There’s a problem with that title, isn’t there? While I have not been completely silent (fifteen blog posts at most? I haven’t counted), neither have I been prolific. It’s relative.
Around this time last year I was coming to the end of a run of three or four months of consecutive blog posts, culminating in NaBloPoMo, another run of blog posts for each day of November. I was exhausted. Something about the arrival of December told me that I needed to stop, and only come back when I was ready. There would be no round up of best books, or most popular blog posts, none of that.
At the same time, my family was entering the beginning of a tough year, and this confirmed what I had known for a while, that I needed a break. Which, for me, would also include taking one of my periodical holidays from Twitter. It wasn’t just the self-imposed pressure of blogging that had got to me.
In truth, my tendency towards internet-distraction had reached critical levels. I told myself that I could justify my endless mindless scrolling because I was a blogger and academic. I needed to know what was going on in the world of poems and poets, the minutiae of education policy, and the ceaseless commentary about these things. If I wasn’t in touch with what was going on, I said to myself, what would be left of me? What would people think?
So I stopped. December came and went, then January, then February. As I say, things were very tough for my family during this time, and I don’t regret for one minute my decision to spend less time online. But it wasn’t easy. I remember getting a text on New Year’s Day from a friend saying he had just tweeted about me and asking me where I was. Not logging back in just to take a quick look round was excruciating.
I deleted the Twitter and WordPress apps from my phone and iPad, and have not looked back. No, that’s not true. I am always looking back, always worried about missing out on the next juicy bit of news from Planet Poetry. There have been relapses. I have had to go back in. (As you might have seen, I am launching a new anthology with Unbound, a project which, to misquote the ancient Greek philosopher Bart Simpson, will not become appreciated by itself. Thank you to everyone who has pledged their support for it so far. If you could take a look at it, and perhaps tell just one person about it I would be so grateful.)
What I am in the very slow process of doing is changing my habits. Just as it took me six months to get used to going swimming every other day, or make the breakfast in the company of silence rather than the radio I was not listening to, I am still learning how not to be an internet/distraction addict. (I’ve now taken a cue from my daughter and deleted Instagram from my phone as well.)
The payoff of all this? In the days following my decision to fast from blogging I wrote five poems which I knew, absolutely knew, so rare for me, were keepers. And there have been more since. But the more I think about it, the more the payoff seems nothing to do with poems, or blogging, or writing. The payoff is being able to live more happily with myself, in my head, or, pradoxically, outside of it. It is still early days. I begin each day like a tightrope walker, daring myself to venture above the void without any safety net. Nothing is certain, only the next footstep.
I have found the following resources useful in helping me to think about online addiction:
Escaping our smartphone dependency -by Justin Wise
Invest in white space – by Dan Blank
Why I quit Facebook and why you should too -by Rudolpho Sanchez
I was addicted to my iPhone -by Khe Hy
I quit social media for 30 days and here’s what I learned -by Sarah Peck
Our dying attention is a big problem -by Sarah Peck
Why quitting Facebook made me happier than ever – by Leonie Hutchinson
Giving up Facebook for at least a month -by Robin Houghton