Small Respite

Final in a series

Author Rebecca Solnit writes about how we have changed in the last 20 years, mainly due to online connectivity. We have shorter attention spans. Our time is chopped into bits. We indulge our need for constant updates and check-ins.

She wrote that all this makes deep thinking and reading very difficult to sustain.

And often the habit of seeking external input subverts our inner knowing.

With that in mind, I conducted an experiment in the last weeks of 2013. I took a break from Facebook. I found it instructive—not always comfortable, but interesting.

I find that a quality of inner silence arises when I’m not hooked into an external source of connection. I’m not distracting myself through the random bits of pathos, trivia, deep thoughts, outrage, and silliness that constitute my Facebook feed—so I can face more easily the stuff that needs to be addressed, whether a stuck emotion or a dreaded task.

Back to my conversation with my friend Kate Boyd: She told me she had seen the film Inside Llewyn Davis and was struck by the pace of life pre-Internet. The breathing space of that age.

I had the same experience, and a sadness at what is lost, when I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which takes place post-World War II. The story unfolds in letters. I mourn the loss of letters.

Photo by Cas, via Flickr Commons

Photo by Cas, via Flickr Commons

Much of the story happens on an island, and the main character has long spacious hours in nature. I mourn the loss of time unfettered, disconnected from constant inputs.

There’s no going back, of course. But it helps me to put rules around my Facebooking, even bendable ones: No checking after 9pm. No checking before I get some work done. One day a week cold turkey.

Each Sunday I strive for an Internet-free day, but one day really isn’t enough to touch that sense of quiet. During my self-imposed “FaceBreak” and also during last October’s writing residency at Mesa Refuge, I came closer.

The hours at Mesa Refuge were largely Internet-free. There was no expectation to track anything other than my own thoughts and the work of my cohorts. The main questions were: “Did you break through that block you had last night, did you write your scene, did you get to the place you need to be?”

My writing shed at Mesa Refuge

My writing shed at Mesa Refuge

My time there was about ideas and creativity—and connection to something slower and sweeter than the latest argument or article posted online. Something, dare I say, eternal.

I’m looking forward to two writing retreats this summer that I hope will offer the same sense of spaciousness. And in the meantime, I manage as best I can—carving out Screen-free Sunday as a small respite, bringing some awareness into the mix when I remember to.

I hope this keeps me from having to file “social bankruptcy,” as in this very funny Portlandia clip (that a friend shared on Facebook).

What about you: Do you have techniques that help you deal with information overload? Have you ever taken a break from social media, by choice or necessity? Tell us about it in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Small Respite

  1. I tend to check on social media in the morning and again at night thus keeping myself free of it during the day. I hate iphones as people are always absorbed checking Facebook or whatever. My phone is an old model I just use for texting and occasional calls.

  2. I am starting to see the need to be away from electronic information. It really has a pull, and just noticing that ‘urge’ (which I guess has a name in psychology circles….”fear of missing out”) is an interesting first step towards being able to walk away from it.

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