Slow Social: The Call for a Mindful Digital Revolution
(Legal disclaimer: this is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer etc.)
I am writing a story that I cannot share on any social network (barring this one). This article headline was not artfully crafted to insure clicks. I don’t really care who likes it or reblogs it although, I do hope that many will read it. This piece is simply born from a long percolation process in the back of my head that I have finally found a way / time to verbalize.
This piece will address a few things: the problem with the current social / digital media landscape, why I’m qualified to talk about it, the concept of “Slow Social” and how you can take the Slow Social challenge to find a more mindful existence in an ever-exhausting digital landscape.
I do believe that there’s a way to reconfigure our relationship with social and digital media, but I also believe that it requires a reset. It is my hope that you will read this, and rather than get distracted by parts that don’t resonate, you will take the parts that do resonate and apply it to your life. I wish you a more mindful, and sometimes, more boring human experience so that you can re-find what matters the most to you.
Fun With Problems
There’s an axiom in the world of recovery that alcoholics first find drinking fun… then fun with problems and finally, just a problem. This seems to be the sentiment I hear from many people these days regarding their social and digital media use as well. The amount of times I have seen digital executives or social media darlings or celebrities declare that they need to “take a social media break” in order to enjoy life again has become countless. I watch as folks deactivate then reactivate their Facebook on a regular cycle, wipe tweets to “start fresh”, delete accounts with the fatigued optimism of a climber approaching Everest… and yet, not much is said as to why.
Why do we do this? Why do we use these platforms so much even when we do not feel good about it? How did we get off track and can we get back? How do we find the balance?
On one hand, I believe we do this because it’s a habit. We do not think about the addictive feedback loops. We simply grab for our phone as instinctually as we grab our morning coffee and head off on our day oblivious as to how it’s impacting our emotions, our productivity and our relationships. We could blame engineers and marketers for making these products so addictive, but to be fair, you don’t see alcoholics sitting around blaming Grey Goose for making vodka so tasty so I think we can take some agency and responsibilty for our actions. Adulting. Yay.
On the other hand, I believe we use social media and digital media as a way to escape ourselves. It is a way to escape our insecurities, our discomforts, our secret demons and overall, being alone and sitting with our thoughts. Oh, damn. Existentialism. Whaaat?
“That’s why people take vacations. Not to relax or find excitement or see new places. To escape the death that exists in routine things.” — Don DeLillo, White Noise
I would argue that many use social media to escape the death that exists in routine things. We use social and digital media to escape ourselves.
Meditation teacher and all-around weird wonder-man Ram Dass states, “The tendency in our society is when there’s dis-ease, to grab another experience in order to reduce it.” He wrote this in regards to boredom. Remember boredom? Standing in line waiting to check out with no phone? Sat in a dentist office with subpar magazines and being forced to read them? Trying meditation for the first time and feeling like five minutes is taking an eternity?
We have become allergic to boredom as a society, we have also become allergic to sitting with ourselves — and I believe that this allergy impacts our creativity, our productivity… and our happiness.
The Space Between The Notes
Have you ever heard Gymopédie by Erik Satie? It is a languorous piano composition that uses space to create the color. It is profoundly beautiful and likely inspired a world of modern minimalist composers like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and more. Space colors our entire world, our earth is literally wrapped in it and yet, modern society seems intent on erasing it as much as possible. We are profoundly uncomfortable with space these days.
We erase space and silence through our habitual use and abuse of our devices, be it for gaming, shopping or social purposes. The wonder of just discovering the Internet and creating your first email address has been replaced by mining for likes, click bait and taking photos of your food like a helicopter hovering over a crime scene. It is mindless and fast and has no space for color.
Who Am I?
I am a person currently on a social media break for the first month of the year. I have done this before. I need to do this regularly. I once gave a TedX talk about embracing silence. I am also a digital marketing executive who has been at the forefront of social media for just under fifteen years. I am also a creative who writes music, is not afraid of public speaking and can not afford to be distracted by how fabulous or awful every body else’s life is online lest I forget to live my own. However, I am often distracted and online far too much.
