For the past few months I’ve been in parallel experiments with reducing things in my life which have a negative impact when over consumed.
Sugar is a lifelong dance for me – she is my comfort in grief, my celebration of pleasure, my private friend. After a year of back to back grief, sugar wrapped herself around me in the form of pounds of flesh I had worked so hard to let go of, and honey the return was cloud-soft. She slowed me down with her sweetness, pulling on my bones until they forgot how to connect to each other. Now everything inside me is out of alignment and I’m in the process of turning back to myself, my rigor, my ease in my body.
And sugar can be a part of that, but only in certain forms – natural, fruit. Left to her own devices, under the influence of greed, I know she’ll kill me.
Which brings me to Facebook.
Last fall I started to notice I was scrolling down the page of Facebook even when my interest was barely peaked by what I saw. It was always available, a conversation I could watch or join.
I noticed the patterns, the types of posts people share, the rhythm of affirmation or dissent in response:
Isn’t it so annoying/fucked up/racist/patriarchal/depressing when (enter the ‘they’) do (enter an action)?
Tragedy (either specific, with a call to action, or mysterious, with a call to prayer)
Opinion on trending topic, expertise not required
Baby/dog/cat (either a picture of one of yours doing something adorable or a short video of a stranger doing something hilarious)
I realized that I was seeing these patterns more than the content itself, more than making any connection. More, even, than caring about the response levels to my own posts. I was posting too, inside these patterns. But mostly, just scrolling.
And in that scrolling, I was losing time. Precious, miraculous, irreplaceable time. Creative time – time I wanted to spend writing novels and being present with loved ones, having my own thoughts in order to make my own contribution to the world instead of just reacting to other people’s reactions, or crowd sourcing my opinions.
It got to where I wasn’t even aware of opening Facebook. I would just notice I was scrolling on my phone in the middle of a conversation, meeting, or what was supposed to be writing time.
So I started taking little breaks. I just wanted to have more agency. I built up from hours to days away from the website. I learned some things:
1. Because I already recognize intersecting systems of oppression dominate our shared human practices, I don’t need to see videos or pictures of black suffering to tap into my rage or shape my resistance. When I hear of oppression-based tragedy I light a candle and continue doing my daily work to unlearn those oppressions inside myself and evolve the species beyond them in the world. I value these brutal documentations for the sake of waking up those who would deny the realities we live with. But my inner empath works hard enough based on the stories, they break my heart already. So no more automatic transmission of trauma.
2. I have opinions that are at odds with people I love. Or rather, I have opinions that are sometimes at odds with groupthink. I have been giving myself more and more space to love what I love, to see what is lovable in the complex, to see growth in relative terms, to be excitable. To love ‘it’ first and then reflect on why, to nuance my analysis from the place of love. I also don’t really pay any mind to stuff that doesn’t ideologically or aesthetically please or intrigue me. My miraculous life, my choice.
3. I love people learning in public, though it’s a delicate dance, to learn, to be, without an unhealthy degree of performance. I’m in that dance myself as a somewhat public person. Sometimes I catch myself posting for likes, and that’s usually a post the world can live without. I’m always curious about why people share or don’t share, and this ties into mindfulness practices for me – how do I bring intention to each act, live or virtual?
4. My real life is more interesting to me than most things on Facebook, but Facebook can make me forget that.
The exceptions to this are when I’m missing a certain group of people, or someone passes and I’m far from community, or when I need support around something (lately it’s been my sugar shift).
It’s not that there’s no usefulness to Facebook – but there’s just no need to spend hours on there or have it be the default home of my attention.
5. Facebook can kill my creativity. That time spent scrolling yields some gems, but I slowly forget to think of poems, and songs, and stories and other remixes of the experienced world. Facebook shows a portion of what is, and some of that’s good news, good data. And I’m cultivating a focus on what is needed, what is yet to be, what can and must be.
6. For me Facebook is distinct from other social media. Twitter I go to for collective entertainment or moments, but I don’t linger. Instagram pleases me but I never feel caught. Tumblr is a little younger than where I am. Facebook is much more personal, when it’s good it’s so good. When it’s bad it’s so toxic and numbing.
So after this reflection and these experiments with my attention, I’ve landed in a basic practice of about fifteen minutes of Facebook a day. That amount of time allows me to see what’s of interest and share some things without getting/feeling lost in the pattern.
Some days it’s more, and I notice it now. And when I notice it I ask myself the same questions I have been asking myself around sugar:
Do I need this right now?
Am I avoiding something – a feeling, a deadline, a longing?
What do I choose right now?
I’ve removed the apps from my mobile devices as well, which my paranoid friends say is smart. This means my user experience is less pleasing and thus I’m less likely to just meander with my thumb. It also means I have to go out of my way to find it on a browser. I have friends with computers who are using apps that block the site temporarily, and that also seems to help.
Finally I’ve been practicing not starting my day with Facebook. This is so obvious (!!!) but y’all, I was turning to Facebook in the mornings like ‘hey baby how were your dreams?’
Now I put my phone on airplane mode at night, and make sure I do my morning meditation, stretching, and other sacred and grounding practices before letting the world in via Facebook (or email or other social media).
I feel freer, more focused and much more prolific/productive than I have in a while.
Are y’all up to any social media detoxing or behavioral shifts? More tips invited.