WNPR and Your Public Media contributor Heather Brandon has accepted our challenge to complete a media fast. She'll be abstaining from all media Monday, August 1 - Thursday, August 4 and will be interviewed, along with Tom Cooper, author of Fast Media, Media Fast: How to Clear Your Mind and Invigorate Your Life In an Age of Media Overload about her fast on the Thursday, August 4 edition of "Where We Live." No internet surfing, no television, no video games. This is her diary.
We had a great swim, and running into a friend at the pond made it a lot better. I checked my phone reflexively several times. Because of that, I ended up dealing with a little bit of email, and a couple of text messages from a friend who wondered if texting is allowed, because he needed to tell me something. We had to leave the pond because thunder came rolling in and it looked like rain. I used my weather app to check the radar and the weather alerts.
Now that we’re home and getting ready for Monday night jazz in the park, where I hope to do that thing called visiting with people, my kids are playing music loud in the house. I don’t know if music is allowed during my fast. They are subjecting me to it whether I want it or not.
Occasionally today I have wondered what is happening in the world, what I’m missing. I heard last night while traveling that a debt limit deal had been reached, but I didn’t have a chance to look up details. I had hoped my neighbor would bring over his newspaper, but he didn’t. (I distinctly recall him saying he’d delay delivery a little more than usual just to play with my mind.) So I don’t know any details of the deal, or the repercussions. I’m going to have to ask around, which is actually a pretty pleasant way to get news.
Two phone calls later, I’ve been kept busy by a little bit of work, my kids’ needs, packing our lunch, watering the garden, and making plans to go for a swim. It occurred to me that if I were spending any of this time online, I’d be even more distracted and slow. I have plenty to do and juggle without Twitter to read. But I use Twitter as a distraction from the hectic stuff. Without it, I am definitely more here, which is also uncomfortable.
We had plans to go play tennis but we’ve had a slow morning instead, after a very busy weekend. It’s hot out, so I think we’ll just go for a swim. My kids and I have been busy goofing off, playing musical instruments, and taking care of a few logistical plans for the next couple of weeks. I also got an actual phone call from a friend, which was a welcome interruption in my morning. We had a heartfelt conversation for almost an hour. She started by telling me about a few relevant pieces of discussion I was missing on Twitter. I felt a pang of being left out, but those went away once I realized that the depth of our conversation—and a very pleasing one was way more than anything that was happening on Twitter, so I ended up grateful.
I have found myself laughing with my kids a lot this morning. When I reminded my daughter that I couldn’t get on the Internet to look up contact information for a place where we’re trying to schedule a horseback riding lesson for her, she said, “Good! You’re always on the Internet and never talking to us!” So I started beating her with a couch cushion, and this made the other two kids laugh, so I started beating them up with the couch cushion too, going back and forth among them all as they cackled at me.
Next, I really have to get to my little bit of work, and then we’re packing a lunch and heading to a public pond. Not at all a bad day so far, and I managed to switch off my phone notifications. I’m still feeling a little twitchy about looking at the phone, but all it shows me is the time.
I’ve thought about checking Twitter several times today, and have managed to resist. I ran into some trouble when I saw from across the room, after showering and while getting dressed, that I got a notification on my phone that looked like a Twitter mention. For about 20 minutes I managed to forget about it intermittently. I came downstairs and started sweeping the floor. About halfway through sweeping I couldn’t take it anymore, and glanced at the notification on the phone to see the mention. I still haven’t eaten breakfast, or had coffee, or started the bit of work I have to do. But I have spent time with my husband, cleaned a little, helped my son open several parcels that arrived in the mail while he was away over the last week, and laid out tentative plans for the day.
As I finished sweeping, it occurred to me that turning off notifications on my phone for various apps is essential for unplugging from Twitter, Instagram and the games I play. It’s going to be a little painful, but if I don’t do it, the apps will still distract me like they always do, and I will only be thinking about them more. Dwelling on what I’m unable to have access to right now isn’t going to help me focus on other things. Texts and phone calls can still come through, but I am reluctant to turn off the app notifications. If I leave them on, I can sort of still check in, at least by monitoring whether anybody mentions me. And this is sort of cheating. It is tempting to cheat, and thus not really disconnect.
I often read Twitter as soon as I wake up, before even getting out of bed, before doing much of anything. I give myself over to this interest in other people’s lives and the news they tell me—often a pretty excellent compendium of what’s going on in the world. At times, I get ahold of this habit, and manage to stay off Twitter until I’ve seen to my basic needs, and am really ready to face the day. Then I can read tweets feeling a little more centered. But catching up still takes a lot of my time. I try to read every tweet from every person I follow. Sometimes I scan through quickly if I haven’t been keeping up. If I stay away for days, trying to keep up with everyone is impossible. I pondered this today as I went about doing other things instead, and felt a slight sense of loss.
Instead of picking up my phone to read Twitter as I lay in bed about to get up, I picked up a book by Rebecca Solnit I keep on a bedside shelf, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. I read again the passage on the back of the book cover:
“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. Objects and people disappear; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before.”
What does it mean to let go, and just be in my own thoughts, instead of consuming everyone else’s? It probably means I have a sense of discovery about what’s actually in my own head.