On Life-Balancing and the Social Media Vortex

I have a very inconsistent relationship with social media, in all its forms. I love the people-stalking aspect of Facebook—it’s how most people relay information: new babies, weddings, career changes, what they had for dinner last night. I love the lack of status updates on Instagram. There’s no “your friend Sheila liked this,” followed by a random news article from a site called “The Realest News on the Planet—Seriously.” I love the tiny snippets of info on Twitter—bite-sized nuggets my mind can take in and spit out, with not much making a lasting impression. What I don’t love about social media is the addiction. Yes, I said addiction. If someone is addicted to alcohol or marijuana or whatever else, don’t they often say something like: “I can handle it. Just a little bit won’t hurt this time”? Ever said to yourself, “I’ll just take a peek for a few minutes while I wait for the oven to warm up/the kids to get their shoes on/the mechanic to change the oil” then find yourself still scrolling half an hour later? When that happens, can you honestly say you read something that changed your world? That altered your views on something? That made a change in your heart that is real and lasting? Or does it just make you compare yourself to all the slick photos, the peppy status updates, and the celebrations of accomplishments?

I’m asking these questions rhetorically, of course, and I’m not even really asking you. I’m preaching to myself. I slip into the internet vortex all the time, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It’s a way to turn your brain off, to go slack, to tune out. The problem for me is when I find myself tuning out when my family is around. When the kids are around. When I should be doing other things. Oftentimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it—it’s not until someone calls my name that I realize I’ve slipped. And then comes the guilt. All at once, all those articles I’ve read about unplugging and hands-free parenting come flooding back to me and I feel like the most miserable speck of a mother, wife, human.

“My mom didn’t have to deal with this addictive distraction!” I’ll think, wishing I were parenting back before the internet. But I suppose those parents probably had their own means of distraction. TV? Books? Who knows? (Speaking of books, I don’t feel nearly as guilty if I’m “caught” hiding in the kitchen with my nose in a book. I figure if my kids see me so enthralled in reading a book, maybe that’ll push them even more toward a life of books and reading, something that would thrill me to no end.)

As a writer, social media is important. Twitter, especially, has been very valuable to me over the last couple of years. It’s a fantastic way to hear from other authors, to learn about what agents and editors are looking for, and to keep up with trends and changes in the publishing industry. Authors use Facebook as a way to give updates on upcoming books, book tours, and their writing lives. Can you be a writer and not be on social media? Of course you can. It might even be advantageous, to some degree. For example, writing my first two novels was easier, in many ways, than the one I’m working on now. Reason? I wasn’t on Twitter very much, therefore I didn’t read all those articles on the importance of the first line, the first five pages, and the first chapter; the hook, logline, and elevator pitch; the narrative arcs, inciting moments, and plotting devices. However, now that I know these things, I can’t un-know them. They inform my writing, but they also hinder the almost stream of consciousness writing that’s no necessary in a first draft.

Yet I think Twitter and FB are too important for me to cut them completely out of my life as a writer. With the book news that’s coming soon (I know, I know, annoying vagueness—details to come, I promise), I’ll just have to figure out a way to absorb the necessary information (while filtering out the junk) and connect with readers as much as possible while not letting it take over my life and all my time. How I’ll do that, I’m not sure. But I have to try. I’m an adult raising children—if I’ve learned anything, it’s how to balance several things at once. I don’t always do a good job, but it’s the trying that counts, right? Isn’t that what we teach our kids? Don’t throw in the towel, don’t be satisfied with a half-hearted effort. This life-balancing stuff definitely requires a full-hearted effort.

I was reading Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing this morning and she again wrote something that made me pull out my pen and take notice. She talks about being present both in the life you’ve created in your mind (in whatever story you’re writing) and in the life that’s happening all around you. She says, “Because if I’m present, I will miss nothing.” My mind amended that to say, “If I’m in my present, I will miss nothing.” Slipping into the social media vortex and absorbing all those photos, status updates, and tweets only results in me being present in someone else’s life. I’d rather be present in my own, thank you very much. What’s so important about anyone else’s life that it keeps me from living my own? Even if at that moment, living my own life means waiting patiently while the oven warms, the kids get dressed, or the mechanic changes the oil. That’s my life, and if my eyes are open to what’s around me (instead of down at what my fingers are scrolling through), I will miss nothing.