Dear Internet: I Want My Life Back

cell-phone-2-1525544-1280x960Periodically, I decide I need to break up with the Internet.

It usually comes after a week fraught with huge blowups among my circle: meltdowns and high drama, like the exposure of a catfisher or outrage over someone/something that is Absolutely Wrong.

More and more these days, it comes as a result of feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future of my country and the planet as a whole, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with images and messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid.

As Internet Addictions go, I don’t think my case is too bad (though isn’t that what all addicts say?). Sure, my boyfriend jokes about how I reach for my cell phone first thing in the morning, but that’s about a morning ritual of checking messages and my Twitter feed that allows me to spend another ten minutes or so in bed before I have to get up. No, really.

I don’t have Facebook on my phone. I don’t have a tablet. With the exception of Twitter, I don’t check any of my social media platforms on my phone–that waits until I’m seated at the computer.

But I do spend hours every day at the computer, circling social media sites looking for something interesting to read or start a conversation. I get online to ‘catch up’ and ‘unwind’ and the next thing I know, I’ve wasted most of the evening. Would I have been more productive if I’d stayed offline? Hard to say. Probably. But most days I’m so fried when I get home that faffling around on the internet is about all I’m good for.

Earlier in the week, I read this post by social media guru, Kristen Lamb. She talks about the fine balance between maintaining a social media presence online and losing five hours of your life to LOL cat videos. She has some good things to say about the way mindless tech use can kill your muse (not to mention your life in general). I read the post, nodding along, knowing I needed to institute some of the same measures mentioned. My friend Shira Anthony calls her tactics “Ninja Facebooking”, which is to log in, share some information, comment on a few posts, and get out again before the time sink effect kicks in. It’s a smart way of handling things, I think. By the way, she’s got a great new release upcoming up that’s available for pre-order now–Take Two from Dreamspinner Press. You should check it out.

Pokemon HoundsYesterday, while I was out with the dogs for a short run, I almost walked into a couple coming from the opposite direction. I looked up just in time before my muddy dogs and I plowed into them and I was horribly embarrassed that I hadn’t been paying attention. Why had I been so oblivious? Because I’d opened a game on my phone (ostensibly with the purpose of deleting it, only I started playing it instead) and I wasn’t even aware of their approach until it had almost become a social disaster.

Lately, I’ve been noticing just how much time I spend answering emails, sharing posts and tweets, and participating in online conversations… and I seriously believe that I do this far less than the average person. I’ve been noticing how much of the evening is devoted to sitting on the couch beside the boyfriend while we both tickety-tap away on our devices–me on Facebook or Live Journal, and him on Reddit or playing games. Just the other day, I met a man with a toddler who had very little verbal skills, but he was a demon on the smartphone. His little fingers flew over the screen, scrolling through images until he found the video he wanted to watch. The kid probably knew how to work his father’s smartphone better than I know how to use mine. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. Perhaps it is a matter of trading one skill set for another, exchanging one form of learning for a new one. However, I can’t help but wonder about the scores of young adults I know with crippling social anxiety, and whether the willingness of the younger generation to put every aspect of their lives online for public scrutiny has anything to do with that.

I met with my critique group this morning, and toward the end of our conversation we began discussing how much online presence writers need today. Where the boundaries are. How much should we share. How much time to spend doing it. That sort of thing. To my surprise, my group members seem to think I’m some social media whiz-bang. We were discussing the success of my latest story, and my friends gave much of the credit to my marketing skills. I had to make the squinty–face at them because I’ve been doing about the same thing as always on the media front–the surprising success of Fool’s Gold was probably due to several factors but I don’t think my ability to ‘work it’ on social media had as much impact on sales as decisions I made on pricing and which platform to offer it in.

Yes, I post to Facebook and Twitter regularly, and I share other people’s posts, too. Yes, I post to the blog semi-regularly, but then I *like* writing blog posts. Nothing has changed in that regard since my previous book was released.

But I agreed with much of what they had to say. It resonated with many of the things I’d been thinking lately.

computer-keyboard-1188763So I sat down here with the firm resolution to write the Internet a Dear John Letter. I wasn’t going to ‘take a break’ because I found being online overwhelming. I wasn’t shutting off my browser so I could finish a WIP. I was going to make a full-fledged declaration that the Internet was bad for me and I needed to be strong and walk away. To take that time and spend it more wisely. To reconnect with the living things in my life on a daily basis. To live my life before I woke up one day and discovered it was over.

