What I Learned From A Week Without Media

Identity

My media brownout is over – one day short, but I’m done. If you missed it the first time or want the full refresher on what the terms of my brownout were, the original post is here. In a nutshell, I avoided watching TV or reading anything – that included books, magazines, blogs, articles, anything – and I kept my Facebook and Twitter use to a bare minimum. I tweeted but did not read my timeline. I updated my Facebook Pages and checked my notifications just to make sure I wasn’t ignoring anyone who needed me but I avoided responding to anything non-essential and did not read my newsfeed.

The purpose of all of this was to stop consuming other people’s words and ideas and focus on producing my own. Perhaps to turn my attention to some things I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to.

What I Liked

There were some things I liked about the brownout. I did notice that I felt less distracted, less forgetful, less disorganized, and even in some ways less anxious and depressed – at least for the first few days. I organized the pantry, scrubbed the shower, baked bread, cleaned out some jpegs off the old digital camera.

I played with the kids more, and they definitely liked that – though I think I also snapped at them more because I didn’t get many restorative breaks from playing. I noticed that THEY spent a little less of their time on screen time, which made me realize how subtly my habits affect them, even though I always thought I was just sneaking away to Facebook when they were otherwise occupied.

I did some more writing and drawing than I usually do, though that was partly out of sheer boredom and lack of anything else to do. I got around to some little creative projects I’d wanted to do, like 4 minute daily diaries inspired by Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

What I Disliked

On the other hand, there was a lot about this experiment that I disliked. I felt like I was working all the time, because when I wasn’t taking care of other people or the house or my chores, I was writing and drawing. And even though I like writing and drawing, it feels like work. Work that I enjoy, but still work. None of the usual “treats” that I give myself for a hard day’s work were available, I was bored a lot, I ate more, and eventually the daily stress with no outlets really wore on me.

It felt wrong to be totally disengaged from the rest of the world. It seemed selfish and ridiculous to just shout my thoughts into the void without engaging in conversations online. I missed out on things that were actually important even if they were “just” on Facebook – sometimes when stopping in to check notifications I would see a friend having a problem and feel so guilty for not answering their call for support. If I hadn’t cheated I would have missed a pregnancy announcement, a marriage engagement, my brother’s girlfriend’s birthday, and who knows what else!

The thing about social media is it’s called social for a reason. I hated turning my back on it completely. My friends on Facebook and in the blogs I read are not just noise, they’re real people that I care about.

Jonesing

The Hardest Part

I think the hardest part of the day for me was the very end of the day when the kids were asleep and I sat down to relax with Mike. There was no pot of gold waiting for me at 10pm – just more writing, or bed. I did try going to bed earlier, but that didn’t mean I slept better.

Not reading at all was just sad and depressing. I missed my books. Friends would talk about books, Instagram pictures of books, even LEND me books, and I felt like an alcoholic trying to drink a soda water at the bar. It was just terrible. If I am addicted to reading, that’s an addiction I can live with. If anything, taking a break from reading made me appreciate reading even more. A life without words is no life for me.

What did I learn?

I did not feel like the brownout enhanced my creativity directly. Already by the end of the third day I felt like my well was running dry. To me, taking in other people’s ideas is part of the creative process. Other people’s writing stirs up memories and ideas; without them, I stagnated. The brownout did, however, free up time for me to write and draw more, and I think that having a more organized space indirectly made me feel more creative.

I noticed, by not being on my phone for all the little boring waiting-around moments of the day, how much everyone else is on their phones. I felt a little smug and annoyed but also very aware that I was partly just jealous and would be doing the same if I could – like being a pregnant lady or designed driver at a drunken party. I think a lot of people fantasize about disconnecting from the internet, but it hit me that in 2015 that means disconnecting from the world we live in, and that’s pretty unavoidable.

