Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Internet-Light Brain Diet

I recently decided if I want to improve at writing I must make better use of my time. And when I wondered how I might do that, the answer was immediate. I must spend less time online.

Here's my new approach - I check email as needed. When I'm curious how friends are doing or need to crack wise, I visit social media. When I must answer a random question like, "Who's that guest actor on 'Murder She Wrote'?", I google it. And when I'm done, I put the computer away. I don't wander aimlessly, back and forth, one app to the next, searching for amusement. That was the black hole that sucked so many hours.

To be clear, I'm not vilifying the internet. It's how I keep up with a lot of cool people from my past. It's the medium by which Bernadette's grandparents watch her grow. Facetime, are you kidding me? When I was a little girl, I used to hold a book open on my lap and make believe I was video chatting with friends, like they did on "The Jetsons". I didn't expect that it would actually happen, or that the machine itself would be lighter than a book. Perhaps my favorite feature is that when I'm dead tired and craving Indian food, I can get that grub to my front door and the only human interaction involved is twenty seconds spent with the delivery guy. Thank you, technology!

But just as I cannot indulge in carry-out or human isolation every day, I must limit my internet consumption. And here is the result - not only do I have more time, I'm simply happier. The benefits of my fast speak to the ills of the medium ~

My house has never been so clean The internet is great for stabilizing my nervous energy and isn't as deadly as nicotine. Now that it's presence is reduced, I have to be active. The never-ending laundry pile keeps me busy. I've been cooking more complicated meals, which is fun (the extra dishes less so, blech). I've already planned Thanksgiving dinner and even mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors last week. Honestly, I've become a little obsessive about these chores, but at least I have something to show for it. Eventually, I'll tire of domestic labor and replace some of it with reading and writing. 

If a troll screams in the forest but there's no one there to hear him, he doesn't make a sound I'm thinking of this one guy who's Twitter famous for being a skeevy jerk. He calls himself a feminist but seems to hate women. Some of his enemies have worked very hard to prove this, which means he gets LOTS of attention. Eventually he had a mental breakdown and surrendered his account password to some very concerned friends. And then a month later, he came back under a different account. He tweeted selfies so everyone would know it was actually him and not some imposter. And then he had another mental breakdown, but not before he pissed off a bunch of other people.

I'm not saying that trolls don't matter, that their misdeeds aren't hurtful or that they shouldn't be held accountable. I am saying, thank goodness I never followed that guy. I've had my share of days ruined by trolls and I just don't see any point to that.

Speaking of narcissists... My ego isn't so full of bullshit P90X classes have taught me that an occasional ego beatdown is a very good thing. There's virtue in trying even when you lack aptitude. You develop humility, which opens you up to exploring all sorts of new things. You might even improve at something you thought you did well enough already. 

I feel like social media has the opposite effect of a proper ego beatdown. The more time I invest in Facebook or Twitter, the more attention I get out of it. The more often I update my status, the more "likes" I receive. The more attention I give to friends, the more they return. But I always want more favorites, comments and retweets. And when I don't get the number I expected, I feel a little sad. For what? What have I said or done to warrant any acclaim? When I limit my time with social media, I feel a little lonely at first. But then those red and blue lit flashes of attention mean less to me, and the desire to feel important wanes.

I'm more present for others In Real Life I use the term "IRL" hesitantly because our online lives are very real. I relish a handful of ongoing conversations with a few wonderful people I see once, maybe twice a year. But for those couple people who see me every day, I must refocus attention because I'm already such a space case. Written communication suits me too well because I'm so daydreamy. I think way more than I talk, which is theoretically fine, but not so much when you're dealing with a two year old. They need you to be interactive in the moment. And that's hard enough for me to do without the distracting lure of bright, flashing, nonstop, electric entertainment. Anyway, my daughter been to the playground about four times as often in the last fortnight as in the previous two years put together. My fast is helping me be a more fun and attentive mom.

It isn't as easy to forget my feelings, so I'm less anxious Louis CK touched on this subject in a recent appearance on "Conan". He went on a rant about smart phones, which was definitely more curmudgeonly than the tone I wish to take here. But he shared this wonderful anecdote about listening to a sad Bruce Springsteen song. When he felt himself getting bummed out, his instinct was to seek distraction by texting a bunch of friends. But then he chose to just ride out that bad feeling instead. So he cried, and it was a beautiful moment, and then he felt better.

I'm grateful for that story, because now I pay more attention to unpleasant psychic nudges. For instance, when I read a friend's brash remarks on some social medium and feel irked, instead of swiping to the next app, seeking the next entertainment, I ask myself, "Why does this bother you?" And I ponder that until I figure it out. Maybe I decide to hide or unfollow that friend, or maybe I just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, that's how they've always been, what's new?" Maybe Bernadette says, "Go outside!" twenty times until I finally hear her and then we head to the playground. And at that point, I'll probably decide to just release that frustration because even if both of these lives are real, the breathing one is where I'd rather invest my concern.

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