I currently work at Tumblr. I used to work at Twitter. I used to hack MySpace code for fun which led to creating social media campaigns for notable bands and brands. I also worked at a social media platform called Flukiest. That was a desktop site my friend Duc Chau created over a decade ago. I’m pretty sure it was the first place for Internet users to share photos they took with their phones. Sharing photos you took with your phone. Who would do that? (Sometimes great ideas come too early, my friends…) So, you get the idea, social media credentials — been there, done that.
So, what is Slow Social?
You know how artisanal everything is the hype these days? Artisanal cheeses. Small batch whiskey. Kilim rugs. Anything from Japan. The idea that something very good must take some time to make and is worth quite a bit is the natural pendulum swing from fast food, fast fashion and fast… pencil sharpening.
So, why can’t it exist for how we use social and digital media? Why can’t we take a slow approach to how we engage online? Why can’t we be more mindful of what we’re putting out and what we’re taking in? Guess what, we can.
Slow Social is a movement. It is a way to discover how to consume and engage social and digital media in a way that feels more authentic than artifice. It allows you to weave silence and boredom back into the thread of your life so that there is space between the notes of your melody. It allows you to reconnect with what matters and who matters. It will also, I wager, make you a better artist, friend, employee and person.
The Slow Social Challenge: A How To / FAQ
Ooh, I love a 30 day challenge of any kind. 30 days off sugar. 30 days off gluten. 30 days of meditation. You name it, I like it. This is better known as the old-fashioned feedback loop of accomplishment. Setting a goal and achieving it. By kicking off your entry into Slow Social with a challenge, you will get the positive feedback of accomplishment to help you mindfully navigate your way back into social and digital media use. Also, it’s a new year! The New Year is a great time to take up a challenge. So, here we go.
Q. Am I going to have to take a social media hiatus or detox?
Q. Well, I can’t do that. I work in social and it will affect my ability to do my job.
A. Au contraire, mon frère. Your personal social media accounts should not be linked to your work accounts, right? Also, how much of that IG cruising you’re doing is related to your work? That’s what I thought.
Have you ever considered that spending less time online might make you better at your job? It totally can and will. All that time you’re spending wondering why you didn’t make the Big Magazine 32 Under 32 while all your friends post about how they did can now be freed up to create new campaigns and new art and new things instead of being distracted by phony awards and marketing click-bait to make people feel better about themselves while driving eyeballs. #RealTalk
The last time I took a month off social media, I realized that it gave me the ability to hone in on the utility of each network. On a personal level, I realized what aspects of different sites I enjoyed and which aspects of my usage were problematic. On a professional level, I had sudden clarity about how to create better marketing campaigns and how to engage more meaningfully. I also had a lot of free time to write songs, read books, see friends and get a lot of shit done.
Q. OK, so how much time do I have to take off?
A. Up to you. This isn’t a bootcamp. This is a loving suggestion. Find a period of time that sounds uncomfortable and start with that. I would suggest starting with at least one week or at the very minimum, three days. I tend to do a month because I think you see more profound changes with any time frame beyond 21 days.
Q. Do I have to take time off every social media network and news site?
A. Not necessarily. Choose the ones that feel tricky for you and start there. I work for Tumblr, so I’m obviously not going to stay off Tumblr for a month. That said, there is a difference between how I use it for work vs. how I use it personally. Pinterest doesn’t seem to affect me the way other sites do since it is somewhat impersonal, so I usually allow that for myself. For someone else, that may not be the case, but for me, it is not problematic.
This is all about progress not perfection. This is not the Slow Social Olympics. Nobody is going to give you a gold medal at the end for being the most strict or the most perfect. This is about really finding what resonates for you and doing that. Be brutally honest with yourself and see what the truth looks like for you.
Q. So, should I delete or deactivate my accounts?
A. You can or you can just move the apps to a folder on the far right of your phone. I go through phases where I deactivate accounts or wipe thousands of tweets because I have an acute sensitivity to my digital footprint. You may not have that. Again, find what feels right for you. At the very least, you should:
- Turn off all notifications for social media sites unrelated to work
- Decide what day you’re starting your detox and post on each network a day before you begin that you’ll be taking a hiatus. This allows folks who really need to reach you or who don’t have your number the chance to slide into your messages before you bail. Here’s sample text:
- “Hey friends, I’m taking part in the Slow Social challenge so I’ll be off the social media grid for the next thirty days. If you need to reach me, hit me up by text or I’ll see you when I return!”
