When I was in my twenties, I went on a four-month trip through Europe on a EuroRail ticket. This was before cell phones. I bought by the minute phone cards in each country I visited so that I could call home once or twice a week. Except for the moments when I was on the phone, no one knew where I was. I could be in Paris one day and Rome the next. If I went missing, no one would know what country to start searching to find me. This was both scary and thrilling, but mostly thrilling.
Now that I am older, being completely unavailable is not thrilling. In fact, it’s very uncomfortable. I worry someone needs to reach me. I am responsible for many things and accountable to many people. Disappearing, it seems, is a luxury afforded only to the very rich or the very young. I’m neither.
We are more connected than ever. We used to recognize the amount of stress and pressure put on doctors when they are “on call.” It was a necessary, but temporary, intrusion on their life that they volunteered for so that they could be available to save lives. The ends justified the means, but even still, it was recognized that this was unusual, intrusive, stressful and should be limited when possible. Emergency and on call doctors were compensated for the strain it put on their lives.
Now we are all on call. Our phones ding, our notifications ping, our emails buzz all day long with possibilities, opportunities, banter and information, but none of it is critical. Most of it is meaningless. We react to all of it. It distracts us from the people we are with, the task at hand. We are constantly getting pulled this way and that way in our lives but for what? There isn’t an emergency. We aren’t needed. There is no purpose for the intrusion and rarely any value.
I just got home from several days camping in Western North Carolina. Internet connections were spotty at best and it was even harder to plug the phone in to charge it. I was as close to “unplugged” as I could get without being completely unavailable. The week in the mountains brought back a taste of that thrill of being inaccessible that I experienced while traveling. The pressure to respond was gone when the signal was weak, the notifications stopped pinging when the phone was dead.
But still I reached for my phone. No one was texting or calling. There were no notifications coming in. There wasn’t urgent news to read, information to absorb. I was reaching for a silent phone.
As it turns out, nothing was reaching out to me, but I was looking for distraction, interruption, interference. I was looking for a reason to respond to something, read something, be needed. By what? By whom?
The interference is a choice. Distraction is a choice. All the interruptions that I’ve resented and blamed for feeling distracted, rushed, limited, stuck were created by me.
I had made myself constantly on call for nothing.
One night in my tent, dead tired at 9 PM I was closing my eyes and thinking about how my memory of nature was wrong. I hadn’t been camping in a couple years. When I planned the trip, I thought, “I will get some peace and quiet!” I remembered nature being peaceful.
There is nothing peaceful about nature at night. The cicadas and frogs put on a raucous show when the sun sets. It’s loud in every direction. It’s unceasing noise. But it’s a language I don’t understand so I can let it turn to white noise and lull me to sleep.
My room at home is quiet. The windows and walls mute the noises of nature but I can not sleep in the silence. I’m looking at screens, scrolling and reading. I’m clicking and liking and typing and reacting. I keep myself awake.
When I wake, tired and achy from my soft bed, I reach for my phone and begin to scroll again. I read. I react. I fritter away my time, on call to a world that is indifferent to my interactions, that gives nothing back but grief.
On the camping trip, waking up was peaceful. My phone was back in the car. The critters were finally asleep. I climbed out of the tent, stretched my legs and saw the world around me, what was right in front of me before I saw anything else. There was only the rustling of leaves and the hiss from the propane on my stove as I boiled water for coffee. There was only my thoughts to crank my brain into running; no clickbait, no trolls, no emails, no posts, no clicks, no likes, no noise.
Social media has been getting more out of me than I’ve been getting out of it lately.
This is a problem.
Jordan Peterson says “Life isn’t a game; it’s a set of games. And the rule is, ‘Never sacrifice victory across the set of games for victory in one game.’”
This is just another way of saying, don’t win the battle but lose the war, except it frames life in the context of play, engagement and discovery instead of violence, power, or domination. Framing matters.
It’s easy to get caught up in the game of social media and convince yourself you are winning. I have thousands of followers across several platforms. I have “fans” and just as important in the influencer currency, I have “haters.” I am a great success at the social media game. But am I winning that game at the expense of others? In the end, what is the prize of winning at social media anyway?
It’s not book sales and I’m not sure it’s readers either. In the beginning, social media was a way to get my writing out there. That was 2014. It’s 2018 and my audience is not growing. Is it my writing? Is it the subject matter? Is it the platform?
It’s me. I’m not growing. I have lost my focus. At first it was erotic fiction, then dating advice. Now I have been collecting old essays into a book but it isn’t fun. It’s old material and more often than not I feel like this project is holding me back. But I can’t tell you what it is holding me back from because I don’t know where I want to go.
I want to write.
I want to write stories.
I want to write essays.
I want to write plays.
I want to write letters.
I want to connect with the page, with my characters and tell stories that resonate with readers. I want to tell stories that make you feel something intense. I want to give you emotional and mental experiences through stories and drama. I want to give you an experience.
To do this, I need to be more connected with myself. I need quiet. I need time. I need distance. I need space away from the distractions so I can concentrate and think. I need to daydream.
Social media has killed daydreaming.
Constant connection with others has killed my connection with myself. If I’m not connected to myself, I can’t pour myself out into my writing. If I don’t pour myself into my writing, it won’t quench your thirst for discovery when you read. I might be able to distract you with creative flair, outrage, shock or pique your curiosity with confession, spectacle or screaming, but then I will just be another senseless sound in the noise
That’s a problem.
I don’t want to write status updates
I don’t want to write tweets
I don’t want to write marketing messages
I don’t want to build a brand
I don’t want to create a sales funnel
Why am I spending all my time and energy on things I don’t want to do? Doing what I don’t want to do will only get me where I don’t want to go.
I can no longer squander my time or energy on things that don’t help me grow or on people who do not engage with me earnestly.
I have lost my voice and my focus. Ihave lost myself and have become the crowd.
I’ve been playing one game at the expense of the others which means I am losing at life. I am consumed with what is right in front of me and missing out on the beauty in the distance.
It’s time to do something different, to break out of my comfort zone, destroy the routines and habits that create stasis. It’s time to go it alone.
I will share my journey through email letters as long as this proves to be a fruitful tool for expressing myself, reconnecting with my voice and connecting with you, but I am making no promises about frequency, subject matter, length or tone.
My only promise is to myself: I will do whatever it takes to reconnect with my creative spirit, to break away from the crutches of immediate gratification provided on social media, to push myself to tell the stories, explore the ideas and create the emotions that will move and affect you.
The crowd is online, so I’m going offline.
But baby, I’ll send you a letter.