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March 23, 2019


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I usually use Facebook when I’m too tired for active leisure or when the chunks of free time I have are very small and likely to be interrupted at any second. I couldn’t tile a backsplash in those intervals. Active leisure requires a chunk of time and often a fair amount of pre-planning depending on what it is. I find the best alternative to social media for me is a book. Also, active leisure should be something you like and fills you up. Fixing things around my house isn’t always a chore, but I personally don’t find it relaxing and it usually drains me even if overall it has a positive effect on me. I need things in my life that fill me up and don’t drain me. The answer is not social media (though I genuinely enjoy seeing what my friends are up to all over the world) but it’s also not as easy as choosing to do, for example, yoga instead — that involves a babysitter, money, cordination with my husband or doing it at home while my kids run all around me asking if they can please have another apple and this time could they put maple syrup on it and maybe make a chocolate cake with their friend and where’s the cocoa powder and can you clean the pan for me because it’s still dirty from last time because it’s SO hard to clean. I guess my meandering point is that often people don’t choose social media over other pursuits because they like social media more, it’s because it’s easy to do when you have 15 minutes and you’re frazzled. At least that’s where it fits in in my life!

I just got a smartphone a year ago—until then, I didn’t even have texting. I really love being able to text my husband and my sister, who lives far away. I’m not on any social media, but I do tend to over-browse when I’m tired/ bored. I’ve been taking a book, not a phone, when I nurse down the baby, and it’s been like old times!!
I struggle with “active leisure” because we live in a tiny house where I can’t do anything loud (sewing machine, exercise, etc) after bedtime or at naptime. And I can’t leave the house (take a walk) without taking everyone. Plus, 7 kids + homeschooling = TIRED at the end of the day.
I know it won’t always be like this, and I do believe strongly in having hobbies that are sustainable in the long term, so I try to model “healthy” device usage while practicing my own hobbies/talents, like reading, sewing, crafting, etc.
I do agree that many people act like a text is an emergency, but thankfully those I text most often (husband/ sister) don’t, so neither do I.
(I’m also in a particular place where all my kids are with me all day, so other than my husband-at-work, there’s basically no one who qualifies as “level 1 emergency” for me. Which makes it really easy to be lackadaisical about texts.)
And I *totally* second Pippi with the way trying to do something like exercise is around the kids!!

I don't treat texts like they have any urgency. My husband finds this habit frustrating as he often expects a quick response. My phone isn't set to make noise or vibrate when texts arrive, so they're pretty low key.

I agree with Pippi that for me social media often fits into the gaps where I don't have enough time to invest in reading a book, when I'm too tired or distracted to do something that requires more brain power.

But also I really don't use Facebook primarily to get updates from family and friends. I use it to seek out and share interesting articles and to have intellectual conversations with far-flung friends. Many of my longer blog essays started out as Facebook conversations. Most of my poetry reading is sparked by Facebook friends sharing poetry and by following various poetry pages. So for me Facebook often functions as a virtual salon: a place where I can read and discuss literature, history, science, art, faith, etc. I'm in three different book groups at the moment and informally reading along with another friend as well. It's not a great salon because there are all those other distractions, but when I mindlessly scroll my feed, what I'm really hoping for is that stimulation of a good conversation. And I'm skeptical that that can happen in 20-30 minutes a week.

Also for me social media functions as support for bumpy days (and to in turn provide that support for friends). It's more like being at work and getting up to stretch your legs or take a bathroom break and stopping to talk to a colleague in the hall or in the next office: a break to be sociable and to talk over the specific challenges of the day. Since I homeschool, I don't have real-world colleagues to hob nob with during the day, my peers are other homeschool moms who are facing many of the same challenges.

And I've found that some of my social media friends actually encourage the go fix something, clean something, organize something
kind of challenge. I've got a cheering section giving me positive reinforcement when I accomplish those sorts of tasks. If I stuck to 30 minutes a week... I'd be more likely to spend that time reading books, but the positive peer pressure wouldn't be there.

I guess all of which is to say that yes, it's a huge time suck and I waste a lot of time in mindless consumption. But I've done the detoxes before and they don't stick because of the very real roles that social media plays that nothing else is going to step up to fill in the gaps if I drop it. And that's where I am for the present.

Would agree with Pippi that often one's chunks of really free time are not long enough to do the deep work required by active leisure, which is why social media fits so well in them.

I was a little disappointed by Deep Work, which I finished last week. I would have liked a little more philosophy, and less "This is how knowledge workers get ahead" -- as if it doesn't benefit *everyone* to be able to do deep work, even if your main problem isn't fending off committee meetings that might derail your quest for tenure. But I did find some of his idea helpful, in that I've been chewing on them, not that I've implemented them yet. I have gone to digital minimalism in Lent, however. My smart phone usage has fallen to almost nil since I've taken Facebook off of it, and I may keep it that way. Still, I know I can waste a lot of time using Facebook on my computer, even though, like Melanie, I do like it as a source of encouragement and conversations. But there's a lot of dreck to drift through to get to that good stuff, and it takes a lot of discipline to resist that.

So, here's an observation I'm slightly ashamed to admit: I find I'm a better parent with Facebook. If, when I sit down to nurse the baby or wait for something to finish, I open FB, I'm also open to interruptions; it's precisely because it's mindless enough that I'm still willing to engage my family. But if I open a book in that short window, I'll ignore the kids and prolong the window much longer. It's not just that my chunks of leisure are small, it's also that they are unpredictable - and if I sink into something that really interests me, I'm much more likely to resent the cue to end.

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