I learned that being on Facebook for much of the day definitely has negative effects for me. It makes me more distracted and spacey, I get less done, I have less energy, and I think that being connected to other people’s problems for too many hours a day made me feel depressed. I liked how it felt to be off Facebook all day – but I didn’t like NEVER being there. So I think I will just go on Facebook at night from now on.

My New Plan

In a general sense, I found a media rhythm to my days that felt natural. When my options were severely limited, I could think more clearly about how I really wanted to spend my time. Here’s what I came up with:

In the morning I think it’s good to be available as much as I can. Of course I check email every morning just in case there is something time sensitive and/or work related. I have breakfast with the kids, play with them, and write when they don’t need me, since I tend to have the most creative energy before noon. I putter around the house a bit, do some chores and some little projects if I have any. We go out if we have somewhere to go or something to do.

In late afternoon when the kids are usually vegging out by themselves, I need downtime. I’ll stay off Facebook still, but it would be a good time to read blogs and books.

I figure after 6pm going on social media is fine. Sometimes I like to write, or read blogs, or if I’m just beat I can look at Facebook.

There always comes a point just before bedtime when I am done with everything and the only thing I want to do, until the kids are ready to actually get in bed, is read a book. And that is what I will do, just as I always used to. This time sucked during my brownout – I usually just sat and stared into space, not thinking about anything.

After the kids are in bed, it’s my time with Mike. That can include TV time, since I did not feel like we had an awesome time without it! We are usually too tired to have scintillating conversations at 10pm, and you can’t do that other thing every single night (well, we can’t). It’s fun to enjoy TV together.

My time after that, if I’m not quite ready to sleep, is mine. Facebook, reading, TV, mine mine mine. I don’t feel bad about that one bit. Going to bed listening to white noise was sad and dreary. I didn’t sleep better and I hated it!

Youwantme

Would I recommend a brownout?

Do I think you should try this? Yes, with caveats. I definitely did not think I needed a FULL week to get what I needed to get out of the experiment. I started writing this wrap-up post on Day 4 and finished it on Day 5. On Day 6 I was really starting to reach my limits, and cheating more and more. I cheated to watch the Superbowl with Mike, which was fun, and after that it was over for me.

I don’t think that I got much out of not reading books. I guess it probably would have been less effective if I had simply filled up my day with MORE reading than I normally do, and continued to exist in a state of semi-distraction all day and night long. So if you can avoid doing that, I see no need to stop reading. It did not give me more creative ideas or energy and if anything did the opposite.

I think it’s worthwhile to give up Facebook and Twitter entirely for a short period of time, maybe a few days. It gives you a better sense of how much time you do want to spend on them, which almost certainly won’t be NEVER, but probably not as much as you were before.

As for TV, meh… that depends on your TV habits. If you feel you watch too much, try giving it up for a few days. I didn’t think I watched too much before and I still don’t.

If you do try this, please holler at me in some way – on Facebook or Twitter or in comments here – to let me know how it goes! I would love to hear about what you got out of your media brownout.

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12 thoughts on “What I Learned From A Week Without Media

  1. I have only once done an internet free weekend, when I was pregnant with Luke and terribly addicted to message boards and going absolutely insane. That did help me a lot to regulate how much time I was spending on there and to just separate myself from that particular brand of crazy. I just recently did have to do a lot of hiding/unfollowing on facebook and instagram because far, FAR too many people I followed were basically posting 50+% of their content trying to sell me something (It Works! If you have avoided hearing about that company, you are lucky) and it was DRIVING ME INSANE. I do not mind at all an OCCASIONAL plug of a product but when you follow 10 people who do sell the same stuff and all post a ton, yeah. Too much. Anyway. Rant over. I do think I would do well to limit my social media to increase my reading and honestly even TV watching to stop the constant refresh, refresh, refresh of mindless content. That probably isn’t going to happen right now but maybe someday. Good to think about at least!

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    1. Oh my god, It Works!! Hahaha yeah I have a few friends selling it. Actually, side note, a couple of young 20something girls with perfect bodies approached me ON THE STREET to sell me It Works Body Wraps – are you kidding me???

