I really struck a nerve on my personal Facebook page recently by posting that I was down to nine Facebook groups. Many people responded. I used to join every group I was remotely interested in, and by 2017 belonged to several dozen. My pruning led to some discussion of why I left so many, including ones that “most people” with my professional profile belong to.
I also started using an add-on to Facebook that replaces the never-ending “feed” with a quote from a famous wise person. I turned off all notifications from all of my groups, and I gleefully ignore Facebook’s constant nagging about not posting on my studio page “enough”. Screw that! I’ll post when I want to post!
All social and news (a.k.a. constant outrage) apps are off my phone. I keep my phone on silent mode all day long and have almost no notifications turned on. I look at texts twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. I respond when I feel like it, not instantly.
I just finished Cal Newport’s excellent book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and am using many of its ideas to cope with information overload. Dr. Newport is not anti-tech; he is a computer science professor. His big-picture look at the digital life is something we all need to understand. He not only suggests how to reduce digital life’s insidious overreach, but also how to replace it with more valuable activities.
If you are going to make anything, art included, you have got to have some empty space and time in which to let ideas come, to let things simmer, to play, and to practice/drill/model/test stuff. And not in two-minute slivers in between compulsive checking or responding to texts, staying on top of Twitter, and being a social-media-relevant slave to “the algorithm”. My pianist friend Paul says “You have to have time to think.” Doesn’t that seem quaint now? I have to remind myself of this, and am well rewarded when I allow uninterrupted time.
I’m looking for the courage to perhaps ditch Facebook altogether, since it is the biggest, baddest part of my participation in the attention economy. It is engineered in an almost overwhelming way to keep us tethered to it for as long as possible every day, in order to fulfill its business model. They have a right to make their money, but not at the expense of my experience of life and artistic output.
We need to have limits. We can’t just keep getting deeper and deeper into the digital life without losing our humanity. It’s pretty clear now that the more “connected” people are digitally, the more disconnected they are in every other way – from loved ones, health, creativity, contemplation, their fitness, even their individuality. The consequences of our daily hours of screen time must be addressed. We need to deal with the overwhelming number of psychological, political, and cultural problems that it is causing.
Once you unplug even a little bit, you start to notice more how ridiculously compulsive the digital life has become. For many of us at this time, this is the biggest barrier to fulfilling our creative potential. We don’t have to be slaves in the attention economy, working for free to deliver more minutes of our lives to corporations that reap huge profits from our hypnosis.