2016 had me burnt out.
Vicious politics across the board, intense campaigning from the very beginning of the year, personal attachment to the changes of movements of local, state, and national issues – the 2016 elections alone were enough to bring several bottles of Tums into our household. Pile on the developments of the year and the beginning of November left me wanting to throw my hands up and announce my application for citizenship in Antarctica. (Who do I even petition? The United Kingdom? Australia? A waddle of penguins?)
It only takes a moment of reflection, however, for the inevitable question to arise, “How much of this anxiety comes from me? Perhaps I should start looking at my own self for responsibility in this state…”
I have spent more time than ever before connected to news, social media, and internet-accessing devices like my phone, laptop, and TV. Even my car is connected to internet! How many countless hours have I spent scrolling through Facebook feeds, consuming article after article on Politico or Google News, crafting carefully worded responses on Twitter that perhaps two people would ever see? What has it all led to?
Ending sentences with prepositions, that’s what.
I was therefore quite relieved when two circumstances allowed me to reevaluate: first, I received a letter from myself written whilst I sat amongst the trees on a summer trip to the forest urging me to consider my priorities, and second, an assignment in which I was actually encouraged to unplug and appreciate time away from the constant stream of connections.
So I took the challenge. For the week, I wrote: “I intend to unplug from my echo chamber by deleting my FB app from my phone, as well as “locking” Politico/Flipboard. For social media, I will keep a tally of the times I access Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter – once I reach 8 for the day, I am locked out – Jackie (a classmate and fellow blogger!), I am stealing your brilliant idea of staying off my phone one hour after waking up and one hour before going to bed!”
The challenge took place the week of Thanksgiving – a week to be spent far away from the constant day-to-day rut, both physically and metaphorically. We spend our break in Pittsburgh, PA with family and friends, enjoying each others’ company playing board games, taking in college sports, and eating fantastic foods. The whole while, I tried my best to stick to my commitment of unplugging.
The first day I caught myself mindlessly checking social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter) and fell off the wagon without even realizing it. But by perseverance, I found that the empty time I would have been spending on social media was far better spent having meaningful conversations and being mindful of the time and space in which I found myself. I slept soundly, largely free from the purposeless worries and anxieties that came from checking my phone directly before bed, and I woke up with energy and enthusiasm for the day having not spent 10-20 minutes scrolling through social media and the news.
By the end of this experience, I rediscovered that unplugging is important for mental health and meaningful connections. To be digitally literate is to recognize when digital connections are productive and meaningful – and how to disconnect when they are not. I fully intend to keep these practices in mind as I start to slip back into our routine!