Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An important realization, Part 2: I have a problem

Mobile phone
I think it’s time I admit this to myself. I have a problem. I’m not sure when it was exactly that I came to this realization, but at one point, it seemed that everything I read was trying to tell me something.

It started with the author, Gretchen Rubin’s question on her Facebook page, asking if Facebook makes us happy. I paused to respond, except I didn’t have a straight yes or no answer, and it was a little unnerving.

Then I read Big Little Wolf’s article on phone stacking, and it made me realize just how much my own head was buried in my phone sometimes. And I didn’t like it. Especially since it irks me to see that happening with “kids these days”, who don’t look at their parents while responding, if at all, because they’re hyper attached to their phones, and even parents who spend more time at playgrounds on their phones than with their children.


Well, maybe not more time, but enough to give me another pause. Do I look like that? Am I that parent who’s there but quite not there at the same time?

Finally, not long after, this post found its way to me through, ironically, my Facebook feed: Momastery’s 6 Reasons Social Media is Dangerous, which hit me like a 15-metric-ton meteoroid.

The image she chose, with the words “Be Still” tattooed on the wrist, spoke to me. Calling herself an Input Junkie, where she was restless and fidgety when she wasn’t checking one social media site or another on her phone, spoke to me. And Validation Junkie? Oh boy, that hit home too. (Yay, 20 Likes!)

Reading about her being pulled out of the present moment and thus robbing herself of the here and now with her family
screamed at me. And the whole “I’m not good enough” thing? Well, that did it. Nail. Coffin. Done.

I decided to divorce Facebook. At least on my phone.

It’s not a clean breakup, because, like her, I do appreciate its basic functions. I like learning about my friend’s new baby in Australia, seeing pictures of my 80-year-old paati (grandma) at her surprise birthday banquet in Malaysia, finding interesting and useful sites, articles, and businesses through my social network, and being in the loop when it comes to news around the world. Yes, Facebook was where I learned Osama bin Laden was killed.  

As with most people, I love the convenience of this one tool that made keeping in touch, sharing my babies’ milestones with family and friends, and being informed so easy. It’s a great tool! To answer Gretchen’s question, yes, it made me happy. But that’s just one side of the story.

Here’s the other side: After I left my nine-to-five job, I decided to give social media marketing a shot, and to do that, I made myself more active on Facebook. I created a Facebook page for this blog, I updated my status and uploaded photos fairly regularly, and I even started checking in at places because I enjoyed seeing the places my friends visited. From them, I learned where I could take my kids, new places to eat, and future date nights to plan.

Recommendations! Conversations! Friendships! Social networking at its best.

I even helped a local business with their social media, and they were fairly successful with my input. Even better. I was going somewhere…

Until I wasn’t anymore. Navigating between my own network, my blog’s presence, and this additional business all became too much too fast. It wasn’t just Facebook. There were Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, and then Foodspotting, RunKeeper - it seemed like every hobby had its own social networking tool. And I was in all of it!

This girl. Yes, this girl who craves the quiet and serenity like a lizard the sun. The same one who would rather read a book than attend a party because being around people takes too much out of me. It’s not the same, one might argue.

But when I couldn’t fully complete my own thought because my head was nagging at me to turn on my phone so I could scroll through a mind-numbing amount of images, recommendations, triumphs, frustrations, ideas, videos, complaints, observations, then yes, it’s the same, because it’s just as intrusive, uncomfortable, and exhausting.

I was constantly flooded with information - like drinking from a firehose, as My Guy would say - but when I stepped away from it, my hands didn’t know what to do with themselves. Nor my head, apparently, because I forgot how to just sit and think.

Like Glennon at Momastery, I was “twitchy and fidgety” when my hand wasn’t holding a phone, absorbing some information - no matter how inane or mundane. The inability to just sit and be still without wondering “what’s going on out there in the world” when really that’s just code for “hmm… what are the people of Facebook up to?” - WHAT THE HELL WAS UP WITH THAT?

Then I started rationalizing, which made it worse, because that just promoted the situation from problematic to pathetic.

I started telling myself that working from home, with no conversations with anyone but myself or my two cats can be a little too quiet, too isolating sometimes (which can be true). With Facebook, I could “talk” to people, and on days that I was home with my toddler, I could feel like I was having an adult conversation, rather than ones that mostly centered around offering myriad snack choices (yogurt and granola? applesauce and string cheese?), discussing bowel movements (did you poop? or just pee pee?), and negotiating everything (how about we go outside after three more bites of breakfast? okay, two. fine!).

