Monday, January 4, 2010

My last morning on Facebook

Here's a slightly edited version of something I originally posted as a note at Facebook. In the comments there, many people said that it reflects the sort of balance they're struggling to attain in a life that's increasingly, for many of us, lived online. Enjoy, ponder, and please post any thoughts you have, too.

Here's my resolution for 2010: I won't log onto Facebook - or anywhere else online, for that matter - until after I've put in three hours each weekday morning of working without the 'net.

I love being a netizen, and I especially love Facebook. My recent tenure as communications director at the Idaho Democratic Party coincided with the period when seemingly everyone signed up on Facebook. During the 2009 Idaho Legislature, Democrats and our allies used the social media site to organize everything from a campaign calling for better child care laws to protesting the first-ever state budget cuts to our neighborhood schools. Just before the end of the year, Facebook helped rapidly spread awareness of the gubernatorial campaign of Keith Allred, who promises to move beyond hyper-partisan politics to get Idaho working again. Facebook is, hands down, the best organizing tool that political, social and community activists have today. Anyone drawing a paycheck as an organizer of any sort can now justify being on Facebook throughout one's workday.

Facebook has its personal rewards, too. From reconnecting with friends to seeking advice, it's always a cool place to hang. But I have to be honest: Too often, I find myself spending way more time on Facebook than I intend to. It's a diversion in the best sense of the word, and in the worst. There are, as my fellow writer Patti said the other day, too many shiny things to distract me from the work at hand. Some of my side trips on Facebook may well lead to a story idea or a connection that will bring a paycheck, but most will not. Now that I'm self employed again, it's important that I spend my time wisely.

Yet my resolution to stay offline each morning springs from something deeper than a desire to be productive. I feel a strong pull toward reclaiming some of the style of writing life I had when I started as a freelancer in the early 1990s. Most of us had email and were taking part in forums or list serves, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, so research and writing generally meant the sort of thing I'd learned in journalism school and practiced as a newspaper reporter: Interviewing people face to face, or at least on the phone. Showing up at an event. Going to the library or a museum archive and reading. It was all very slow and focused, and it took some real effort for me to become distracted.

Two decades into the Internet era, distraction is our way of life. We have access to tsunamis of information, and I find myself willingly chasing tangents every few minutes, if I am online. My brain has adjusted to keep up with the deluge. My soul has not. And that is why, for the start of 2010, anyway, I will be practicing media-less mornings.

From the time I begin work each morning until no less than three hours later, I will be reading and writing and creating, but I won't go online to do any of it. It will take the discipline of having a plan for things I can do each morning without the Internet. Invariably, as I write or read, I will feel a pull to go online to check a fact or scan my emails or take one quick peek at my live news feed at Facebook. But I'll resist.

Can I do this in an era when we are all expected to be hyper-connected and always available? I think so. I do not plan to fall off the grid. I will be reviewing emails and phone messages by late morning each day, and I am sure I'll be online every weekday afternoon, checking facts, researching stories, and - yes - getting caught up on Facebook.

But I'm not attempting this shift for anyone but me. After a decade spent as one of Idaho's pioneering political bloggers and someone who had to soak in an increasingly toxic bath of news and opinion nearly 24/7 for half a dozen years, my soul needs a break. No one needs my immediate reaction to anything, and the subjects I most want to write about this new decade - livable cities, neighborhood renewal, education, the arts, travel, history - are ones that require more reflection and rumination, anyway. I want to spend hours rather than minutes developing my ideas before I share them with the world. I also, generally speaking, want to be paid for most of what I write.

The Two Thousand-Oughts were a decade of intense acceleration. This is just one writer's way of saying "enough." It's time for me to slow down and think and live a more deliberate life, if only for a few hours each day.

1 comment:

Julie Fanselow said...

It's February 11, and I wanted to give people an update on my resolution. Thanks to those who have linked to this column or reposted it on their own sites.

I continue to stay off Facebook in the mornings. It really hasn't been so hard, although it may get more challenging as I have several projects coming up that may benefit from my being on social media throughout the workday. But I'll deal with that later, if I need to! I have found that I am on Facebook as much as ever in the afternoon, but I am a little less likely to get sucked in by it.

Meanwhile, I have found that I do need (or want) to check email (but not Facebook messages) in the morning. I just don't want to leave people hanging when business is at stake. However, the difference is now I check my email once early in my workday, and then not again until around noon - not every 20 or 30 minutes as I've done for years.

I also occasionally visit websites in the morning, but only for very defined purposes, and only if it can't wait until afternoon.

Overall, I feel much more in control of my online life and more attuned to my creativity. So this has been a good exercise for me. I welcome your comments on ways that you are working to take control of how you use technology.