Time to Get to Sea: Thoughts on a Social Media Sabbatical

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Confession: Social media overwhelms me.

There is so much out there–on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, the blogosphere…..wherever I look. A lot of it is junk, and a lot of it is wonderful. The junk overwhelms me–ads, spam, arguments instigated by people who have no intention of listening to the other side. The wonderful stuff overwhelms me, too–the petitions, the photos, the sharing. As someone who takes words seriously, I feel obligated to give everything my attention–if someone posts something, they want to be heard. As I writer, when I write words, I want them to be read, so it feels only fair that I extend others the same courtesy. But after a while, it’s draining to try to keep up. I find myself floundering in a sea of intentions, wanting to give everyone and everything the attention it deserves.

When I start to feel this way, it’s time to step back. Time to retreat–not in the sense of fleeing, but of regrouping. I’m one of those paradoxes much of the world seems not to understand–an introvert deeply in love with humanity–and I’m realizing lately that just as I don’t serving myself (or anyone) well by socializing 24/7, it’s also not good for me to be online all the time.

Recently I read a thought-provoking post about how the internet, contrary to much popular belief, is real–the interactions and relationships here aren’t just electronic fictions. If this is the case, then these interactions and relationships demand just as much, in their own ways, as those in the “real world”–and they can be just as fulfilling and just as taxing.

Like many of us, I spend a lot of time on social media without realizing it. It’s easy to turn to as entertainment. And like many of us, I’m hard-pressed to say exactly what it is I’m doing here.

Which leads me to my second confession: Social media underwhelms me.

At the heart of it, I realize, when I click absentmindedly over to Facebook or WordPress or Twitter, what I’m looking for is connection. Sometimes I find it, but it’s seldom what my soul or mind is craving. Yes, there are tons of gorgeous souls online. But my online interactions, for the most part, don’t seem to give voice to the full depth and breadth of my need for connection. I see a post here, an update there. I read a few blog posts. And overwhelmingly, I come away feeling a little empty, a little sad, because what I went out looking for is still nebulously “out there” somewhere. I love seeing pictures of people’s beautiful children and critters. I love knowing about their triumphs. But all of that is also a reminder of how we let people into our lives these days largely in snapshots and soundbytes. And that isn’t enough for me.

Sometimes I wonder which of us our technology is serving. Some of us like to be interconnected with tons of people, and for that, social media can be wonderful. Others–like me–prefer the company of a few close friends, a handful of kindred spirits, and we stink at chitchat. As I scroll through my feeds, I find myself wishing that I could sit down with you people, that we could actually get to know each other, that we could push past the politics and the selfies and the LOLcats and talk about ideas. Really deep-down dive into them, roll up our sleeves, explode our minds and change, if not the world, our worlds.

I have a lot of things to think about. I also have a lot of work to do. I pulled up a file from two years ago–a novel that I want to completely rework, and I’m excited about it. I have all these other things I’m interested in, too–like gardening, playing the piano, making messy art. I want to reconnect with this kooky girl I used to know.

So it’s time to pull my craft back temporarily from the internet ocean and return to the inland sea. For the next month, I’ll be abstaining from social media of all sorts. I’m also going to give myself the grace of not feeling like I have to “catch up” when I return. I’m really looking forward to this vacation, and I’m excited about what I will make and do and discover. I wish you fair winds for your own journeys, and I’ll see you on the other side of April.



8 thoughts on “Time to Get to Sea: Thoughts on a Social Media Sabbatical

  1. Brenna, You are always so eloquent. I don’t know how you crawl inside my head and make sense of the jumble that lives inside. Sometimes I swear I resonate with *every* word you write. Your electronic sabbatical has made me more mindful of my internet usage, hence being a little slow to read and post. I’m not on the wagon completely, but enjoying some more mindful usage – I am so appreciative of the nudge! Hope you are well, roots and wings and all!

    1. Dear Vanessa, thank you so much. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my own jumble! I hope your more mindful interwebbing has created some good magic for you. It’s lovely to return to the blogosphere and see your name and kind words spring up.

  2. As I missed you on Facebook, I went looking for you! And I do understand your decision, as I have many of the same concerns with social media. Maybe the only difference is that I do think I like to be interconnected with tons of people, but often can’t sleep at night worrying about what they might think about me and if I don’t have to do something about it, remove some posts or say something to “correct” myself etc…

    Indeed, both the overwhelm and the underwhelm, I also know them from my own experience and this is clearly a shared experience. And yes, I also know this craving for connections that are both broad and deep. I think some part of the search for these can be aided by social media, but too much social media will obstruct the whole search. I think it is a matter of dosage, and of making the right choices when on social media. Which is difficult because of the addictive features and everything…But because we are conscious of this, we can learn how to handle social media in a healthy and productive manner, I hope!

    Oh, and sometimes I avoid social media, too. Either because I believe I have much more important things to do, or exactly in the sense of fleeing 😉 But fleeing for something that is harmful is not so bad, or is it? I think what IS bad, is that it gets harmful in the first place. (Although the panic associated with fleeing is maybe also not so good, but that is just how things work for me…)

    As it is nearly the other side of April now already, see you soon on Facebook? 🙂

    1. Bianca–yes to all of that! You put it very well. It’s a tricky balancing act, I think. I can see the tremendous good while at the same time realizing how easy it is to get sucked down a million rabbit-holes. I think taking breaks can be a good and powerful thing–they mean that we’re not washing our hands of social media entirely, but, like anything, a break can help us get a little distance to see things more clearly. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering exactly what I want to accomplish with my own presence here, and while I haven’t had any profound revelations, I think I’m beginning to develop some clarity. It’s lovely to hear your thoughts on all this!

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