world got really busy. The world got really noisy and I wanted it to shhhhhhhhhhh.
Another thing was sharing. This is super obvious – after all it is the human desire to share our experiences, our struggles, our joy, that is the backbone of social media. I had (and have) multiple platforms for sharing my thoughts and experiences – twitter, facebook, edmodo, email, texting, foursquare, my blog and instragram were the main places I left the marks of my existence for others to ponder and respond to. Of course this is no one-way street, I commented on the marks left by others but – like all good conversations – this results in a follow-up comment and you are hooked. You will revisit that mark to see if another share is there. And you will revisit often and unconsciously. You are drawn back without even understanding why. And I was drawn back to these multiple platforms repeatedly each day until there was barely a breath that was not filled with a thought or an experience shared. And it was overwhelming. I wanted it to shhhhhhhh.
So I did it. I deleted all of the apps off my phone. That was a huge step for me. The phone, I think, was the clincher. If it was all just web-based stuff I know I could escape – after all I have a couple of kids so I’m often not in the house and hooked up to my mac. The phone and its connectivity meant I never could escape the questions and the sharing. I spent so much time looking down at the tiny touch screen that I forgot to look up and at the world. I know this isn’t the experience of everyone, but for me it got to the stage where everything I did, every thought I had, needed an audience bigger than just me and my mind. Weird. So I got rid of it all, I closed this blog and spent a month on ‘hiatus’. Well, I guess I didn’t disconnect entirely – I still emailed, texted, used edmodo and occasionally facebooked. I guess for me there is no complete silence.
And what was the result of my forced escape? I thought more. I read more. I sat with my boys and watched them play games, I kicked the footy around and played cricket. I read and I listened. I didn’t fill every breath and every silence with my words. Even now I can’t think what to write. What was it about that time away that I value so much? I think it was the solitude. It’s the experience of being disconnected, of not knowing and not needing to know what everyone is doing and thinking right now. That was hard in the first week – feeling left out and unsure – and then by the second week I felt empowered. I was excited about doing something alone – mentally alone – and enjoying that it was my moment and not yours. No one needed to say anything about the Chai I was enjoying and they didn’t need to reassure me if my day had started badly. I had to think for myself. I hope it continues.
Mental solitude is just as powerful – if not more so – than physical solitude. I encourage you to try it some day.