Blogger: Wendy Lawton
We expend many words encouraging writers to build their social media platform, develop a Facebook following, Twitter appropriately, explore Pinterest, Goodreads and many other online media. You’re supposed to have a knockout website and maybe even a go-to blog. If you’re a professional you need to be active on your professional forums and stay Linked-in. You may Skype with family and friends. And don’t forget your family’s Facebook interaction. Your kids are texting you more than talking to you these days and your spouse may even be sending love notes via Twitter direct or text. And top of all that you’re expected to read blogs in your field, commenting on them to remain an active part of the community. There’s more to read than there are hours in a day. Even if you did nothing but social media you couldn’t possibly fit it all in. And we haven’t even talked about the hundreds of emails in your inbox.
We are victims of digital overload.
The NY Times reported on a fascinating British study published in late March by the Millennium Cohort Study that looked at nearly 20,000 children, following them since their birth in 2000 or 2001. The study found that children who watched television, videos or DVDs three hours a day were displaying a much higher chance of behavioral problems by the time they were seven. Dr. Keith Ablow believes it is because when a device is substituted for human contact we become disconnected. Upwards of 90% of communication is nonverbal according to Ablow. The child needs to learn to read faces, to catch voice inflection, to interact with people and see their reactions. As writers, we do too.
It’s easy to surmise why media-savvy kids are often awkward socially. The study found that children’s brains are actually being rewired by this substitute for human interaction. There is a pronounced neurological impact. The study only looked at children but we could probably safely extrapolate the data and apply it to adults as well. Even more specifically, to writers.
I think we need to budget our time spent online and with devices. I’ve tried to be intentional about spending time face-to-face with people. I admire those families who collect all devices at the start of dinner, shut them all down and deposit them in a basket. Who says we need to be available to everyone, all the time? When I go to a writer’s conference or a meeting, my out of office memo says that I will have limited access to email and phone. That’s on purpose. I need to be present to those I am with.
We’ve got to stop buckling under the pressure of being available 24/7. Or the expectation that we will answer a question within minutes or hours. Sometimes we simply need to be still.
When we are unplugged:
- Ideas have room to grow out of our imagination.
- We can savor the people and the setting around us.
- We can listen for real-life dialogue instead of finding that non-words like “lol” are creeping into our writing and dialogue.
- We can people watch, catching all the non-verbal, non-digital richness of interaction.
- We can move other parts of our bodies besides fingers and eyeballs.
- As a writer, you can actually write, instead of blogging, texting and messaging about writing.
- As an agent, I can have the white space I need to think deeply and creatively about a client’s career. To dream. To pray for each one.
- As a child of God, I can listen to Him as He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10)
I’m not saying we don’t need to be engaged online. We do. What I’m saying is that we need balance. There’s a time to Facebook and a time to be face-to-face. There’s a time to Twitter and a time to send a love note written with a pen on paper. There’s a time to be Linked-in and a time to pull away. A time to blog and a time to be a listening ear. A time to Skype and a time to get on a plane and be within a hug’s breadth of those we love. There’s a time for television and a time for nothing more than swapping stories around the dinner table. There’s a time for staying on top of every email and a time to connect with people in our community.
I’m just saying. . .
How about you. Is this a problem we share? Have you found some ways to address this? Got any tips for us?
Are we victims of digital overload? Click to Tweet
Does being connected online lead to being disconnected to real interaction? Click to Tweet
What does social media overload cost us? Click to Tweet