- Move all problematic apps to an area of your phone where you won’t see them on the homepage
- Have an accountability buddy who can hold you to your detox if you feel squirrelly
Q. OK, I’ve accepted the Slow Social challenge. What now?
A. The first few days will be the hardest so prepare accordingly. I suggest journaling so you can document how you feel at the beginning of the challenge vs. how you feel at the end. Also, try setting some goals for yourself. Do you have a book you’ve been dying to finish? A room you’ve been meaning to paint? You may just find that you have ample time to finish some projects now so line ‘er up.
Q. Anything else I need to know?
A. Watch for digital cross addictions. Let’s say you decide to 86 most of your social platforms. Twitter has never been a big deal for you, so you allow that. Two weeks in, you find that you’re using Twitter mindlessly and it’s becoming problematic. Time to add Twitter to the detox list.
Your cross addictions may also come in the form of news reading, online gaming or shopping. If you start to see an uptick in use in any digital media or ecommerce site that is above your normal usage, be mindful to curtail it or add it to the detox list until the end of the challenge.
There are however, positive cross addictions. Any cross addiction that is in-real-life is a good one. Think: exercise, reading, cooking, learning how to garden, finally taking that woodworking class you want to try or dusting off that Mr. Beer IPA brewing kit you won at work and have never made. (That’s not an advertisement either, my husband has literally managed to rack up two of those kits and not made either one.)
Q. What if I miss out on important news?
A. Trust me, if it’s really important — you’ll hear about it. The larger probability is that you might be a few weeks late to a friend’s birth announcement or an engagement here and there. If the friends are truly close, one would imagine you would find out anyway. Re. world news, look, if nuclear war is about to start, I guarantee you will find out without social media. You might even relish the few extra days of sanity you get by not knowing first.
Q. What results should I look for from the Slow Social challenge?
A. The main result is a more mindful approach to your digital life. To be fully present and authentic in how you engage with your world. If you don’t have a meditation practice, I highly recommend the Insight Timer app and using the mindfulness guided meditations while you are on the Slow Social challenge to really help cement the process.
If you complete the challenge, I would love to hear from you. You can comment below and I will respond (eventually).
Q. How often should I do this challenge?
A. At the very least, you should do a large Slow Social challenge once a year. Once you begin to reengage online, consider some parameters about how you will more mindfully use social media. These may look like:
- No social media on Sundays
- Any restaurant is a no phone zone
- No social media before X am or after X pm
- When you’re on a conference call, be on the call and not online doing something else
- Only post positive things online and/or find a way to weave solution or positive action when posting about something that disappoints you (instead of “Can you believe that [insert politician who annoys you] did this to the nearby Native American reservation?!” which teeters on slacktivism, try a more action-oriented approach of “I’m organizing a fund drive for Native American community of the nearby Apache reservation because they’ve been under served and under supported by our government. Join me!” (I know this one will be problematic for some and I am unapologetic about it. See this former piece of mine for more.)
We are living in a day and age of too-much-ness and white noise. The wonderful utility that digital media has to connect us and allow us to find new friends / interests has been oft replaced by mindless over-use and abuse. We engage with a sense of addiction, rather than intention. Our present social and digital media state is fun with problems or just, problems.
By taking a detox from social media or problem sites, you will allow yourself to swing the pendulum back and find balance again. This mindful balance will allow you to not only be better when you re-engage online but to feel better with how you engage. If you are feeling exhausted by your digital footprint and need a new start, I highly recommend taking the Slow Social challenge.
If you work in digital, I strongly urge you to take the challenge. Remember the big Apple slogan Chiat/Day crafted, “Think Different”? In order to think different, you have to be different and do different. If you keep doing the same thing every day, you will get the same results.
Slow Social is your opportunity to be different and to create and live better than before. A mindful life is one where you can show up with your whole self. Be that person at the table with their phone down. Be that person in the check out line who is actually talking to the people around them. Be brave enough to be bored and see what happens you break through to the other side of it.
What’s next? Stay tuned for a follow up piece about how to use all that boring free time through to help you truly think different.