For me, the hardest thing about being online is remaining focused on creative endeavors important to me. The multiplicity of voices—and the community that you care about—can make you forget your center. You get sucked into other agendas that could be worthy, but are never what you intended to get mixed up in. Sometimes, it’s hard not to play. You love the networks you’re a part of. You want to connect and contribute. You want to pay it forward.
But then it becomes hard to extricate yourself. You react and sometimes let it dictate your schedule. More and more often, you look up and realize that nothing you’ve been doing for the past few hours (or days or weeks!) much related to the underlying purpose you have for your own creative work.
There is so much to do, so much to participate in, so much to respond to—so many opportunities. It is a double-edged sword. Who doesn’t want more opportunities? But when the online community starts writing your to-do list, what happens to your own vision?
I’m not necessarily better at dealing with this than anyone else. I have periods of discipline, and then I don’t. I often gain back my discipline when I have moments away—to allow my own perspective to return. Some of the things I try to do:
- Focus on reading or creative work first thing in the morning, for 3-6 hour stretches.
- Stay off email for 8-12 hour periods—sometimes 24 hours.
- Stay offline after dinner.
Sometimes I feel guilty about these things. What if students, colleagues, or clients need a response quickly? Is it OK to disappear for a full business day? I try to tell myself: Yes. And to also set others’ expectations so I don’t feel guilty.
All of this is a long prelude to 10 resolutions put forth by L.L. Barkat at Tweetspeak Poetry, as part of a movement called “Citizens for a Saner Internet—and Life.” Consider me one such citizen; want to join me?
10 Resolutions from Citizens for a Saner Internet—and Life
- Consider sharing three beautiful posts for every negative post we feel we must share.
- Share angry posts only if they significantly contribute to an important conversation.
- Understand anger as important, a red flag type emotion, that loses its strength if all we ever do is feel angry.
- Write headlines that are intelligent, witty, or intriguing without exhausting our readers by frequently playing the “outrage card” to get click-throughs.
- If we feel we want to listen to an angry Internet conversation for what it may be able to teach us about a subject, we resolve to do so silently for a “waiting period,” in a stance of learning rather than one of defense and counterattack.
- We will not link to attack journalism from our websites, so as not to give more power to the writer or website of said journalism. Related, we will not link to or re-share iterative journalism, which is a sloppy form of journalism designed to deliver a “scoop” that may have no foundation yet in truth.
- Consider ways to move beyond the “page view model” of Internet sustainability (which is one reason attack or sensationalist journalism is often pursued by individuals and websites, because it can result in high page views, which can translate into staying financially sustainable).
- Get offline for periods of rest—optimally, one offline day a week and getting offline by a certain cutoff time in the evenings—and use this time to cultivate face-to-face relationships, read, exercise, or otherwise interact with the world around us.
- If we are unsure about our own angry or sensationalistic post on a subject, we will first pass the post by trusted friends who come from different viewpoints, in a more private setting, before deciding whether to hit the publish button.
- If we have been online for hours and are finally simply “surfing” because we feel lonely or unfocused, we will get offline and spend time with people face-to-face, read, exercise, play, or delve deeply into a new interest area—one that will seriously challenge us and open up new avenues for our learning and our lives.
Sometimes, anger isn’t as much the issue (for me) as feeling buffeted by the concerns, egos, and ambitions that can be baked into social media interaction—where our moods and attitudes can be influenced who’s following, liking, responding, or connecting … or by who’s getting recognition or not … or by who’s agreeing or participating or not. Getting stuck in that thought pattern is a sure sign you’ve lost focus and probably control over what you’re trying to accomplish.
All that aside: I tend to have a bigger problem dealing with email distractions than social media distractions. Social media is easy to compartmentalize when needed; I’m still working on that with email.
As Laura says at her original post, feel free to take the 10 resolutions above and publish them on your blog. The resolutions are a community thing, and they belong to you if you want them to.
For more thoughtful reading on this topic:
- Baratunde Thurston Left the Internet for 25 Days, and You Should, Too by Baratunde Thurston
- I’m Still Here: Back Online After a Year Without the Internet by Paul Miller
- Stop Talking. Start Doing. by Jonathan Fields
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.