Welcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.
Yesterday’s post was a near perfect example of the blahs which follow burnout. Yes, I was burnt. It wasn’t just social media that had me in this crisped, ashen state, but factors in my regular life—a surprise birthday visit to a friend, a husband recovering from a broken leg, college acceptances for Kid #3 balanced by testing and promotion to sergeant for Kid #2. Everybody had something going on, and there I sat in the middle of the swirling vortex of family life, happy, stressed out, tired, overwhelmed, and in need of quality hours of solitude, and so I escaped to social media.
Or so I thought…
I am not sure how it works for everyone else, but social media has a unique relationship to burnout. At times, it can be the perfect escape from whatever ails us in the real world and a chance to catch up and laugh with friends. At other times, it can exacerbate the negative feelings we had hoped to eliminate. Checking quickly from one place to another, I flared and burnt out just as fast, got off the computer, and tried to sort through a morass of papers scatterformed on my desk, a cloud gathering around me as I started to write my “blah” post of yesterday, feeling defeated before the start. Grinding to a slow and passionless conclusion, I realized I needed a break, not just from social media, but from everything.
A problem with social media is that—like email—it contributes to the feeling that the job is never done and is a factor in creating overwhelm and depression. A place we turn for entertainment and comfort, it can snare us unwittingly, forestalling awareness for hours on end. Furthermore, social media programs such as Facebook trigger searching behaviors, flooding the brain with dopamine and hooking us still deeper.
I saw a microcosm of this just this morning in a biweekly writer’s group where one member reported a crisis on his corporate Facebook page which required tending, communication, and tamping down and resulted in lost sleep and extra work. A second member had fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole, emerging at 5 a.m. this morning from a nighttime of unexpected video watching, a surprising and rare indulgence which she couldn’t quite explain. A third friend was too busy at the AWP Writers Conference to spend much time on social media yesterday. She reports she had great day, that the sessions were really awesome, that she only used social media when she was alone. “When you and I are together, I hardly use social media,” she said, “I’m just much less conscious of a need to go out there when I’m in the company of friends.”
Stories such as this are commonplace. Social media usage has increased tenfold among adults in the past decade, with 65% experiencing new ways of social interaction (SOURCE: Pew Research Center). And yet, in the same time period, approximately 61% of those joiners have expressed concerns about their social media use to the point where they have opted for one form or another of a Facebook vacation.
Social media use and depression among college freshmen is rising. In a panic, I call Kid#3 who’s heading off to college next year to ask what he is doing, suppressing the urge to warn him to get off of social media NOW before it’s too late, but when he answers, I discover he’s taking a break from it all. Out on his paddleboard in the quiet backwaters of the San Francisco Bay estuary, he’s soaking up nature and sunshine. What could be more wholesome? I applaud myself for my excellent parenting as he tells me, “I was just texting a friend about going on an adventure.”
I stop to imagine the scene as my fantasy image evaporates: teenage guy on paddleboard in the bay using social media…the results are NOT good. I suppress an urge to ask why, as I think about the 98% of people who really can’t multi-task.
“Do you have on your life vest?” I ask, avoiding the sunscreen question and the inevitable complaints that he couldn’t find any (despite my efforts to litter his path with it).
“I couldn’t find it,” he answers. He’s unconcerned. I can hear the smile in his voice, his joy at being out on the water. I swear I hear a bluebird of happiness singing in the background.
But, I’m twisted into a paradoxical pretzel:
On the one hand…he’s outdoors. Great!
On the other, he’s on a paddleboard without a life vest, has no sunscreen, and social media—aka the Sword of Damocles—sways gently in the breeze over head. Does he know the water temperature? How fast would he succumb to hypothermia anyway? Could he text someone his location should a giant wave swamp his board?
I am a divided heart as I say goodbye, hoping the bay is a puddle of calm this morning.
Ya, I’ve started to downspiral. The YouTube rabbit hole my friend escaped from this morning is searching for fresh victims, and cat videos meow their siren song. For some reason, the song “The Wild Rover” is going through my head, specifically, the words “no, nay, never, no, nay, never, no more…” I’d been reading about it and its connection to the Temperance Movement and wondered what Carrie Nation would think if she could see us now, a society addicted to devices where more than 59% of children below the age of ten use social media.
Horrified, I shut down my computer and I go outside to hot tub bare: I’ve shed my electronics. No computer. No music. No audiobook. No Facebook.
The wind is picking up here a little bit and at the end of the meadow, a turkey vulture and a hawk rise from the top of a redwood tree, the latter with the panicky flight of young winged things, hard flapping, legs disarrayed in the air, a beak full of cries as it careens in flight like a kid tipping his tricycle on two wheels as he screeches around a corner, a brightness of voice, a sheen of plumage beaconing high above me.
And I wish it would be quiet. It broadcasts its tender years and I wonder was the turkey vulture a murderer? Have I witnessed a greater tragedy than Kim Kardashian’s latest antic? I wish I had a drone to fly up to meet the hawk where it cries out, but its calls fade as it resolves to something and to silence.
I want to reach for my phone, but I don’t.
Doesn’t this beauty deserve a selfie? I think.
I look out into the meadow at the dog rolling in horse manure amidst the verdure and the buttercups and reassure myself “I am here now, now how much more here can I be?”