Surviving a Social Media Detox

Something strange has happened to me lately. Even as a young child, I could concentrate for hours. But, as an adult, which I should be quite good at being, what with the length of time I’ve had to get it right, I can’t focus on any one thing for more than a few minutes. And then I promptly forget it. In short, I have the attention span of a gnat. A rather undisciplined gnat, at that.

Would a social media detox help my powers of concentration?

FreeImages.com/CanBerkol

I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve taken a break from social media, like fellow author Helena Halme who had a two-week holiday from her online world last year. My conclusion is that, freed from the constant babble of digital life, most people seem to feel a lot sharper and more refreshed afterwards.

So I’m planning to detox too. A short period of time without constantly checking social media, or dropping everything when I get a notification, will, I hope, help me focus on the things that really matter.

I won’t miss Facebook. Yes, it’s nice to post my photos, keep up other people’s news, and be part of some groups. But, while I enjoy the occasional dictation of pictures of babies or kittens, I don’t need time-sapping quizzes like Who is Your BBC Husband?

Besides, Grantchester is an ITV programme.

And I can do without exhaustive posts about strange symptoms which doctors haven’t been able to cure in a decade or more. Yes, there may be a need to share the frustration of having unexplained problems, but (call me biased) I can’t see how asking a bunch of non-medical people for their opinions will help, especially when most of them have never even met you.

Living without Facebook Messenger may prove tricky for me, though.  It’s my main means of communicating with one of my sons. Remember when mobile phones only did phone calls? Well, that’s what my son still has. His beloved mobile is so retro that it doesn’t do texts, photos, or even voicemail. Which would be fine, if he actually answered my calls. Hence Messenger.

A detox will also mean dispensing with WhatsApp, which is the principal way my two other sons and I keep in touch. Here’s the kind of vital communication they will be missing.

I may yearn for Instagram too. What will my day be like if I can’t post photos from my iPhone, or share my progress in Jenn Ashworth’s challenge of #100daysofwriting?   I won’t be able to see the Colour File’s fabulous daily posts, or pictures of eye-popping holiday destinations (talking about you, Deborah Cicurel). On the plus side, I may actually do some writing.

My blood pressure would probably improve without Twitter. It’s not just the constant unspoken drive for likes, retweets, comments, and follows, or the fact that it’s tough to be nuanced in 140 characters. It’s drivel like this.

Without social media, there’ll be more chance to live in the moment, as per Marcus Aurelius’s dicta. I will be able to dwell on the beauty of life without the immediate need to post a photo of it.

You never know, I may even reconnect with simple pleasures: smelling roses, pressing flowers, that kind of thing. My husband and I might even have an actual conversation. Once free of the pressure to share every moment, however insignificant, I hope that my brain will recover, and that I will become more productive.

That’s the idea, anyway. But I’m not looking forward to those three hours without my mobile.

Have you taken a deliberate break from social media? And what did you miss most? I’d love to hear.

Advertisements

Psst! Want to Hear about my Secret Project?

If you’ve been anywhere near social media in the last year or so, you must have noticed many writers announcing their secret projects.

Or maybe it’s a tweet like

“Forthcoming news about the Secret Project – watch this space!”

“Celebratory champagne is on its way for my secret book news….”

Such mentions are most often found on Facebook and Twitter, but these days even LinkedIn profiles boast of secret projects.

While the words may differ, the meaning is the same, whether it’s a secret collaboration or a new project the person can’t possibly tell you about just yet. Of course, you’ll get further instalments designed to generate excitement.

“I can tell you very soon – you won’t need to be patient much longer.”

Unfortunately, by the time the word is out, the excitement may have gone, washed away by further waves of secret projects from dozens of other authors.  

It is a kind of fakery no better than those TV shows where there’s an overly long pause to heighten the drama before one of the contestants is thrown off the dancefloor or chucked out of the kitchen.

Does it even work? I have my doubts.

But writing is a strange profession. It can be lonely and isolating. The internet is the obvious place to go when you need to communicate with someone other than your overburdened family, or the characters in your book.

To tell or not to tell? It’s obviously different for every writer.

Sometimes spilling the beans is forbidden, as when something is not yet signed and sealed. And, even when the ink on an agreement is dry, there may be contractual reasons for keeping it all under wraps. But, in that case, why not just treat it like an embargoed story and say nothing?

Keeping shtum about one’s writing is a time-honoured tradition. Even when there aren’t commercial pressures to keep quiet, there’s the widespread feeling that talking about a work in progress can bring all manner of disasters. It’s best to keep the authorial powder dry and save energy for writing rather than risk sabotaging the whole thing.

Hemingway famously maintained it was bad luck to talk about writing. He didn’t just shy away from discussing his WIP. It extended to saying anything about writing because, as he put it, that takes off “whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.” Eventually, though, he gave in and wrote a whole book about it, though I’m not convinced he talked about his books before he wrote them.

The rise of social media brings constant pressure to share things. I get that. But there are other things to post. The mere existence of a secret project whets my appetite a lot less than a photo of a sandwich, and is far less engaging than a kitten video.

You’re working on a secret project? Shut up already.

***

You may like:  How to Stop Watching Kitten Videos

Five tips for Freshers’ Week

escolaresAny minute now, university towns will be invaded by young people, many of them away from home for the first time.  By definition, freshmen will be desperate to cram in as much as possible into just a few days.  Freshers’ Week can be a full 7 days, a mere 5 at some unis, or stretched out to what’s billed as ‘the best two weeks of your life’.  If you survive.

US-style hazing* isn’t part of the freshman experience in the UK, and may be illegal anyway.  But giving ridiculously cheap alcohol to 18-year olds and seeing what happens?  That’s a totally acceptable, even obligatory, part of the initiation that is Freshers’ Week.

It usually begins with an event called the Mingle and can end up anywhere.  Alone the way, the student body gets into heaps of trouble: sex, accidents, drugs, debt, stress, freshers’ flu, gastric complaints, hypothermia, blackouts, lost underwear, chlamydia and the full shag (syphilis, herpes, ano-genital warts and gonorrhoea).

instant idiot 1There’s no shortage of sensible advice around, but few students heed it. Here, passed on by an infinitely wise third year, are 5 tips for making the most of Freshers’ Week.

1 Smile at everyone.  You never know who will be your best friend.  Even better, snog everyone.  Make sure you post the evidence on Facebook.  You want people to think you’re friendly, don’t you?

2 Save time by multitasking.  It’s possible to drink beer while doing almost any other activity eg crossing the street, wrestling on the rooftop.  You can also make new friends in the queue at the sexual health clinic (see tip 1).

3 Be ambitious.  The Freshers’ Fair is an intoxicating event meant to convince newbies that anything’s possible, even if, for some very good reason, they’ve never tried it before. You’re tone deaf?  A choir beckons.  You’ve inherited Auntie Pat’s tremor?  Then the rifle club is for you.  Just sign up and pay up.

4 Send automated messages back home.  Whether text or email, these should be regular and reassuring.  Sample messages to start you off:

Hey Mum.  The library is fab!  I plan to spend a lot of time there.

Hi Dad.  I’ve joined the Chess Society and the gym.

This will ease the way when you run out of money sometime during week two.

5 Do the Circle Line pub crawl. Legendary and utterly London, this is where a second year, usually from some society or club, takes unsuspecting freshers to down a pint at each one of the 27 stops on the Circle line.  It’ll make a massive dent in your wallet and your liver, but at least the next day you’ll be too wasted to get into any more trouble.

*For more on hazing, see http://www.stophazing.org/