“B” is for Burnt and for Breaks

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 6.17.58 PMWelcome 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.

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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?”

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14 Replies to ““B” is for Burnt and for Breaks”

  1. Oh, this is so beautifully written, and speaks to me on so many levels. I need someone clever to create a transporter beam so I can visit my friends face-to-face more easily instead of resorting to social media. Until then, I will be more mindful of this task master I have indentured myself to.

    1. We just need to meetup more. Actually, Monday’s post on the letter “C” will be about how community is prophylactic and protects against many of the issues encountered online. I would describe our group as one of the most successful I’ve observed in bringing the best of the human element to social media as relationships that just keep growing stronger. Thanks for reading and commenting. Now, where is your “B” post???

    1. Well, no need for that. My guess is that you have a system to balance social media in your own life. I’m writing this topic for A to Z to raise awareness, but there are many people who already have a good handle on this. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. It’s so difficult to step back and let your adult children organise their own lives. On the one hand you know they are sensible and able to care for themselves, but then you hear they’ve done something like go out on the water with no life vest and your imagination goes into overdrive. I know exactly how you feel! I usually end up sending a text message just so I’ll get a reply and know they are still okay.

    1. Yes, it is funny how they can reduce you to a set of worries you thought you’d contained and yet if they didn’t go out into the world, we’d stunt their growth. Thanks for reading and commenting. Are you doing the A to Z Blog Challenge?

  3. I really try to balance social media. I have a YouTube channel of my own, which helps to illustrate the blogs I write. I do watch YouTube videos, but I do not have cable TV. This way even if I feel a bit guilty for spending too much time on YouTube, I know I am not watching television on top of that. Mostly these days I just watch YouTube videos on topics I find of interests, so when I do watch something I find it entertaining and informative.

    Also, I am trying to cut down on my consumption of political news and the social media that goes along with it. I used to love following the elections since I was a history major, and the political process is something I have always studied. However, the last few elections were vitriolic, and I am stepping back. I am striving no to comment on anything political because on social media it can get ugly.

    On Facebook I have also cut back on what I am posting a bit. I still use social media, but I am trying to use it in ways that are more beneficial to me.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a meaty comment. So interesting to hear the ways you’ve adapted social media to your creative experience and it sounds likes you’ve developed some great tools of your own. I took a quick look ay your blog and it is beautiful. Planning a return trip to read your content and check out some of your YouTube videos. On politics, you are so right. Hard to get near that tar baby without getting stuck! See you out there on A to Z.

  4. THIS LINE: “I am here now, now how much more here can I be?”

    What a wonderful mantra to remind myself to be INTENTIONAL. Thank you, Tonia. This will resonate with so many of us…this particular piece, and also your entire blog series. I am looking forward to this whole month!

    1. Denise, I know you’ve written about intentionality in some of your posts. We need these reminders so that we don’t find our lives absorbed into something we never intended. I’m looking forward to what you have to share this month too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. This post is not only well written but speaks volumes to my heart today. I find the research behind why we gravitate to social media fascinating. While I do try to balance social media at times, I find myself drawn to it at others without any rhyme or reason. Thanks for sharing, Tonia. As always, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the read!

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