If you will miss me when I am no longer hanging out in cyberspace, subscribe to my zine. I’m sure chronicling this experiment will be something I do a lot of in there.
I have been “on the internet” since 1996, so it’s almost 20 years, almost half my life. I don’t remember much of what I did in that shadowy early online world, except hanging out for a while on the message boards at John Michael Talbot’s Brothers and Sisters of Charity site. I was a new Christian and (as usual) my talent for being simultaneously ignorant about a subject and inappropriately vocal about it was alive and well. I hardly knew anything about Christianity or Protestantism and there I was, debating Catholicism.
I was in the Cage Stage of Libertarianism at the same time – I needed a cage inside a cage (and perhaps a straitjacket and definitely a sedative). I got a lot of great radical libertarian ideas online, to mix with my own thoughts (always a deadly brew) which I then put into my zines and mass mailings. My eyes glaze over when I think of it, I can’t imagine the eyes of my poor friends who had to read that stuff in real time.
As I look back over my online history (which, as an everyday memoirist, I can easily do because I have almost the whole thing printed out hahahah) I see the majority of it as Identity Creation and/or Enhancement, which includes (but is not limited to):
1) Debating various topics in order to be perceived as intelligent and/or a good writer and/or communicator
2) Getting people with a similar (but more impressive – or impressively developed) identity to mine to accept me into their cool online cliques
3) “Sharing” my life, thoughts and activities so others (usually the people in #2) can approve of me because of (insert thing I do/don’t do/believe/don’t believe) or because I am “talented” in some way
4) Circling back to #1 to defend myself when people don’t actually approve of me or like me
The online time that isn’t conscious or subconscious Identity Enhancement (also known as self-justification) has been roughly equal proportions of unhealthy distraction from difficult emotions and finding/utilizing truly helpful information or services.
Last week I watched the documentary Tiny, which is about people living in microhouses under 200 square feet. Everything they chose to own had to have both a purpose and a place, which is something I’ve always admired and want to emulate in my own non-minimialist way. I decided to think about each room in my home as a tiny house in itself, and that helped me to make some changes regarding both the stuff and how I manage the stuff. In one of the tiny houses, they had a small built-in bookshelf that was probably 4ft worth of total space, and it was fascinating to think which books are important enough to me that I would give them that kind of precious space. Anyway, I digress, but somehow that made me think about my time and what I put onto the proverbial but also limited Shelf of My Life.
I have wanted to make a radical change in my life for some time. But my options for radical change are limited, being that I have five kids, a husband and a heading-towards-elderly mother who lives with me. I can’t just up and go backpacking across Europe. But taking into consideration my desire to be more mindful, more prayerful, more productive in things that matter…I decided that giving up most internet, and especially social media, was my best option.
Also, I want to make a zine every two months for the aforementioned Zinescription Plan, and I won’t be able to do that if I am always frittering away my thoughts and experiences and creative explorations in little social media sound bites.
Ever since I read the book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, I’ve wanted to do a kind of psychological experiment on myself. I do want mindful spending to be a part of what I work on during this year, but since I don’t have what I consider to be an “issue” with shopping, that wasn’t quite the right experiment for me. I don’t think I have an issue with excessive internet or social media use as far as actual minutes spent, but I feel like somehow it sucks away energy for other good activities just by always being an option. I also want to remove it as an activity that I can use to distract myself from those circumstances or feelings that are uncomfortable or unpleasant.
I’m also curious to know how the very nature of the internet has contributed to my problem with focus. How is scrolling, clicking and being presented with short boring articles with hardly any content affecting my ability to read books or to think longer or more complex thoughts? (Of course, motherhood has already done that to a greater or lesser extent). Also, how does the act of reading onscreen vs. reading on paper differ, and do those differences matter for my brain and my life?
“Before The Internet”, I still made and distributed zines and I communicated with a lot of people through what we now call snail mail. I used to write letters and send zines to authors I liked or people I wanted to connect with, and that almost always “worked”. I wrote to Vince Bugliosi (Charles Manson’s prosecutor) when I was about 15 and I got a long letter back from him. I wrote to Walter Williams and he sent me a copy of Frederic Bastiat’s book The Law. I want to start using the power of the post again. Right now I want to write to Mary Karr (author of The Liar’s Club and two other memoirs) and Dan Harris (author of 10% Happier) I also want to see if I can “grow my business” with just word-0f mouth from people who, for instance, subscribe to my zine. Regularly posting on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to plug myself and my products or services is just not for me. I want to let God build my business, if I’m going to have one.
