Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Facebook and the lack of self-discipline.

Effective today, I am taking a one-week break from Facebook. I'd been contemplating this for a while, irritated with the amount of time that used to go to reading, to writing, to sitting and staring off into space, and which now is spent staring at a small glowing screen when I really don't need to be. Time spent staring at a small glowing screen often isn't time well used, and seeing as how I have a brain tumor, it might be time even less well used.*

As Edan Lepucki points out in her awesome and inspiring essay about quitting Facebook and Twitter, "Ceasing to Exist: Three Months in the Social Media Detox Ward", "The first week of my detox, I realized just how much I’d depended on those sites for community. Aside from the classes I teach a few nights a week, I work from home. Alone. Without my beloved internet family, the silence was frightening." Similarly, as a high school teacher, I am with people all the time, but my time with any kind of peer group is hugely limited. Many days, I have to make a concentrated effort to spend time with people my own age, or I will only interact with high school students. Some days, Facebook is my primary social interaction with people of my generation, with the same cultural interests and frames of reference.

I made zines for a thousand years, from high school until my late 20's, and in many ways, the pithiness of Facebook relates to a lot of what I loved about the zine communities I was part of: themed lists, the quotes from books and songs, snippets of people's days, brief observations, photos random and composed. The way you'd get pieces of other lives, personal and private and also giving you a way in through music and literature and film and art, allowing you to reframe, shift, broaden your own worldview in all kinds of ways. Of course, Facebook doesn't allow for any kind of sustained interaction, though I appreciate the links to articles and sometimes the conversations that come up in responses posted.

But as with zines, there's a lot of junk on Facebook, and it's often just a waste of time. Lepucki notes that while "visiting my favorite websites on a whim to see if there’s something new ... feels a little like Christmas, reaching into my stocking to see if there’s just one more piece of candy hidden in the toe," when it comes to Facebook, "the Christmas stocking is infinite, and infinitely full. There is always another piece of candy to claw at. One piece is delicious, but one begets two, and three, and four, and, okay, five…it’s not long before you’ve made yourself sick." And not long before you realize that all your writing time just got sucked away by looking through photos of the children of people you went to high school with and haven't seen in fifteen years. Granted, there have been discoveries and rediscoveries, friendships renewed and meaningful connections made, but yeah, there's also been a lot of time wasted.

I've also quit posting to my blog, instead composing status updates by the zillions, noticing things and reminding myself to post about them. (I thought this New York Times Magazine blog post about status updates was simultaneously accurate, interesting, and rather disturbing.) But 420 characters isn't always enough. Prose poems, epigrams, and the brief observation can be lovely, but when that turns into your primary medium--well, for one thing, the novel might never get finished.

But see? Day 1, and I've already composed a blog post of six paragraphs, more than the five paragraph minimum I require for student essays. So today the plan is to stay off Facebook for a week, and then perhaps limit myself to weekly visits. Hopefully Megan will be willing to keep changing the password for me. (Given the choice between having to concentrate on a sustained piece of my own writing, and being able to waste time looking at baby photos and playing Lexulous [a Scrabble knockoff] and Word Twist [a Boggle knockoff], I too often lack the self-control to close the browser window and get back to work.)

*Which as I initially wrote that, I meant in terms of waves and rays and that sort of thing, but of course there's also that asshole of a neurosurgeon who, when I asked about life expectancy, told me I was already living on borrowed time, already lucky, since according to him, at that point I'd outlived my life expectancy from the previous tumor (The Great Tumor of 2002, removed summer 2003--this one is The Great Tumor of 2009, ad infinitum [though shrinking thanks to the magic chemo pills!]). But that's another subject. Except it isn't, either.


ccp said...

Thanks for posting this, Elissa. I feel the same way, and I think I will take up the challenge too. I get on the computer to write something and end up piddling away my time on Facebook. Next thing I know, hours have passed and I have nothing to show for it which is a horrible feeling. I hope the next week is filled with lots of staring off into space (in a good way), working on your novel, etc. xo, Celia P.S. Would you consider another zine? ;)

Elissa said...

Thanks, Celia! & yeah, I think about making another zine all the time. We'll see if it ever happens.

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