A few weeks ago an online friend commented that she’d given up her addiction to social media and had never been happier. I struggle, myself, with the amount of time I can sit and read posts, comment and talk to social media pals while important things in my life go unattended. I asked if she’d write a guest post about how she unhooked from the social media whirl, and what it was like. This is her post. I hope you learn as much from it as I did. Here’s Beth Grace, guest posting today.
A fat handful of years ago, a very successful writer friend offered a piece of advice: “Use your time and energy to create and tend a solid online presence.”
This woman has an impressive resume. Several of her big-publishing-house-published books sit on my shelf and I’m one of many who’ve benefited from her mentoring. She knows her stuff. So I hopped to it. I signed up with a blogging site and dedicated regular blocks of time to being a good citizen of that online neighborhood. I wrote, read, commented, and replied dutifully to comments on my posts. And much to my surprise, I fell in love. I live just outside a major metropolis and have easy access to a vast array of culturally enriching experiences, but in some ways, my blogging community held my heart more than my concrete and maple trees one. Writers and artisans, hippie-hearts and brilliant minds—all just a few clicks away. I was enchanted.
Site #1 bellied up and the core group moved to MySpace and after tumbleweeds took over there, to Facebook. We shared links to our posts from WordPress and Blogger, tweeted, and reposted with gusto. Hungry for more, I resurrected a blogging group that had begun and thrived on MySpace until its admin’s enthusiasm went from sizzle to fizzle and spent, she closed the doors. Original members rejoined and invited their friends. It didn’t take long before strangers became Facebook friends and friends became family.
Facebook is a funny place. Just the fact that I think of it as a ‘place’ says something. It’s not Mayberry, but it’s definitely a community. Hang out for a while and you’ll find your peeps. Life online can be a wonderful thing.
It can also be an enormous time-suck.
See if this scenario feels familiar: You make some friends on Facebook—probably a big bunch of friends—and there’s a dozen or two with whom you form genuinely close connections. Though you live hundreds or thousands of miles apart, you are neighbors. You are friends, true-blue, you-can-call-me-at-three-in-the-morning friends. So as friends do, you hang out. You kick off your shoes, grab your favorite coffee mug, and pop in for quick visits that turn into extended stays.
A few folks invite you to play some games they love and soon, you love ‘em, too. You tell each other jokes, share pictures of your kids and stories of your daily escapades, vent when you need to, and listen with compassion when it’s their turn. You celebrate each other’s victories and mourn one another’s losses. Before long, you’re updating your status from your phone because the idea of waiting until you get home seems ridiculous and unnecessary—and oddly uncomfortable. If this were crack, it would kill you. It isn’t, so it doesn’t, but for all its pleasure, there is a price, and that price is paid in the dearest of currency: time.
More than a year ago, I took a good look at how I was spending my desk time. What had begun as a quest to develop an online presence had morphed slowly into something else. I realized that although I had indeed carved out a little place in a thriving internet community, I had lost my balance. A great portion of my time online was spent doing Nothing. No-thing. Nothing. Worse yet was that desk time was infringing on non-desk time, and non-desk time, as we all know, is when all the really good stuff happens.
I let that realization roll around in my head for a while and it soon found its way into the pit of my stomach. The answer should have been clear, and it was. Yet I was torn. The strangers-to-friends-to-family people mattered to me, and they still do. I didn’t want to leave them. I decided to spend a full month fully offline—an internet detox, if you will—and announced my hiatus.
This will sound crazy, but I expected those 30 days to reset my balance and was sure month’s end would find me happily juggling the perfect blend of work, friends, family, and online/offline time—magically allowing 50 hours worth of stuff to be crammed into every 24. That’s not what happened.
Instead, the little voice that had whispered its wisdom refused to be ignored (thank you, little voice). It spoke up more clearly and when it was again hushed, it grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a good shake. Finally, I listened.
Change came in baby steps, but today, I have no desire to live much of my life online. I’ve rolled up the rug at my blog and put a sign on the door: Out of Business. I won’t rule out a Grand Re-Opening at some point, but not any time soon.
Sleep, sweet rejuvenating sleep, the thing I most often shunned to feed my habit since I was not about to give up visits with the kids, playtime with the grands, and spontaneous waltzes in the kitchen with the hubs while dinner cooks, is once again mine. Work still claims a fair portion of my time, but I’m doing my working and playing and loving and laughing largely away from social networking sites, and I have no regrets. I check in online, but I no longer set up camp. The you-can-call-me-at-three-in-the-morning people know they still can; my shoulders and ears never close for those who matter to me. I’d be willing to bet they’d still take my calls, too. The support I’ve received from my online besties has been wonderful. Not one harsh word was directed at me as I’ve transitioned away. I have gotten quite a few calls, emails, and private messages. Most went something like this:
“Are you really okay? ‘Cause I’m here for you if you’re not. You know that, right?”
I do know, and I truly appreciate the care.
“Are you working on a big secret project? Are you writing a book?”
I’m always writing something. That’s no secret.
“Have you embarked on an all-consuming fitness plan? Is that why you’re not online much?”
Nope. Less desk-time has meant less on-my-fanny time, but that’s just an unplanned perk.
“I can’t imagine not blogging and Facebooking. Don’t you miss it?”
No, I really don’t. I sometimes miss the people, but when I do, I pop in to see what they’re up to and say hello.
Life is short and no matter our station in life, we’re afforded 24 fresh hours each day to do with what we please. We can’t stockpile them and they can run out, possibly without notice, at any time. Tending a virtual farm and snorting at George Takei’s (super fabulous) posts might be entertaining, but in the currency of time, they’re just too pricey for me.
The question I’ve gotten most?
“What on earth are you doing?”
My answer is simple: I’m taking care of myself; I’ve given myself a gift. I’m jumping in leaf piles, making snowmen, planting tomatoes, reading in the pool, bouncing babies, playing Tag, strolling hand-in-hand, talking late into the night, and whispering sweet nothings. I’ve traded Facebook for facetime, and it’s the best move I’ve made in a very long time.
My writer friend and mentor will always have my respect, and though her advice was well-intended, it was misplaced. We’ve each got to do what feels right for ourselves, and I’m far happier spending my time and energy tending my offline presence.
Elizabeth Grace, aka Word Nerd, pretends her brick two-story in suburbia is a fairy house nestled deep in the woods. When she’s not writing, she likes to spoil her (beautiful and brilliant) grandkids, sing off-key, dream about winning the lottery, and talk to strangers. Her husband finds her quirkiness charming, which has made him ever-increasingly adored for more than three decades.