The last time I had an extended break from the digital world I was on retreat completing my mindfulness training and had been asked to switch off from as many outside sources as I could.
Aside from missing texting my friends and family I found this surprisingly easy. My mind was free from mental clutter and this feeling of simplicity and ease positively affected so many areas of my life.
Returning home I returned to texting but I no longer read daily newspapers or watched the doom and gloom of news channels. And most dramatically of all I deactivated all social media.
I continued like this for quite a few years until I moved to a brand new area and had children…
I suddenly felt (in the middle of a night feed) extremely excluded from the world. As a new mum my social life was dwindling and I felt out of touch. So I made the monumental decision to make my online return.
It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been a Facebook and Twitter user. But lately I felt increasingly bothered by the amount of time I spent online so I decided to take a month off to pause and reflect.
That month is now up.
During my mindful month I soon realised that the digital world is no substitute for the real one. Over my month offline I noticed the real friends that would directly text me and the gazillions of facebook ‘friends’ who did not.
I also noticed how less distracted I felt and more able to sit, connect with my children and not drift off into a virtual world.
I admit that motherhood can get lonely but rather than browse my Twitter feed for company I’ve felt the benefit of getting out and seeing people more and having FaceTime chats with friends.
Ive used my time more constructively to read, write, be inspired and immers myself in subjects that I love and engage me.
Browsing newsfeeds just seems meaningless in comparison.
That said, I do understand how invaluable a social presence is for work. It’s a quick, easy and direct way to connect to people and tell them what you’re up to. You can also be inspired by other people’s work, follow what they do and build up a network of like minded individuals.
It’s also great at contacting or keeping in touch with friends who live miles away or who’s only source of contact is through online messaging.
So in that respect social media is brilliant.
But like the workings of the mind, it’s only good if it doesn’t consume you. And as ive got a sensitive make up that’s easily drained by too much stimulation, social media really isn’t all that good for me.
Mindfulness says that the mind is like a chattering monkey and in that respect social media can be too. A constant yap yap stream of consciousness that you have to filter out to see what’s important and what’s not.
Problems only arise when it seems you cannot switch off. When you’re addicted to or influenced your thoughts in much the same way you can become obsessed with or driven by social media, it feels as though you have no control.
The urge to log in, tweet, update or check statuses can become so ingrained that you forget what life was like before it.
You can also become stuck in a certain way of thinking that you forget what you were like before.
That is why I’m an advocate of time outs from social media and of mindfulness meditation.
Too much of anything is never good for us. We develop itchy fingers, unable to sit still without reaching for our mobiles or some sort of screen to occupy our thoughts. What are we so afraid of? What gap are we trying to fill? Just what are we searching for?
Social media wasn’t the answer to making new friends in a new area. It was getting out and seeing people. Being online doesn’t even mean that the people I connect to digitally are authentic buddies so I’ll take our casual friendships with a pinch of salt.
All in all, I don’t want to be a slave to the digital world, addicted to its activities and compulsions. I may use social platforms occasionally but they won’t use me.
If this makes me seem different, old fashioned or introverted then so be it. As a mindful practitioner I practice what I preach. And the best way I can do that is by noticing what drags me into mindlessness, writing about it and taking steps to change it.
By regularly logging off it may mean I’m left alone with my thoughts and the present moment – but that’s not so scary. It leaves me more quality time with my family. And hey, I’ll take that over a hundred facebook likes any day 😉