The world is such a noisy place, isn’t it?
We’re bombarded with videos, photos, articles, in-depth news reports, texts, tweets, snap-chats…
It all vies for our attention round the clock: That nagging urge to “check in” on social media and see what our friends are up to; the itch to snap a photo of the leaves changing color on our favorite tree; the siren call of a friends text message. Add to that the dire and sometimes terrifying news reports of shootings and war and climate devastation, with election news like bad frosting on an overdone cake.
It’s not a pretty picture.
About a month ago, I found myself craving silence, and craving it badly. I realized I had settled into a compulsion – no, let’s call it straight, it was an addiction – to my electronic devices. I literally could not pass my phone without picking it up and scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds. I was completely unable to stand in line at the grocery store, wait in a waiting room, or yes, I confess, sit at a red light without whipping the phone out of my purse and looking at email. I stopped short of texting while driving, but only barely.
My real life was suffering too. I was having trouble focusing on one activity at a time, starting projects and then leaving them unfinished while I drifted off to something else (like looking at Facebook). I’d find myself always short on time, running late, rushing from here to there because I’d wasted more time than I realized on the internet. I couldn’t concentrate on whatever book I happened to be reading, having to go back and read paragraphs over several times to comprehend them. I was way behind on my Goodreads reading challenge.
Part of this behavior I blame on the grief process. Still missing my mom, I was looking for ways to combat the loneliness. Suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands, time I used to spend with her. I needed to fill it by connecting with other people and the outside world, needed to find a way to extract myself from the quicksand of mourning I felt like I was drowning in. The internet was a quick and easy distraction. It passed the time, helped me forget my loss for a while, and gave me a way of connecting with friends and family through social media.
But suddenly it just became overwhelming, the way the internet was constantly clamoring for my attention. I needed peace. I needed quiet. I tried to remember – what was life like before the internet? For the vast majority of my sixty years on earth, the concept of cyber connection would have been the stuff of a science fiction story. What did I do with myself all those years without it? I began to yearn for those simpler, quieter days, when the only electronic distractions were radios and televisions, and those with only a few channels!
Quitting the internet cold turkey was a frightening proposition, but I contemplated doing it. Still, there are so many good things about the internet, so many positive ways to benefit from it, I couldn’t bring myself to let go of all that. But limits must be enforced, and enforced strictly. I made a deal with myself, allowed myself three times a day to use the internet for social media and web surfing – at breakfast, just before dinner, and about 8:00 at night. I “unfollowed” a lot of the most prolific news and political sites.
I removed all the social media apps from my phone.
The first few days were hard, but not as hard as I’d thought. I keep a book on the kitchen counter where the iPad usually sits, and when I’m tempted to go online I pick up the book and read a few pages instead. (I’m now back on track with my Goodreads challenge, too.) There’s a good audio book in my car that helps pass the driving time. I went away on a solo vacation for a few days during the second week, and thoroughly enjoyed watching people and scenery instead of losing myself in the wilds of social media.
The constant brain frenzy has abated, there seems to be plenty of time to cook, shop, write, practice piano, read, play with the dogs.
If I haven’t totally silenced the noisy world, I’ve at least muted it to a dull manageable roar.
The internet is a marvelous tool for learning, for connecting with people, for conducting business, and it’s here to stay. But like anything else so powerful, it’s easy to abuse. Neuroscience hasn’t even scratched the surface of the effect internet use (or overuse) has on our brains. But I know from recent experience that my old brain works better with more moderate doses of cyber activity.
How about you? Do you ever feel the need to limit your internet use? How has using the internet affected other areas of your creative life?
About the Author: Becca Rowan
Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking her dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.