It all started when my phone had a water-based, toilet-shaped accident.
So I left it to dry in a bowl of rice and went to work without it. I didn’t need to use it – there were no family emergencies or missed appointments to contend with. There was no drama. If I’d had to pick a day to be phone-less, this probably would have been the best one.
And yet all day I felt its absence like a missing arm.
The next day was the same, as my injured phone continued with its rice therapy. I could literally feel my hand twitching to pick up and scroll through a phone that wasn’t there. It was like a phantom limb.
It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to call or message anyone (I certainly didn’t need to), or even to post on facebook / twitter / instagram. It was just that I wanted to look.
I didn’t even have to think that I wanted to look at it – if I had, then I’d have blocked the thought by remembering that my phone was neither working nor with me. It was pure instinct. Every time I sat down, every time my hands were idle, every time the world stopped for a second, my hand twitched towards my pocket or my bag. It was just… normal.
It was so normal to me that it wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that I realised what it meant: that I was addicted to social media.
And my next thought? I should write a blog post about that.
I suppose it’s hardly surprising that I think this way. I spend nearly all my ‘office hours’ on a laptop, often on social media, emails or Mailchimp. When I’m not in the office, I’m often writing (on a laptop) or blogging, or catching up with my own emails, social media, website and admin – all on a latop, phone or iPad. True, I’m not on a computer when I’m teaching my poetry workshops, but I do use my laptop for nearly all my planning. On top of all that, I live in a county with an ageing population and a defecit of 20-somethings, which mean that most of my friendships are long-distance ones, and an important ingredient of those is – yep, you guessed it – my phone.
I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard. Very few of my friends have off-screen jobs, and even those who do (like the teachers and theatre directors) are tied to computers, emails and / or social media for at least part of their work.
This isn’t anything new. At least, not very new. We can all see the way the world is and the dominance of the screen in our daily lives.
Before now, I’ve always thought of this as a good thing – or at least, never as a terrible harbinger of doom.
Technology offers a wealth of opportunity for people who can use it well – just look at some top bloggers, vlogggers and instagrammers, whose online presence and social following earn them thousands and thousands of pounds. And I know from personal experience that social media can be a great marketing tool.
But I hadn’t realised how much it had rewired my brain. My constant phone- and laptop-usage has literally altered my instincts. For me it’s actually changed how I live on this earth as a human being, and how I interact with the world around me.
More frighteningly, at least for me, is what it’s doing to my creative brain.
I hardly ever write with pen and paper any more. Apart from poetry, which I always draft in a notebook before typing up, I now type everything. I compose words through a keyboard. I paint in the rigid shapes of computer font, rather than my own individual (if untidy) handwriting. Where’s the personal aspect of that? Where’s the artist in the art? To me, it feels like trying to paint a Monet using children’s printing blocks.
When that thought first flashed through my mind, that I should write this post about my social media addiction, my initial reaction was, ‘how ridiculous’. My second reaction was: I can’t, I don’t have my iPad on me.
Writing had become so tied up with the keyboard that the notebook in my bag didn’t even figure in my thoughts.
So I fought against my instincts. I bought a coffee and a muffin (always a good start), sat down with good old-fashioned notebook and pen, and wrote this.
And as I wrote, I thought: I should do this more often.
I felt more connected to what I was writing. More free to edit things and change them around. Less pressure for my writing to be ‘good’.
Yes, I always draft my poems in a notebook. But why not my prose? Why not drama? Why not blog posts?
Every cloud apparently has a silver liningg, and the silver lining to this little technology accident was the way it made me rethink my creative practice. It taught me not to fear the pen and the page. It taught me to separate the computer keyboard from the writing process, at least in the draftings stage. And it taught me not to keep my phone in the back pocket of my jeans.