Unplugging from our online lives seems like the easiest thing to do, but it isn’t for many of us. In our connected, information-driven world, we have become zombie slaves to the web and the thousands of images it wants to show us every time we pick up our phones.
Nothing I do is more nourishing for my soul than my annual social media fast. For the past five years, I have unplugged from all social media for at least one month. It is a precious time for me, and I begin to crave it deeply as the time approaches. Life is peaceful and quiet when we inhabit our world like we did in 1999—only email, nothing else. I have to use social media for my brand, so I can’t just dip a toe in. I have to go in all the way. I manage my social media myself, so my social media siesta is a respite for my spirit.
Artists, designers, and makers are compelled to participate in social media to support their bottom line. But that involvement comes with many unpleasant side effects, no matter how much we enjoy sharing and connecting with family and friends online. Sometimes we can’t hear our own inspiration over the sound of the noisy Internet.
Using social media has been shown to contribute to mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, and addiction. It can also be numbing and distracting. We self-medicate with the wash of information cascading before our eyes, much like the green waterfalls of data streaming in The Matrix. With every “like” we get, we receive a hit of dopamine. It feels good, so it becomes difficult to stop. We must make conscious choices about how we want to engage online for our well-being.
I tend to unplug in the summer. I live in the sun-soaked Arizona desert, so our summer involves a lot of indoor time, as winter does for Minnesotans. We are able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures with our loved ones, seeking cool and shade. My kids are off from school, and I usually don’t have much to promote in the way of fabric or art during the summer. Luxuriating in the long days, fully present with my family, is wonderful and it enriches all of us.
Your time of self-reflection may be in the heart of winter, and that might be an ideal time for you to unplug. Regardless of when you take this break, it will enrich your creativity.
Creativity requires true presence, paying attention to the everyday moments: reading books, talking to family and friends, working in the garden, painting, baking, sewing, breathing. Being. We have to see the magic in our own lives without all the inspiring images of Pinterest or Instagram.
When Virginia Woolf was writing or Henri Matisse was painting, they spent hours upon hours alone with their work. Sharing it required the presence of friends in close proximity. They created and birthed their work without concerning themselves with showing and sharing it, which is something we have lost sight of. We finish our work and we share right away, sometimes before the paint is dry. Then, if we don’t get the feedback we want, we think perhaps the work is flawed. But that’s usually not it at all. Social media sites use algorithms that control how many people see our posts at a given time of day. That is a perfect example of how social media can negatively impact your state of mind.
So, give it a try. Just stop. Take a social media break and engage deeply with the world around you.
Some of us can’t totally unplug, because we are designers or makers who rely on social media to make a living. If that’s the case, take mini-breaks.
Here are my self-prescribed rules and regulations for healthy social media engagement:
1. Remove social media apps from your phone. This forces you to concentrate your social media posting from your computer or laptop. Choose a time of day, or two, and do all posting at those times.
2. Only post if you have something meaningful to contribute.
3. During your mini-fast from social media, do your best not to look at others’ posts. If you have to pop on to post something, get in, get out, and don’t make eye contact. It’s too easy to get distracted and start mindlessly scrolling.
4. Front-load a week or two by creating drafts for Instagram of all your posts so when you sign on you can share them, and not linger.
5. Use an app such as Hootsuite to manage all your social media posts from one place, posting on multiple platforms with one click.
6. Take a weekend “technology Shabbat,” if you can’t unplug fully.
7. During your partial fast, consciously, mindfully inhabit the real world as much as possible. Don’t check out while waiting in carpool lines or at the dentist.
8. Keep your art materials close by. You’ll be surprised how much more time and desire you have to work with your hands when you’re fully present in your day.
9. Most importantly, try to live small. Live close. Live local. Focus on what is native and nearby you in every moment. Notice people’s faces, the texture of the walls, the feeling of standing at your kitchen sink. Plant your feet wherever you are and just inhale and exhale. Do that until you feel yourself land in your body. Steal a few minutes of mindfulness whenever and wherever you can. Carry that momentary awareness into washing the dishes, helping with homework, painting, or waiting in line. Be present in all you do.
Carrie Bloomston is an abstract painter, textile designer for Windham Fabrics, creativity enabler, mom, and author of The Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity. She lives with her inspiring family in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. Visit her online at carriebloomston.com.
This column also appears in our Fall 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.