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Getting Lost in the Twitterverse and other Misadventures

kitten and computerEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dusti Arab. Dusti is a writer and the author of The Minimalist Mom and The Digital Dominatrix. You can find her most recent work at Undefinable You.

In late January, I had a meltdown. Pretty much an epic episode which involved my entire life going down the proverbial tube in a matter of days. My relationship was broken and lying on the ground in a million pieces. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t function.

How had I gotten here?

Well, it was longer series of events. Having become fully indoctrinated as a blogger and writer, I found myself plugged in much more often. In September, I finally got a smart phone. The perceived pressure was to respond to requests and comments immediately.

Couldn’t miss an opportunity. Had to post frequently. Oh, can’t forget the networking. I had to be skyping at least twice a week in order to maintain and develop an ever growing group of acquaintances and friends. Twitter needed me. Facebook, too. Even after I turned off comments, the frequency I was online micromanaging my fledgling business was appalling.

Never questioning my own ability to handle the tides of the internet, I simply rode whatever wave came my way next. It was the like the day of surfing that never ended. That is, it didn’t end until I was so utterly exhausted, I fell off my board and started to drown.

Six months of incessant connection. Six weeks of attempting to recover.

That was so much time wasted I could have been working towards my goals, creating great work, or spending time with friends. Instead, I spent it mostly at home in recovery mode, unable to write or think with clarity. It was total digital burnout.

That was when I decided I wouldn’t let that happen again. I am not a gadget, and neither are you. We can’t handle unending information streams.

No matter how useful technology is, it is not the answer to all of our problems. It creates a new set of dysfunctions we have to learn how to handle. The opportunities created by the ability to work entirely in the digital world are exciting and wonderful, but ignoring the consequences that can result from digital dependency is dangerous.

Unquestioned technophilia is nothing more than turning computer chips into a tangible deity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. It means I can stay at home with my daughter and work from anywhere in the world. It means I have friends across the globe. But if I’m always online, I’m not spending quality time with my daughter or the friends I have now.

Finding balance is key. To stay in control of who we are online, we have to know when we have reached max capacity. Are you due for a break from cyberspace? Here are some of the telltale signs of connection addiction.

Signs you are due for a sabbatical:

– You can’t go an entire 5 minutes without checking Twitter. (Or without thinking about it.)

– Your conversations in real life reference Twitter more often than they do events or conversations happening in your life.

– You are constantly scared of not being at inbox: 0, because you know you’ll never recover from the buildup.

– Your friends haven’t seen you in weeks – and they live down the street.

– You can’t eat an entire meal without checking your iPhone.

– The thought of unplugging for a whole day makes you squeamish.

Are you guilty of any of those? Don’t feel bad. At least once a week, I find myself having to refocus on what really matters. Thankfully, this is something we are capable of being in complete control of.

It’s time to put the iPhone down and get back to living life in real time! Here are some steps you can take to start overcoming digital dependency.

Steps towards recovery:

1. Turn email/internet off your phone.

Gasp! A step backwards?! That’s techno-sacrilege!

Guess what? We all survived before without internet on our phones, and we’ll keep surviving without it. Downgrade, save money, and watch how much more often you connect with a real human voice and the people you care enough to have a phone number for.

2. Work offline.

As a writer, I find myself on my laptop for most of my work. It’s far too easy to start “researching” or checking social media. One of the best ways to fix this problem is by working at locations where there isn’t an internet connection. One of my favorite “offices” is a cafe with great ambiance, free refills on my coffee, and the most incredible chocolate I’ve ever tasted. No internet connection. Perfect work conditions.

If you don’t work from a laptop, consider using blocking software to limit your time online, like Freedom. It disables your internet connection for a period of time you set. Extreme, but effective.

3. Go outside.

Spend a little time in awe of nature. Realize how small we are in comparison to the grand scheme of things. Realize how much smaller and insignificant your email is.

4. Take a weekend digital sabbatical.

The whole weekend. No cheating.

Honestly, when was the last time you fully disconnected for more than a few hours? Set up your autoresponder, and take care of it Monday. This weekend, you have serious playing and creating to do!

When confronted with disconnecting, there is always someone who says, “I can’t afford to disconnect!” But really, can you afford not to? Connect to your real life. The person standing next to you. That is the greatest connection of all.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tanja June 6, 2011, 3:12 pm

    Hi Dusti,

    A few months ago I cut back my online time tremendously. It was an excellent reset button after spending 3 years working (overworking) online. But I still needed more downtime and put myself on auto-pilot for all of April and part of May. THAT was the break I needed. It’s different, isn’t it, when being online is a business and not just pleasure surfing. Glad to hear you got the break you needed and learned to slow down. It was a tough lesson for me too!

    p.s. A weekend sabbatical is on my horizon. I think I’ll do it this weekend!

    • Dusti Arab June 7, 2011, 11:46 am

      Congrats! I will be, too. Getting out after the craziness of the World Domination Summit and heading to the coast!