      Anyway, yeah, I do hide/unfollow people on FB and IG a lot. It definitely helps make my feeds more pleasant. I did feel that I got into a rut with social media BUT in the end I feel like I lost more than I gained by being away from it all for so long.

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  2. Hey Erin,
    Just wanted to say that I loved reading this blog. I feel that although I don’t know you that well, and although I am a little younger, I can relate to you on so many levels. The only difference is that until now, I’ve never had a real passion to buckle down with, besides working out, but that feels more like a chore most days. Even though I work about 40 hrs a week which takes up a lot of brain power, I never have anything to look forward to after work each day other than having dinner. Trevor makes music, he scratches on the turn tables, listens to Alex Jones, etc. But while he is doing that I’m usually just cleaning up around the apartment or I’m on Facebook, or working out. One day I was just sitting on the couch in total boredom and I turned to Trev and said, “I can’t take this anymore, I really need something to do that I can be passionate about. I’m so sick of being bored all the time, especially on the weekends”. So then he asked me what I would want to be doing in my spare time? I said “I really want to learn how to play the drums. I really think I could be good at it and it’s something I’ve always wanted to try but I’ve always been afraid of failure. Well I’ve come a long way and I’m no longer afraid. I wanna do it, I would love to start playing the drums”. So for my birthday he bought me an electronic drum set (they are not as noisy and you can change the drum sounds, so it makes it more fun). I have been playing for a few weeks now (he surprised me a couple weeks before my bday because he knew I was desperate) and I think it has filled the void I have always struggled to fill my whole life. Now when Trevor plays music, whether he’s producing, or just listening to some hiphop or scratching, I can play drums right along with whatever he is playing. He loves it, and I love it. I am so thankful that this is how it all played out. But the whole point of me telling you this is because when I read this blog it made me realize even more that you should always stick with/discover your passion as best you can. For you it is reading, and I agree with you 100% that if you have an addiction to reading, thats not such a bad thing! lol. Every time I hear music, no matter what genre, all I can hear is the drum beat and I begin to imagine myself playing, and then I will go home after working a 9 hr day and just jam out for as long as my brain can possibly handle. Sometimes 1 hr, sometimes 3 hrs. Does THAT seem like an addiction? Well I’m totally ok with it because it brings out such a strong… adrenaline rush (for lack of a better term) and it makes me feel alive, and more importantly it gives me something to look forward to and to get better at. This is a really long comment lol, but I couldn’t help but spill my guts to you because like I said I just feel like we are so similar in various ways. I also think trying something new and challenging like the media brownout is something we all should definitely consider. But not just because too much tv and/or Facebook can have negative affects, but mainly because it really makes you more conscious about how we utilize every minute of our personal lives. I think that is something that we all forget to do, to just take a step back for a second and think about what each day means to us. I think we can all learn something from this and I’m just glad somebody had the courage to try it!!

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    1. That is awesome Julie!! It’s a beautiful thing to discover a new passion. It takes courage to decide you’re going to do it and not worry about “failing.” Or, to put it a better way, to be brave even though you are scared. I hope it brings you joy! – and it’s wonderful you have a partner who supports you like that. I’m not biased, but he’s pretty great. 😉

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  3. Wow Erin, I am just not sure I could do that. I just got a smart phone about 5 months ago and I have just now learned all of it’s wonderful features. I think I could give it up and go back to a basic flip phone, but I am not sure I want to…lol. You are definitely right about the social part…especially here in NE when snow days make it impossible to leave the house. And I totally get how the writing can feel like work. There have been a few posts where I was able to write them so easily it felt like it was just flowing, but that is rarely the case. Sometimes it does take reading others posts to get inspired.

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  4. What an interesting experiment! I have thought about doing something similar, but I would have never even considered giving up reading for a week…not that I have much time to read anyways, but it’s definitely something I look forward to sneaking into my week!

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