And then I read this post by The Bloggess, who put things a little in perspective for me. And I remembered that my online life has allowed me to stay in touch with people I’d never see otherwise. I’ve made friends all over the world. I’ve traveled to meet up with my online friends, too. Hell, I met my boyfriend online, and next month will mark eight years of our being together. We had a blast playing Pokemon Go together at a local street festival a few weeks ago (just wait until he finds out I caught a Pikachu!), too.

Even my critique group, with its bicoastal and international membership, originated out of online communities and we ‘meet’ via Skype. Last weekend, I attended Writer’s Police Academy–an organization I learned about from friends met online–and I met up with fellow authors there. I’ll be posting about my experiences at WPA in the future, but the point is I’m not going to be breaking up with the Internet at all. The Internet and social media aren’t inherently good or bad. They are tools, that’s all. And like any tool, we need to learn how to use them appropriately and with common sense.

I wouldn’t carry a hammer to a wedding (it’s not Game of Thrones, peeps!), nor out horseback riding or to the grocery store. But if I need to fix a fence or replace a board, I’m going to use one. Be smart. Turn off the device from time to time and check out the world around you. Don’t walk into hikers or off cliffs or into bears because you weren’t paying attention. Pay attention. Life is worth it.

15 thoughts on “Dear Internet: I Want My Life Back

  1. I want to break up with the internet every other day, it seems, but that would mean giving up online friends who have become important to me. They are as much a part of my life as people I get together with in real life. I don’t watch network TV or CNN; online is where I get my news. Besides being a writer, I’m also a professional editor; online is where I work.

    Where does one draw the line? Hard to know, but I remember now and again that Suzanne Collins published The Hunger Games in 2004, without benefit of social media, and somehow became a raging success. The author has a website, but as far as I can tell, she has no Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Imagine being a bestselling author who is not on social media!

    Granted, the publishing business has changed, but I’m starting to suspect social media limits us in some ways. For instance, I started out writing M/M romance. In the last couple of years, I’ve segued to Gay Fiction, but because I’m deeply entrenched in certain social media groups, I’m finding it hard to reach a different audience for my new releases. The people who follow me want romance, not gay fic. I created my own little bubble, and while I’m mostly happy running around it in circles like a hamster, it’s not doing anything for book sales.

    I can’t imagine not being online these days, but I limit it by putting work first, and when I leave the house, I often leave the phone at home. It’s not a smartphone either; I don’t want to be one of those people who spend their evenings out clicking away online while a living, breathing person is sitting opposite me in a restaurant or next to me at a movie. Ridiculous!

    I think the best we can do these days is draw that line and hold to it! Remember what’s important and jettison the rest.

    • I hear you, Theo.

      In some ways, 2004 is another lifetime, I believe. E-books hadn’t really taken off then, and the Big Six (Or Big Five, however you want to name it) in publishing was still king. These days I think a larger social media presence is necessary, though I don’t think it has to be all that much. I suspect most people could meet the needs of having a marketable online presence with less than a half-hour a day (or even two to three days a week) online. The important thing is probably consistency.

      That said, I understand where you are coming from trying to bridge genres and finding that hard going. I recognize I’m probably going to have to create a separate platform if I begin writing in a different genre simply because the crossover isn’t strong enough to support a new genre. Which is sad, but simply the way it is.

      I wish I could leave the phone at home! Unfortunately, work needs access to me 24/7. I have to let someone know if I’m turning the phone off for a few hours for a movie, or to go to the gym. It gets old, let me tell you!

      I totally agree with you on drawing lines and sticking to them. I suspect I’d get a lot more writing done that way, too! 😉
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Internet: I Want My Life BackMy Profile

      • Getting into M/M romance happened so gradually, I barely remember how I did it. Now that I need to move into a different genre, I’m at a loss. I also remember how much time it took to become a part of that community, and it makes me tired, thinking of having to do it all again. Where would I even start? It’s not like Gay Fiction has a neon sign over its head, flashing HERE, HERE! M/M romance is organized, even insular. Gay Fic is all over the place. I don’t know how to reach those people, so I’m not sure what my next step is. *sigh*
        Theo Fenraven recently posted..MehMy Profile

  2. Haha! Glad to have you join my ninjas. But seriously, striking the balance between work (for those of us who still have day jobs), writing, social media, and life (your boyfriend will thank you!), is the ultimate writer’s challenge.

    If I had to choose, I’d rather read more of your great books than see you post on FB. Much as I enjoy your posts…. 😀

    Thanks for the shout out, btw!

