A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Unplugged

IMG_0083My favorite part of getting my hair done has always been the chance to sit quietly in the salon, reading magazines with absolutely no literary merit while I’m waiting for the color to set.  I don’t have to talk to anyone; I don’t have to remember a word I’m reading; I can just sit and relax for a good forty minutes or so in an oasis of self-centered tranquility, with the added bonus of knowing that by the time I leave, my grey roots will be nothing more than a bad memory. Unless, of course, I forget to turn my cell phone off.

Because when I leave my phone on, someone is sure to call or text, or I’ll hear the familiar ding that lets me know I have a new email, and instead of having my peaceful “me time,” I find myself compulsively checking my phone to see just who wants me to deal with what.  And, of course, answering those texts and emails, or making a mental note to return a call. (I refuse to be one of those people who holds loud, personal conversations on a cell phone in a public place.)

Similarly, almost every morning when I get up, no matter how much I’m rushing around to get out the door on time, I sit down in front of my computer and check my emails, my Facebook page and my blog page.  I answer the emails, reply to or “like” comments on Facebook, and answer any comments on my blog.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this at the start of my day, but it has become as much a part of my morning routine as the Diet Coke I drink every morning.  Sometimes what I read on the computer screen makes me smile and starts my day off on a positive note, but other days I read about problems and issues that are very stressful, and I find myself irritated and crabby before I’ve even had breakfast.

I struggle to find a balance between the instant (and constant) connectedness that our technology provides and my need to have some personal space, or a chance to pay attention to what, or who, is right in front of me.  I’m not going to lie, I like the way social media lets me communicate with old and faraway friends, and I get a kick out of seeing their photos and sharing memories.  I value the way I can so easily get in contact with my someone when I need to (remember the old days, when we had to find a pay phone if we wanted to call someone when we were out and about?) My cell phone also makes me feel safer, since I know I can always call for help in an emergency.

But that doesn’t mean I want to be available to other people all the time.  I don’t want someone calling or texting me when I’m out to dinner with my husband or friends, when I’m finally, after a long session at the Humane Society, sitting down to a very late lunch, or when I’m trying to concentrate on my writing.  I don’t need to know instantly how many people liked my latest Facebook post, or even how many people have read my most recent blog post.  And I hate the fact that I have to remind myself of that, each and every time I hear my phone ding, or notice that I have 12 unread emails on my computer.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be compulsive, or maybe it’s because I’m a worrier (I don’t want to ignore a true emergency), but I know that I have to figure out a better way to live with my digital connections.  I have to find that balance between communicating with others and finding the time I need just to live my life in the here and now.  I know that’s not going to happen over night, but I’m going to try to do better.  I have a hair appointment this Tuesday morning, and the minute I sit down in the stylist’s chair, I’m turning my cell phone off.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Missed Connections

Heather and II have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  On the one hand, I have reconnected with many old friends since I joined Facebook several years ago, and I love seeing what people I haven’t talked to in decades are doing these days.  It’s great to get to catch up with old friends, to share memories, and to see photos of their families.  I no longer have to worry about forgetting most people’s birthdays, because Facebook is always there to remind me.  I have friends who brag about not being on Facebook, and while I understand why they choose not to participate, I sometimes wonder if they really know what they are missing.

On the other hand, I am still an introvert who needs a certain level of privacy to feel comfortable, and I’m not exactly a master of new technology.  I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Twitter account, and I’m not even sure what Instagram is.  In the huge pool of social media, I am definitely staying in the shallow water.

But the real problem I have with social media is with its limitations, and I worry about whether we always remember that a Facebook friend is not the same thing as a real friend, and that a “tweet” will never be a substitute for a real conversation.  On social media, we post about what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and (oddly enough) even what we are eating.  We share photos of our family and friends, our vacations, or a project that we’ve completed, and that’s all just fine.  But the one thing that I have never seen posted (and I would bet that it’s rarely, if ever, tweeted) is the simple question, “How are you doing?”

And that, to my mind, is the difference between friendship and communication in social media, and friendship and communication in real life.  Social media is all about   showcasing ourselves, and usually in the best possible light.  Real-life friendships require true connections, with the chance to tell each other the hard stuff…our self-doubts, our struggles, our not-so-broadcastable moments.  Real communication involves listening as well as talking, with an honest and open exchange of ideas, and the chance to learn from each other.  Most of the back and forth exchanges I see on Facebook involve hateful arguments about politics and religion, and I never see any evidence that the people writing those comments are actually listening to each other, much less caring about each other.

I think that social media is, by its very nature, usually a bit superficial, and that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with the casual connections we form there, the chance to catch up with faraway friends, and the chance to quickly and easily keep track of each other.  And sometimes social media is used to tell bad news and to request the prayers and support that help so much during these dark times.   But it will never be a substitute for one-on-one communication, or the real friendships and the deeper, more personal relationships that we all need, and I think it’s important that we remember that.

In the real world, the quality of the friendship matters so much more than the numbers of friends we have, and real communication is never like a Facebook post that is judged by how many “likes” it gets.  Social media definitely has its place, but in my opinion, it also needs to be kept in its place.  And that place should never be center stage.