Friday, August 14, 2015

Networking: Digital Quicksand

WARNING: Post contains occasional graphic language via quoted material that not suitable for children or those offended thereby.

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Digital quicksand

Isn't that a fantastic visual?

Unfortunately, it's not mine. It belongs to Chuck Wendig, brilliant blogger and author extraordinaire, from a post that he published this week on his terribleminds blog. That post got me thinking, and I have to admit that I wasn't very happy with the thoughts pouring through my mind.

I can't think of a more effective way to say exactly that.

Let's unpack the sentiment a bit, here.

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I'll start with a poll. How many of you own a smart phone of some kind?

Be honest. I'm not lining up to shoot anybody over the responses. I've got one, myself.

Okay, now, how many of you also have access to a computer, either laptop or desktop? How about an iPad or other tablet? An e-reader? A television? An mp3 player?

Me too.

If you were to take a guess as to how many hours a day you spend on all of those devices combined, what would you say?

An hour? Less?

Two hours? More than that? Three? Four? Six? Eight? Twelve?

It's okay, don't be shy. So far this week, I've logged thirty-five hours on my computer, e-reader, and smart phone alone, and I suspect that estimate is conservative. (To find out where you rate, check out the RescueTime app, which you can sync to all of your devices so it tracks all of your usage.)

What am I really doing, though, when I'm online? Six or seven hours a day, on average, spent staring at a screen ... many, many of them a smart phone screen ... and what have I accomplished?

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Phones, in particular, are time-sucking devices. That phrase from Wendig's post, digital quicksand, is so applicable in this instance that someone should have thought of it before.

Until May this year, I had a flip phone, also known as a stupid phone among some of my acquaintances. The only things it did were send and receive texts, and send and receive calls. Since I broke the camera option mere weeks after its purchase, it was useless for anything else. It lasted for several years, though, probably well past its intended prime.

And while I owned it, I was astronomically more productive and focused.

In fact, in the last three months since my stupid phone finally succumbed and I got my smart phone, I seem to have no time and no ability to concentrate ... unless I'm mindlessly staring at the phone screen, swiping right or left to open or delete messages, or pinning to my myriad boards, or playing Words with Friends or Sudoku.

I know. Pathetic.

"I'll just check this one text message" turns into "I have to reply to that text message right now, and this one, and that one ... oh, and that one, and that one ..." which turns into "I haven't checked Pinterest in forty-eight minutes, I've probably missed dozens of fascinating pins that I could share with my sister or my mother or my colleague or my writer friends" (see how the justification begins?) which turns into "Wow, I'm bored, it only takes me an average of seven minutes to win an easy Sudoku, I'll just click over and do that while I'm waiting ..."

And all the while, the creative muse in the back of my head (where there aren't any blue-lit screens or flashing graphics or pretty pictures or numbers to slot into neat little rows and columns) is screaming, "WHILE YOU'RE WAITING FOR WHAT?"

And she's right.

I have no idea.

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Maybe it's a case of self-doubt. I don't trust my abilities, so I self-destruct instead of working to create.

Maybe it's fear. There's plenty to be afraid of, after all. Fear that I have nothing to write today. That the words won't come, no matter how hard I try (or not). Fear that my imagination has taken a day-trip or a long weekend or a sabbatical and won't be back for the foreseeable future. Fear that no one will read my work. Fear that if people read my work, no one will like it.

Maybe it's anxiety. I have so much else to be worried about ... how can I take time out to work ... writing isn't actually WORK, after all, I'm just pulling random lies out of my head and putting them down on paper and calling it fiction ... and there's a billion other things I could be doing instead ...

Who knows?

Whatever it is, it's holding me back. And I bet it's holding you back.

And it's time to stop.

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If you're a writer, write like your life depends on it. Maybe it does. Who are you to say otherwise?

If your phone is holding you back ... or acting like a distraction from whatever deeper issue is actually holding you back ... then set it aside. Leave it alone. It'll be fine. I promise. I'll do the same thing. Maybe we can get our lonely phones together for a play date sometime while you and I actually. Get. Something. Done.

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What holds you back from what you know you should be doing? Can you name it? Put a face to it? Quantify it so you can stuff it back in its box and bury it or burn it or whatever you need to do?

What is it you know you need to be doing instead? I don't care what other people say you should be doing. What do YOU say you should be doing? Are you doing it? Why not?

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