    • Aw, thank you! And my pleasure on the shout-out, your new story deserves all the accolades! Yes, I know you’re right about striking that correct balance. I wish I could wrap my head around writing in small blocks of time. That’s why I so often drop in on social media during the day. I’ve got a small chunk of time while waiting to do something else, and I can’t get into the WIP it that little fraction of time. I need to work on that!

      • I totally get what you’re saying about writing in short blocks of time, but if that’s what you have to work with, try writing the scene in your head prior to one of those breaks. Then sit down and do it!
        Theo Fenraven recently posted..MehMy Profile

          • I feel the same way when I’m editing. Other people’s words destroy mine, and I can’t write. Plus the intense focus required to do the job is totally draining. My brain is mush at the end of the day. I’m good for nothing but mindlessly watching movies or streaming on Netflix or Prime. Luckily, I often get several days off between assignments, and I really hit it then, writing as much as I can before the next edit shows up. It’s sometimes difficult to maintain momentum, but I’ve eased back on pressuring myself to produce, which helped a lot.
            Theo Fenraven recently posted..MehMy Profile

          • Yeah, that makes sense. I find I can’t read much of any genre I’m writing in when I’m actually *writing* in it. I do a lot of research beforehand, but once I start a WIP, my genre reading has to stop. Probably makes sense that you work within your natural cycles. 🙂

  3. I’ve been on the internet since the beginning. I saw people who had crippling social anxiety suddenly have a way (a *relatively* safe) way to connect with other people for the first time. I saw otherwise isolated people connecting. But in the beginning it was a polite space, or at least internet fandom was.

    But it’s not anymore. Social media can be bruising and buffetting. But I wouldn’t give it up. It’s allowed me to become friends with so many wonderful people. Plus it’s entertaining and sometimes even sells books.

    But like you said, be smart about it. I load all the emails/blogposts I want to read into the $12 Voicedream app and have them read to me while I drive or walk the dogs. I don’t use earphones in the dog park because I want to be aware of my surroundings, but at dawn, there’s nobody else there to disturb. And yes, I play Pokemon at the same time. (You caught a Pikechu?!?)

    I also dictate to my iPhone–notes, emails, blog posts, and story ideas.

    I go onto Facebook when I have a minute–while I’m waiting for someone or just need a break. It’s not evil if we don’t let it run our lives.

    But if you need a break, by all means take one. Just know your online friends will miss you.

    • I think you’re absolutely right–the Internet has changed since the beginning. I’ve seen the tenor of conversation change, and not for the better. Boundaries are crossed, and people are meaner than they used to be. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s because EVERY site encourages us to leave feedback, and the snarkier the comments, the more people seem to eat it up. Either way, I’ve become more cautious and circumspect about my interactions–and quicker to shut down bullshit, too.

      Man, that VoiceDream app sounds wounderful! I wonder if there’s an Android version? I used to have Dragon program that allowed you to dictate to a mobile unit, but when the desktop died, I no longer had a unit with enough memory to run it. I’ll have to look into other options, though!

      Well, I frequently *say* I’m taking a break, but it seldom lasts more than a few days. I can’t help myself. 🙂 But that’s very sweet of you to say I’d be missed–thank you!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Internet: I Want My Life BackMy Profile

  4. 🙂 Your dogs didn’t warn you about the danger ahead? 🙂 My horse discusses everything she sees with me while we’re out in the woods 🙂 Is it really safe to proceed? What do you think human? The second one is intensely jealous of the evil phone and can tell at once when I’m not talking to her or not pay enough attention. While she is well behaved enough to walk free at my side and follow hand signs, when she finds out I’m on the evil phone again she forgets everything about cues and commands. And in the old days, when cell phones still had antennas, she used to bite them 🙂 So this human is kept on track by her four-legged companions 🙂

    BTW, congrats for your nomination of Fools Gold I have the original version in that anthology. But I will get the new one, too!

    All the best,

    • Hah! I suspect they were cuing me in but I was so deep in the game I ignored them until it was almost too late. The mare would have *definitely* spooked–the couple came around a corner suddenly, which is part of why I didn’t see them. 🙂

      Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion horses can see Pokemon none of the rest of us can see. 😉 I wonder if your mare could feel the transmission over the antenna? Or maybe she thought it just looked like a riding crop! 😀

      Aw, thank you! I’m delighted someone thought to nominate it–it’s a new-to-me award system, so I didn’t even know nominations were being taken at the time. 🙂 The anthology story is definitely the basis for Fool’s Gold, but I went back and put in the backstory leading up to the events in Lightning in a Bottle, and then took it beyond Rolex–right up to Rio. I hope you like it!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Internet: I Want My Life BackMy Profile

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