No TV, no social media, no books: no life?
Blood pressure: normal.
Social status: unchanged (as far as I can tell..).
It’s day one of my week long experiment cutting out TV, social media and books. Also podcasts, the news, YouTube — basically any kind of verbal chatter that I might regularly absorb on a daily basis.
It was a Sunday evening decision. Reading chapter four of The Artist’s Way, I was advised to spend a week under “Media Deprivation”. I could still listen to music and write, but any kind of “input” that was verbal/visual was to be cut out. The reasoning behind it makes a lot of sense to me: “For most artists, words are like tiny tranquillisers.” (p87). I had been getting so frustrated with myself for not having the will power to actually do the things I really wanted to be doing with my time. I have two freelance projects on the go, a volunteer project and study that I am meant to be doing, but time and time again I find myself mindlessly scrolling through my facebook feed or watching yet another episode of a TV show, that I’ve already seen. Or even worse, spending time hopelessly scrolling through the Netflix menu trying to find something vaguely worthy of numbing my mind with. Perhaps the bottom of the barrel was when I found myself enjoying a good session of Facebook video’s ‘What’s the algorithm going to feed me next??’
This is not new. This is what we’ve been warned about for years. And until now I thought I maybe, sort of, had a handle on things. But over the past few weeks, for the first time in my life, I’ve really understood that smarmy, self-satisfied boomer saying: ‘That TV’s gonna rot your brain!’ They said with a lilt at the end which means, ‘I’m incredibly wise because I’ve lived a long time, but you won’t listen to my advice because you’re young and stupid.’
And they were right. I swear I could actually feel my neural networks atrophying. A week ago I went into a bookstore out of sheer desperation — somebody help me to read a book for god’s sake! I wandered hopelessly around the aisles, no point of reference except the books my ex-boyfriends had encouraged me to read years ago. I harked back to my younger days in my mind, back when I had a sense of self. I was reading Herman Hesse, Salinger, Vonnegut. Books about big, important themes. I picked up a Hesse and felt nauseous at the immediate density of it. What has become of me? I thought. I’ve become that which I formerly despised! I circled back to the front desk where the kind, unimposing jacket of a Murakami beckoned me. Light enough to read, but edgy enough that I didn’t feel like I was reading ‘just any old book’.
And there it sat. On my bedside table, tragically neglected in favour of some video of a pair of doctors reviewing stand-up comedy segments about medical issues to see how well they hold up against real life medical practice. That’s right: who cares! So after all this palaver, dashing and fretting about my incurable media addiction, being given the task of spending a week without it was very welcome indeed.
I decided not to make a Facebook post about it — go for the quiet retreat, I thought. There has been many a brave soul triumphantly declare to the world that they are deleting Facebook, once and for all! Only to sheepishly return a short time later. Drawn compulsively back to the tantalising world of what Susan had for breakfast, a slightly humorous meme, and that video of a sloth giving a dog a back rub: they return defeated. And let’s be clear, the meme is only slightly humorous. It gives you a brief, almost imperceptible murmur of recognition, before you immediately return to the emptiness of your current existence. Not me, I thought. If I didn’t declare to the world that I was quitting for a week, then I could avoid the stinging hubris if my best laid plans came to naught.
So I put in place the necessary provisions for being contactable without Facebook Messenger. I shared my number with people who didn’t have it yet and for those whom I habitually contacted via Messenger, I let them know that they could get hold of me via text, phone call or email. Which is absurd when you think about it: I’m cutting out social media but here are THREE different ways you can still contact me. The sheer number of ways one human being can be contacted in this day and age is, at the very least, superfluous. I thought back to when I was child living with my family and one landline. You would pick up the phone, with no idea who it was, and just say, “Hello?” It could have been anyone: your sister’s friend, your Aunty, your Dad’s workmate. And you would have just spoken to them, with your voice. You would have happily said, “Yes, hang on I’ll just get them for you.” In today’s world, we know exactly who is on the other end, we know it will be for us, and yet we are often plagued with this searing anxiety about pressing the green button and speaking to someone.
Pontification aside — it was done: apps deleted, commitment made. I slept soundly, smugly, knowing I’d made a decision that was thoroughly good.
I woke blissfully to the sight of zero notifications. I reached for my phone, only to realise that I had no reason to. I unlocked it reflexively and swiped through the app menu a few times: it wasn’t a dream, they were really gone.
And it felt wonderful.
I launched into my day completely unimpeded. I did my morning journalling, did the dishes from the night before, brought the washing in from the day before, and prepared for my morning meeting. After the meeting I dutifully published the meeting notes and began studying PHP for my new job. This same day I went for a run, did yoga, folded the washing and now, here I am writing this blog post. And you thought this was going to be a post about how challenging it was or how lonely I felt, didn’t you! I swear to God, no word of a lie, I genuinely feel less lonely and my mind feels a thousand times clearer. And the Murakami book on the bedside table doesn’t look so sad anymore.
…well okay, there was one tricky spot. Sitting and eating a meal without something happening in front of me on a screen initially felt like the strangest thing in the world. Up until now, eating a meal in front of the TV had been one of life’s simple pleasures and I felt a sense of deprivation at having this basic joy taken away from me. On preparing dinner, I felt a visceral pull toward the television screen, my body ready to fire up Netflix. But I bravely resisted. It was an unfamiliar sensation to be consuming food with only my thoughts as company, but one that I didn’t hate, in the end.
So here I am. It’s 8:26pm on a Monday night. No TV, no books, no apps. These next few hours stretch ahead of me as I consider what they might be filled with. I wonder how long it will be before I’m lead slavishly back to the App Store. I only pray I last the week.
Sending all my love from the other side.