Almost two weeks ago I made the decision to stay off Twitter and Facebook for a period of time. This was prompted by the need to get some ‘head space’ and to reassess various elements of my life, including how I spend my time. The first element of this analysis came from the word ‘spend’ as used in the preceding sentence. To spend something means to use it up. When you spend money, it is gone. Hopefully you have something in return, but there is no guarantee of that. When someone is exhausted, they are described as ‘spent.’ So I faced the need to evaluate whether I was ‘spending’ my time here on this earth effectively, or whether in fact there was little return on my investment of attention, energy, and all too precious time.
For many years, right up until probably this time last year, I spent far too much of my time working. I viewed this as a worthwhile investment, because it meant that I could provide for my family. Working three jobs and spending as many as 16 hours a day working allowed me to buy a house, keep up payments on a huge mortgage after the recession hit and the house went into negative equity, and give my son security and a safe school to attend. It meant we could go on holidays – not extravagant ones, but we could travel. It also meant that I could make some progress in my career. But soon, my career stagnated because I had no time to put in the extra thought, planning and care that my ‘main’ job needed in order to progress. I had no extra energy for anything other than achieving the bare minimum. I could meet my deadlines, deliver classes, manage admin, but every day was a knife edge of wondering when I would drop one of the many balls I was constantly juggling. Then I realised that I had spent years of my life existing in a state of constant tension, and not enjoying anything I did fully. I was still making dinner, doing things with my partner and son, shopping, housework, but I had few friends, poor relationships with my family, and no real fulfilment in anything. I made up my mind to change my life and to work to live, rather than live to work.
So what does this mean in relation to my decision to opt out of social networking for a while? Well, I found that the work I was doing had an addictive quality, much the same as the addictive quality of Facebook. Facebook and Twitter allow me to stay in touch with friends all over the world, all over the country, and keep up on their news. But it also results in spending too many hours trawling through meaningless rubbish and being subjected to endless and unwanted advertising. I wanted to spend my time in a positive way, writing, connecting with people who really matter, and sorting out various practical aspects of my life. I found that social networking is important but that it perhaps becomes yet another way of wasting time.
It has been interesting that without this access, I have no idea how my friends are doing, and no contact with most of my acquaintances. Without the regular posts to read, I feel socially isolated. No one rings, or texts me other than my sister. This raises the question of whether my sense of connection via social networking is actually false. Is it enough to post and respond to posts? Has this taken the place of normal social interaction and discourse? And how fulfilling is it? Without that connection I am perhaps more acutely aware of my own thought processes, and of how I engage my mind with various tasks. And I have more space and time to write, and read. I am not escaping into social networking land, but into the landscape of my own imagination. This can only be a good thing. So, I am now limiting it to purposeful networking, as a means of contacting people I wish to contact. My experiment so far is showing me that by taking time away from the Tower of Babel that these sites represent, I can see myself, my work and my inspiration in a different light. Perhaps it makes me look outward instead of inward, and makes me more present in the moment. Certainly, I am aware of a reawakening of my ability to become more conscious of the day to day issues, practising mindfulness without effort. Mindfulness allows me to access the minute and diverse detail needed to conjure up effective fictional worlds. I can honestly conclude that, in my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the opposite of mindfulness. Avoiding ‘spending’ precious time unnecessarily in these spaces therefore must enhance my life and my writing. The judicious engagement with such media is perhaps the way forward.
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