October 14, 2019 § 3 Comments
By Abby Manzella
Today is a social media-free day.
What that means is I will get through a solid draft of this essay without my mind straying. What that means is I won’t have little hazy moments when my focus drifts to blankness as I pretend that I can multi-task.
I used to remind my students that you can’t actually multi-task. Science has shown that you’re never truly doing two things at once. Instead, as you shift back and forth between two ideas, you lose a great deal of time because each move requires your brain to readjust, leaving you with two tasks much more poorly done than if you’d done them separately. This is not surprising. This is true.
This is true, I again remind myself.
As I watch the words build without the distracting shot of adrenaline from the phone’s vibration and the laptop’s beep, I think of Pavlov, and how well we’ve been trained like dogs to retreat to our treats. I long for the blue light that sometimes flashes on my phone. Our phones have trained us to receive a dopamine burst even through a signal light. Many of our senses are covered: sound, sight, and touch. If programmers could only figure out how to deliver taste and smell, our food-centered selves would do nothing but tweet.
As I complain, though, I watch the words accumulating and do not open another desktop window.
Now you may not have words that you need to write. Instead, you may have a book to read. Numbers to crunch. Children to tend. The point is still the same. At the end of the day I can count the lost hours to hearts and likes. At the end of the day, I know a great deal of trivia, and I feel a great deal of anger from the political rants I’ve read. I also suffer the fear that we are sharing with those who don’t wish us well. In this regard, I mostly worry about money scammers, but there are many forms of evil lurking on the other sides of our screens. Mostly, though, I worry about the depth of the conversations we’re having, the bubbles we’re creating, and the rage we’re spreading without seeking on-the-ground solutions.
All that said, note that I stated that today is a social media-free DAY—not week, not forever. Maybe not even through the evening. I protect myself in whatever ways I can and hope that the government might step up some more protections for us, as well, but for now, I’m staying online because there is still so much that I get from social media.
I still get to hear from childhood friends and those I’ve met along the way. It’s even a nice way to stay up-to-date with those who are a little too busy even while they are merely across town. Online I’ve also built my own small platform for my writing—I hate the word “platform,” but thus it has been termed. (Feel free to follow me to see!) I learn about public events that do take concerns from my glowing screens to the streets. Through it all, I get to hear about how other people are coping with their everyday lives both professionally and personally. All of that is reassuring.
The personal connections seem more straightforward: it’s fun to see what a friend who moved to the West Coast is doing and to know that she’s in town for the week. On the professional front, though, some of the connections are less obvious. Yesterday, I read an article that theorized how we are currently analyzing television shows; it was helpful for my own work. Here is how I found out about it: Someone I knew in graduate school—for a year almost twenty years ago—had asked on social media where he should publish a piece he had written. When someone else, whom I didn’t know offline, suggested a certain magazine, my grad school friend mentioned the greatness of a piece he’d read there…and off I clicked to read it because of its mention and his recommendation.
This find was something I was unlikely to have stumbled upon without the circuitous trails of social media. I appreciate that social media has kept me in touch with this former colleague and that such a connection continues to help me with my work. Thus, the digital space of social media is something that has become one of my popular culture research loops. You never quite know what is going to breed the next idea, but you follow that trail when it sparks a little something like Marie Kondo-ian joy inside of you, and off your typing fingers run.
Yes, I wish that I could figure out better ways to trash those scrolling things from the start that don’t spark joy, and I do some of that. Even so, there is a lot of unwanted garbage to wade through, but that is the case with much of our learning from the world around us and even the books we read.
So, while this is a social media-free day, tomorrow won’t be. I’d love to sit down to tea with you, but such is mostly not in our daily options. Instead, I’ll see what you’re up to on social media. I’ll give you a like, a heart, and a stray comment and hope we can continue to know each other.
See, I got through the whole draft without a single interruption. I feel a bit more refreshed from avoiding the ping-ponging of the beeps and lights. I might even go outside. As the sun sets, though, I know I’ll be back to some online research and more social media connections.
Abby Manzella is a writer and critic who has published with sites such as Lit Hub, The Rumpus, The Millions, Bust, and Kenyon Review. Her scholarly book Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Migrations was named by Choice Reviews as an Outstanding Academic Title for the year. Follow her on Twitter @AbbyManzella or on Facebook @AbbyManzellaAuthor. She’ll be there–on and off.