As I sit under the boughs of a large oak tree, I gaze upwards through the sun-dappled leaves and catch a glimpse of possibility. It’s one of those idyllic moments in life that consist of pure and simple joy, at least it is if you can manage to shut out the clang of machinery in the factory down the road and the scream of a toddler on the other side of the park for long enough.
I’ve been taking a look for a while now at the parts of my life that don’t bring me joy; seeking to repair, replace and perhaps eliminate those ways of thinking, doing or being that generate the opposite. This litalgamation reflects on my growing need to disconnect.
Dialling down the din
We live in a world of ‘excessive consumption’ (Wilson. 2018), often exacerbated by social media. I joined Twitter back when I was a full-time teacher, using it to get resource ideas for the classroom and read about how I should be teaching. My early years in the classroom were shaped in many ways by what I consumed as well as what I shared back into the community. Now that my role has changed, and my network has grown, I’ve become much more of a curator and consumer than before. This comes with its own challenges, not least of all allowing my own voice and perspectives to be drowned by the infinite number of education, wise and ‘right’ voices online.
The nature of my work now means that Twitter is also a place for connecting with other educators and it therefore becomes a place where people can get hold of me on an evening and weekend should they wish. Even if I chose not to reply to something until working hours, it would still be there in the meantime, nudging at the edge of my consciousness for a response.
Arianna Huffington’s ‘Thrive’ (2015) really set me on the journey towards thinking differently about my use of social media as well as the nature of my working life more broadly. As I began to think about what brought me joy, I recognised the need for me to create the space for it. First, I took some very practical steps. I replaced my phone with a classic alarm clock and put the phone in a different room before bed so that it wasn’t the very first thing I looked at on a morning. I then bought a box – any excuse for something new from Kikki K – and I would put the phone in it on a Sunday in order to completely ‘disconnect to reconnect’ (Haig. 2019). I started seeing the benefits of doing this and did it more often on Saturdays and holidays too. I don’t have children or any major responsibilities outside of my work so I’m certain this has been far easier for me to achieve than it might be for most.
Noticing the despair
Taking this distance from the online world when I need it is even more of benefit to me now that I spend most of my days in front of a computer for work. As I’ve spent less and less time on Twitter, I now notice a number of things when I do spend time on it:
- There were times when I’d just scroll and scroll and scroll through my timeline whilst I should have been present in the joy of listening to a podcast, watching a movie, enjoying a new album, or taking a journey.
- There were times when I’d scroll past an argument and click on the thread to discover where it originated, quickly becoming lost in an unending back and forth of biased and often angry views with neither seeming to move any closer to the other.
- There were times when I’d find myself viewing with wonder the certainty with which others expressed their views, lost in admiration at their apparent ease with being so much more certain in such an uncertain world than I’ve ever felt.
- There were times when I’d be so overwhelmed by the above that I found myself doing much drafting, editing and deleting before posting anything. I’d stopped blogging almost entirely and I began to value the voices of those around me almost exclusively above my own.
- There were times when I’d endlessly refresh notifications once I had posted anything new. It wasn’t enough to have put my voice out there, Twitter was feeding a need to feel validated by others.
‘The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries’ (Pascal. 1958)
Stepping into disconnection
Despite moments of disconnection, I found that I was continuing to spend too many of my evenings on Twitter. I started by trying to change how I was reacting to what I saw and that felt like more of a struggle than a joy; I realised that I ‘don’t need to change but I do need to rearrange my priorities’ (Eggerue. 2018). I momentarily contemplated leaving Twitter altogether but the connection, learning and community to be found there – for the time being – is too strong for me to neglect it in its entirety… probably as any true addict might say!
So in a bid to find the joy, here’s what I’ll be trying over the next month:
- Focus on ‘one thing’ (Keller. 2014) at a time. If I am listening to the latest Guilty Feminist blog, music recommended by my mum, being absorbed in a book, or watching the latest episode of my favourite drama then that’s what I am doing. Otherwise, I am allowing Twitter to be the thief of joy.
- Recognise that groups exist online, especially on Twitter, bound by their own bias and accept the reality that interactions of a transformative nature will often fail to occur across these divided groups so elsewhere might be the better place to expect such dialogue.
- Deny comparison its power as social media is ‘an edited slice of what someone wants to see and that’s just how it is’ (Department store for the mind. 2018)
- Avoid getting drawn into moments and news items, especially where they concern things in the world you’re already worried about – consuming more media won’t change the reality or increase your knowledge on the subject in a reliable way.
- Fill your life with the space and time to do what brings you joy. Step away from the phone!
None of these changes are too dramatic but ‘the magical actions that make a difference are close to nothing at all’ (Poynton. 2019). As I sit under the boughs of a large oak tree, I look forward to the ‘small and underwhelming’ (Wilson. 2018) joys that lie beyond the realm of the Twittersphere.
Department Store for the Mind (2018) As You Are, Octopus Publishing
Eggerue, C (2018) What a Time to be Alone, Quadrille
Haig, M (2019) Notes on a Nervous Planet, Canongate Books
Huffington, A (2015) Thrive, W H Allen
Pascal, B (1958) Pascal’s Pensées, E P Dutton and Co.
Poynton, R (2019) Do Pause: you are not a to do list, The Do Book Company
Wilson, S (2018) First, we make the beast beautiful, Dey Street Books