Presence

Presence

I wondered off and on if I had been too effusive in a post I wrote in April 2016 about no longer using a Facebook personal account. A theme on the rise for me this year has been elevating & improving my writing, even personal blog posts like that one & this one.  Focusing more on being descriptive but ultimately also more concise- a great challenge for me.  So on occasion when I thought of that post I was tempted to go in & edit.  I also wasn’t sure if I should be embarrassed by all my admissions of defriendings, anxieties about a growing friends list as well as my general addictive tendencies with social media.
I realized that no, I am not embarrassed.  Ultimately, my behavior with social media is about my time, my communication efforts as well as my own emotional & mental health.  Also, I knew, I was far from alone.  Google ‘smartphone addiction’ or ‘social media addiction’ & head into the rabbit hole of fascinating & critical discussions about our engagement with our devices & these various networks & how we discipline ourselves (or don’t) to ensure our use of them is not impairing our sense of presence & engagement with life.
I remember reading articles a few years ago about ‘post envy’ & how social media inspires this dismal energy that negatively affects people.  That wasn’t my problem.  I always knew many people posted highlights & that never was an issue to me.   Some people are comfortable posting about everything- the beautiful moments, the rough ones, the sad ones, the inspiring ones.  Some aren’t.
My issues revolve more around consumption of information & media as well as an almost obsessive sense of needing to check networks.  The behavior was all under control when I was traveling or working on photos or an article. But give me some downtime & it was all over with. I also didn’t really have the sense or willpower to just disengage with social medias & my device. I would often  distractedly straddle being in the moment & checking my notifications.
In retrospect I now clearly see just how much time I was devoting to planning posts, composing the text in my head, exploring hashtags & liking pages.  By the time I decided to stop using my personal Facebook account (where most of my addictive behavior was focused) I had ‘liked’ upwards of a couple thousand pages if not more.  There was no way I was able to see the posts from all those pages.  But I was always hungry for more & at some point I realized how ridiculous it had gotten.
Life as  a mama definitely played a big role.  How awful was it for me to be at the playground with my son, following him around, my attention half plugged into the smartphone in my hand. That alone is enough to want to change my behavior completely. On top of that most compelling reason was the sense that I needed more space in my mind for my writing.  Giving up the social medias I use the most meant giving up a certain connectivity but I also knew that to get deeper with my crafts it was something I needed to do.
Many people use social media & don’t have these issues.  They are able to be balanced with their use, not posting 15-20 times a day as I sometimes did. There would be mornings I would wake up & smile to myself saying, I am not going to post on FB today. By noon I would have already posted 2 photos, a thought & shared 2 articles.
The compulsion to share is perhaps at the root of some of this behavior.  I’m sure there’s more & I will find out as I am still fascinated by all of the discussion surrounding these issues. And I certainly have not gone totally off the grid nor plan to.  I still have public pages on FB & also a Twitter account.  I don’t use Twitter much so it’s interesting I still maintain that account but perhaps that’s precisely the reason I have not closed it.
The weeks after I stopped using an FB personal account were lovely but a little weird. I found myself reaching for the phone numerous times a day & realizing there wasn’t much to check.  Sure I had emails (and I always value being able to answer those wherever I am on the phone) but the vast majority of those ‘checks’ were moments when I previously would have gotten on & checked my FB or IG notifications, written DM’s or just simply scrolled. I felt liberated.
But as the months went by, it was increasingly clear that I had been transferring my behaviors on FB to Instagram.  Whereas I used to post one photo a day, I was soon getting into territory where I would post up to 4-6 photos each day.  I lost my sense of balance & moderation there. To be truthful, even before that I probably posted more than the average user. Most critically, I was using up a lot of focus & mental energy wondering what I would post next & when.
In early July 2016 I decided to take a 2 week break from Instagram. Just a few days into that break I had a conversation with an old friend now living in Alaska & towards the end of it knew that I was actually en route to deleting my account.
My Alaska based friend has always been someone who I admired- accomplished & hardworking as well as very involved & attentive mother to two great kids. She told me a recent story of taking a month long break with her son this past winter to go dogsledding. We talked at length about photography as well as sharing (she is not on social media at all). On an experience like that, she explained, all your focus is 100% on action & safety.
Talking with her reminded me of how action packed & full life can be & that all the moments can exist without continuous updates on social networks. On a more philosophical level, thoughts rose about my crafts & what the purpose of all my documenting was. I will never stop documenting as long as I live, as writing & photography are integral to my life, but I realized how much of the energy of my crafts had been directed to these social media accounts, when I realized how much happier I would be in returning to direct those energies to more old school sources like my journals & notebooks as well as to my blogs.

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Photo taken by my dad on Block Island, RI- July 2016
Some people might see such behavior “I’m leaving Instagram!!! I’m leaving FB!!!” as attention seeking or dramatic. I often announced my departure multiple times because, let’s face it, many of us almost exclusively use these media to connect with folks. Some people are more likely to send a dm or look up your profile to post a hello than to email. I never want to be “so busy” that I have time to dm people or search for their profiles but not to sit down & write a letter or email. I wanted people to know I was leaving so that if they wanted to stay in touch they knew where to find me.
For me, so much of my connection & communication with people was tied up in these social networks – often in a wonderful way.  I live with my husband & son but not near any family so it’s always nice to be able to see updates from life & travels from close family & relatives on these mediums.  That is the main thing I miss.

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Photo taken by my dad on Block Island, RI- July 2016
On a day trip to Block Island with my dad (visiting from the Big Island), my husband & son earlier this month, I knew that was the day I would close my IG account.  I was excited. I felt like I was going on a retreat (not unlike the feeling a few months earlier when I left FB).  I felt more relaxed than I had in a long while. I realized how these actions would dramatically improve my presence with my son- my very active, expressive & jovial child. I thought about the things I would miss- connecting with old friends & family, making new connections, sharing my work, exploring different topics.  But I also thought about the things I would gain- a quieter mind, more time, being in the now with my family more than ever.
I also happened to be falling a little bit in love with Block Island on this day as I thought of all these things.  There’s a group of characters I have been writing about on & off for about 16 years now & in this place I felt their return to my mind.  As a writer, characters are with you, stories inhabit you and are your thoughts.  Place is often pinnacle to me- for my inspiration in photos as well as stories. As I pushed my son in his stroller past an elegant hotel built in the 19th century & perched on a gorgeous vantage point on the island, up towards soft rolling hills & then back again, past sunflowers & gardens, I thought about location. This place brought me back to my characters.  This was a storied island & my mind wandered to its seasonal rhythms- high flows of foot traffic from the ferries in Summer, all descending to enjoy the eateries & great beaches- to the cooling Autumn period & finally Winter when population is down to the core- true islanders inhabiting this place as home.
I deleted my account that night, after a busy, late evening ferry ride back to Connecticut, chasing my son all around the boat. Leaving Instagram did not feel as ‘freeing’ as leaving my personal Facebook account had but perhaps at this point my addictive tendencies on social media had become redundant.  I have noticed my dependence on my smartphone gradually dissipating. I might be missing a lot of interesting posts by acquaintances, friends, family, magazines, hotels, organizations, tourist bureaus, chefs, creative professionals & more but I am scrolling less (hardly at all in fact) & learning to move through my day without this constant compulsion to check my phone.
I have more to say on the matter but in keeping in line with being in the moment- it’s now time for morning coffee, to tidy up the main spaces in our home, do some research for an article, chop some heirloom tomatoes to prep a salsa for a taco lunch with a guest today & take a walk with my son.