I love social media, and have been on Facebook and Twitter since they were fairly new. I spend quite a lot of time on them for my personal use, for my business and for the businesses whose social media accounts I look after.
Social media can be great for those of us who don’t get out much; it helps us to stay in touch with friends and family, and to feel connected to the world around us. It can be informative and interesting and entertaining. But the people who own these massive corporations are not stupid. They know they are trading in our attention, and they know it’s in their investors’ best interests if we never actually leave their sites.
When Facebook first started, you could feasibly scroll down your newsfeed until you ran out of posts. The same with Twitter… back in the days when nobody was on there, and I only followed a few people! Now you can scroll through both sites infinitely. There is always a new post, a new comment, a new video.
That’s all well and good; there’s always something to keep you scrolling when you’re stuck at a bus stop or in a doctor’s waiting room. But is it affecting your creativity? I’ve a feeling it might be affecting mine.
I published a post a while back about how I try to make time for S to be bored during her day. The thing about social media is that it doesn’t allow us adults time to be bored. There is always something available to divert our attention so that we don’t have time to sit and ponder things, unless we consciously decide to do so.
There’s this very 21st century phenomenon whereby we can become so busy documenting our lives on social media, that it can feel like the only things that happen are our social media posts. It can feel a bit like living in some sort of echo chamber – we spend our time posting and creating content, so there’s no time to really think and plan for the next post, so it becomes a more shallow, less thoughtful post. So much of our time is taken up documenting our lives, that there’s not much to document because all we do is document and watch what other people have chosen to document. With so much going on, we don’t have the time to really think and research a blog post or social media post or whatever else we would like to do. Instead what we do post just skims the surface of what we might otherwise have created, and our thoughts do the same: skim the surface of life.
As well as this, time spent scrolling through social media can easily become a massive time suck. The time we might have spent reading, or even just sitting and thinking, is now spent looking at lolcats and poorly thought-out political diatribes from people whose opinions we wouldn’t seek out if they weren’t shoved under our noses. It puts just enough distraction in front of us, that we don’t bother to reach out and pick up that book or magazine instead.
In the olden days, before smart phones existed, we would often be left with time to ponder life, death and the cosmos. Waiting in queues; standing at the school gate; languishing in waiting rooms. These used to be times when we would either engage with the people around us, or do a bit of thinking. Social media can keep us from actually stopping to think too much so we live perpetually on the surface of life. And then when we try to meditate, our mind begins bringing up all these things it’s not been able to think about all day and we throw our hands up, declaring “I just can’t meditate!” Perhaps we would all be more successful on the meditation cushion if our minds were free to think their thoughts throughout the day!
Until a couple of weeks ago, this blog had become something of a ghost town during 2017; I felt uninspired and could find nothing to write about. In the end I had a bit of a talk with myself: did I really want to continue blogging? The answer was yes – in which case, I had better find a way to keep writing.
Since I started thinking about how social media might be curbing my creativity, I’ve been experimenting with limiting my time online. A few weeks ago I switched off all notifications on my mobile because the constant beeping and dinging was stressing me. These days you need to know my phone number in order to disturb my peace and quiet – otherwise your Tweet or Facebook comment will wait until I decide to go and check my notifications!
As well as this, and in an attempt to be more productive at work, I try to avoid having social media open during my working hours. This has impacted my Klout score (shock, horror!) but not too badly, all things considered. I am still able to keep up with my clients’ and my own social media in half an hour or so at the beginning and end of each working day.
I still enjoy social media, and strangely enough over the last week or so my Facebook posts have reached a record number of people without any paid advertising. I still spend time chatting to friends on Twitter and engaging on behalf of my clients. But by putting limits on my social media time, I find that I have also been able to revive my creativity and my ability to write.
For months now I have had an ever-growing list of blog post ideas, but whenever I went to write a post I would look at my list and the growing collection of half-written draft posts, and feel terribly uninspired. Now, by stretching my creative muscles on a more regular basis I find that I have been able to produce more content – for myself and for my clients. I think this has been a mixture of discipline over time spent on social media, and discipline about allowing my mind to wander – not just by avoiding social media but by allowing my mind time to breathe. Instead of always listening to a podcast or music while I do housework or walk to and from places, I just let my mind wander. It feels terribly decadent and unproductive… but it has allowed me to become more productive and yes, more creative.
I forget who it was, but a while back I was talking to someone on Twitter who was complaining of writer’s block. At the time I didn’t think I could offer him any advice but I think now, perhaps my advice would be to get off of Twitter, and spend some time just being, without necessarily doing or documenting.