These “conversations” made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than what I was doing by myself, alone, or with a toddler who didn’t care that I cared about other things outside of her. And that was enough for me to continue my social networking binge.

But here’s the funny thing about
enough. That’s one thing I could never find on Facebook. There’s always someone doing something I’d rather be doing. Seeing more. Having more. Knowing more. That it makes me feel like what I’m doing, where I am, who I am - it’s never enough. Someone will always be wiser, stronger, smarter, funnier, prettier, and I too was getting caught up with it sometimes.

It can be so frickin’ high school, and the fact that I allowed myself to be swept up in its ridiculous, tangled mess of a web just absolutely kills me. I’m 38 years old. Shouldn’t I be above this crap? Instead, I’m one bad hair away from living the 80’s all over again with all the junior high drama.

It pains me to admit all this, especially since I will be announcing this post once it’s published via Facebook. The irony is not lost on me. But I also need to get all this out there so I will no longer be tethered to my phone, thumbing through several sites in search of what? Validation? Company?

Putting this out there makes me feel accountable. Like if I say I’m going to quit this bad habit of mine, I just will have to follow through. Because I said I would to all of you. Like sharing my running activities over Facebook made me more likely to stick with it - the encouragement, the discussions, every little bit helped as I tried to get into it over the past year. Except now I no longer need them to continue running. It’s already in my blood.

And I certainly don’t need Facebook to validate what I should already know. That I am happy. That I love being a mother. That I enjoy my work. That I love my life. That I don’t have to conform to ideals. That my little life here, with my little people, is, in fact, enough. That I am, indeed,

It has been over a week since I deleted Facebook from my phone. Since then, the phone no longer looks like an extraneous growth on my body, which is funny because just two days ago, My Guy surprised me with an iPhone 5S. It’s a beautiful, impressive piece of technology for sure, but it has been in my purse or on my nightstand more than it has in my hands.

Since I made my decision on this issue, I’ve been on several dates with My Guy, we’ve attended or hosted a few events as a family, the girls have achieved new milestones, I’ve made some interesting choices, and they’ve all gone unrecorded on Facebook. And I’m okay with that.

I’ve learned to get on social media sites only when I’m at my computer, usually when the kids are away or asleep, and when I’m with my family, unless it’s an urgent text or call, I’m completely in the moment with them. No more - are you ready for this? - shushing my girls because I was trying to capture our moment for others to see, only to - irony among ironies - step outside of our seemingly perfect, status-update-worthy moment myself.

I am deeply, regretfully embarrassed. But maybe that’s why I’m admitting to it so I will cut this shit out. Because, really, that had. to. stop.

And maybe it did. I think I am making progress anyway. The other day, when Little Miss, who was hanging upside down at the playground, was yelling, “look at me, look at me”, it felt good that I could respond with, “I am looking at you.”

Because I was. And just that little thing brought the biggest smile to her face - something I knew wouldn’t have happened had my attention been on my phone.

I’ve also been inspired by the Hands-Free movement - stepping away from mobile technology, which often contributes to a harried, hectic life, while spending time with the family - and I can feel the difference already. Less guilt, less insecurities. More gratitude, more joy. Who wouldn’t want that?

So far, being away from the “noise” of social media has given me back the gift of gratitude, as Glennon says. I am more keenly aware and therefore grateful for the moment I’m in with my family, my friends. Grateful for my perfectly imperfect, beautiful life that I was too absorbed in others’ to see.

It’s scary to think that I lost control. With Facebook, of all things.

But I think I’m back on track now. On Step 7 of the 12-Step program, although rather than cutting it off completely, I'm practicing moderation. Slowly learning to use social media in a way that allows me to answer Gretchen’s question with an unequivocal yes.

Smiling at my girlfriends’ reunion in Australia, nodding in agreement at a fellow mama's frustrations, and knowing that marriage equality is making strides - these are all things etched in the social media landscape, and they genuinely make me happy.

Occasionally, I will even contribute with an update of my own, from my little corner of this big, wild world, where there’s always plenty of room for everyone’s stories.

I just don’t need to know all of them to appreciate my own.

image source: Girl with Smart Phone by Naysan Naraqi