Too much self-promotion and I get depressed and overwhelmed. If it doesn’t seem to be “working” (meaning no one is buying, liking etc.) I morosely wonder why I am even bothering. At that point it has become not about the work, but about my awesomeness quotient. And that fluctuates dramatically depending on how much I can sell or how many people “like” or “heart” or “retweet” the picture of my art journal page or my pithy 140 characters. I want to nip that cycle in the proverbial bud.
If I am mentally and emotionally projecting what I’m doing into the social media future while I am in the actual physical process of doing it, the enjoyment just seeps out of it somehow. I also feel like I am crafting an “image” and I hate doing that. I hate how internet images just present this facade of calm or contentment or got-it-togetherness that doesn’t match with real life, at least my real life (which I assume is similar to everyone else’s life in human condition generalities even if not in the particulars). When I get too caught up in that I feel like I am lying in some way, even if what I’m doing is only “selective sharing”.
I don’t feel that way with zines, because the act of creating the zine takes quite a while and so is separated somewhat from other people’s opinions about it – even if it’s the week between printing and mailing. My ego is not as involved after even that small separation. I am also a super-confident zinemaker and in the realm of social media, I “share” more of my visual arts, where I’m not as confident because my drawing and painting skills are way less honed and/or impressive than my zinemaking skills. I’m not saying that everyone will love or like or even care at all about my zines. The point is that having this zinescription – wherein I also “share” with people – will most likely have a positive effect on me whereas using the platform of social media has had a negative effect (for whatever reason, I’m sure there are a bunch but I don’t feel like extrapolating.)
In Not Buying It the author determined what the “rules” were, as far as what constituted “shopping”. So, it was okay to buy any kind of food or alcohol (even expensive, gourmet or whatever) but it was not okay to go out to a restaurant or a bar. Then the question came up, is it okay if someone else takes her out to eat or drink, and the answer to that was no. The whole book is basically a chronicle of questions that came up, how she felt emotionally during the experiment, how often she “failed” (meaning broke down and bought something) and what “success” taught her. I have had to think about what internet use will be “okay” during this time.
What I CAN do:
– Shop on Amazon or Dick Blick or wherever (this includes reading reviews of books and products)
– Listen to podcasts like White Horse Inn or watch conference talks or Ted Talks or equivalent
– Use Pinterest for a certain purpose (though Pinterest has never really “drawn me in” so it doesn’t need any rules)
– Use a secret group I started on Facebook that has my six closest Internet Friends in it
– Find images to use in my zines
– Write and produce videos with my friend Donna at The Creative Circle
– Use Facebook Messenger
– Work on maintenance for my two websites, add pages, links to things I am selling, etc. but no blogging
– Post completed things listed FOR SALE on Facebook
– Watch Netflix or Amazon Video
– Use email
– Read the few blogs that are important enough to me that I already get email notifications, like Dirty Footprints Studio
That may seem like a lot, but none of it is stuff that I do all that often, and it has no Identity Enhancement attached to it nor does it control me in any way. Those are all things I see and use as tools, in a healthy manner.
What I CAN’T do:
– Post anything on Facebook or look at Facebook (except the two exceptions above)
– Make comments on any article I might read. I can directly contact the author of a piece if I have anything I want to say about it
– Post any of my political or social commentary anywhere online
– Use Twitter or Instagram (which I only recently started using and which had a negative effect on me almost immediately)
– “Share” any creative ideas or projects that are “In Progress”, anywhere online. If I want to talk about that stuff it has to be in my zine.
I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of what “appropriate” use during The Year of Not Sharing. Facing those questions as they come up is part of the experiment. Right now I am wrapping things up. There are online friends I want to keep in some contact with while I am MIA. I want to finish my in-progress Everyday Memoir site, which is just a business site with no blog. I want to make a few strategic shares about my zinescription, and that’s about it. As the title says, this may be a Part One, but I assume that I will be hitting disconnect sometime in the next week.