  • Steve M June 7, 2011, 9:40 am

    Great post Dusti. I have been thinking about a digital sabbatical for a while. I shall use this post as the inspiration to impose one. What got me was when you said that you know you’re in need of one when your real life conversations mention Twitter – guilty as charged!! Thanks, as ever, for the inspiration. Steve

    • Dusti Arab June 7, 2011, 1:49 pm

      Of course, Steve! Yep, I can’t preach unless I’m practicing. I promise I will be this weekend!

  • MJ June 7, 2011, 10:46 am

    Great article and practical as well. Those of us caught in the ‘web’ know these things but doing them is more difficult. It helps to see it out there in black and white…(we have a saying in the islands that works here…”We’re not all here because we’re not all there” – time to be all here now!)

    • Dusti Arab June 7, 2011, 1:51 pm

      Perfect! Love the saying. Very true in its simplicity.

  • Not sure whether this applies over in the US and other countries – but a great enforced sabbatical can be found over here in the UK as in certain areas there’s no internet connection – as I myself found after delaying a post I had written to publish once arriving by the sea in the Welsh Hills. I had to take the weekend off and loved it! Mother nature to the rescue – no reception was getting past those mountainous babies!

    • Dusti Arab June 7, 2011, 1:50 pm

      Haha, it’s true! It depends where you are at. You have to definitely make it an effort to find yourself somewhere with no wifi, even here in Oregon.

  • marie June 7, 2011, 2:57 pm

    I have just been investigating how to minimize my online time Local service rates are going up and I want less Thanks for the nudge in the right direction. M

    • Dusti Arab June 9, 2011, 3:44 pm

      Great! Glad to help!

  • Liz June 7, 2011, 8:32 pm

    I finally had to put a tag on my email signature explaining when I would be checking my work email. In my case Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 1-7 pm. That way the guilt of ignoring the work email that flowed into my gmail account was more bearable. Oh and getting a dog helped too.

    • Dusti Arab June 9, 2011, 3:45 pm

      Putting it in your signature is a great idea. It lets people know upfront where your priorities are. Good job!

  • mamascout June 8, 2011, 7:17 am

    This is great (and timely for me)! I have been working towards weekend sabbaticals and it is great when it works. My smartphone helps me in certain situations, but I have to be so careful to not habitually check it. I try to keep it in my bag, not my hand. And I think writing in long hand is helpful, although sometimes, I feel like I think better typing.

    • Dusti Arab June 9, 2011, 3:47 pm

      It is a tough mix, isn’t it? I have similar mixed feelings. I know if I am stuck and need a burst of creativity, long hand is the way to go. But, if I need to get into the flow zone, it’s gotta be my keyboard or I don’t get it out fast enough.

      I highly recommend 750words.com for that, by the way!

  • Jo June 8, 2011, 8:03 am

    I find that I’m constantly needing to ask “what am I avoiding” or “what am afraid of” when I’m surfing the net, checking Facebook incessantly (often for affirmation and the little bit of adrenaline you get from knowing someone is thinking of you) or checking the stats on my blog every 2 minutes. Time away from the internet helps, as does 40 minute “focus” periods.

    • Dusti Arab June 9, 2011, 3:48 pm

      Amen to that. I’ve suffered the same – big time. This weekend at WDS, Jonathan fields was just discussing the best way to work actually was in bursts. Who knew? It’s actually better for your brain!

  • Roberta June 8, 2011, 11:10 am

    I try to be offline on Sundays – not very successful so far but with your encouragement here and other places (like Tammy!), I will do it. My house needs a very thorough cleaning (and I mean remove everything from a room, clean and then consider what to put back) which is a perfect reason to be offline and in life. Thanks for the entry. I find it interesting that the best bloggers urge offline work; as a very good blogger once said in anticipating an upcoming real life event, it will provide a lot of blogger fodder :).

  • Greg W June 9, 2011, 6:13 am

    Been wondering how you young pups handle all the information coming at you. Seems my Luddite tendencies do offer some valuable opportunities at times. Cheers

  • Brooke (Books Distilled) June 13, 2011, 12:01 pm

    Great post! The single most helpful resource I’ve found on this topic is Leo Babauta’s ebook Focus. Incredibly helpful. I often read a chapter in the morning when I sit down to work, and it refocuses me to work on the most important tasks first. Thanks for encouraging us to live in the real world!

  • Michelle Bross June 16, 2011, 5:09 pm

    I think it is a call for awareness with action – “Real life in Real time.” My children are my highest priority and I want to make sure my actions reflect that, and not that whoever is pinging is more important.
    http://www.mychildsgardener.com/143/i-am-putting-limits-on-the-pacifier/

  • Jonas July 19, 2011, 1:49 pm

    Hi Dusti,

    thank you for sharing your experiences.
    I have now been this digital addiction cycle several times, and somehow I am not really learning to stay away from it. I get really excited about a new technology, then become utterly addicted and end up feeling quite empty after having spent entirely too much time with an ultimately not-significant activity in my life.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Jonas

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