7Oct

Confessions of a Terrible Texter

This past Saturday evening, I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen with a stick of butter in my hand and absolutely no idea what I’d intended to do with it. This was concerning to me, given that not thirty seconds before, I had opened the fridge with no clue what I was trying to retrieve from it. Apparently, I had remembered—butter!—and then forgotten again in the time it would take a competent adult human to spell a-m-n-e-s-i-a. “What am I trying to do?” I wailed to Dan, who was busy preparing dinner. He looked at me the way one might regard a self-cannibalizing pet*, equal parts concern and WTF?!

*We once had a hamster named Pickle who gnawed his own leg to smithereens. Better, I suppose, than our mouse Minnie who, despite her chummy name, ate her two little terrarium-mates one weekend when we were out of town. We don’t have the best track record with rodents.

Brownies. I was making brownies. I couldn’t seem to hold that thought still in my focus for longer than twenty seconds though. After re-finding my place in the recipe, I deposited the butter in a double boiler and then looked around the kitchen feeling lost and fragmented. All I really wanted to do in that moment was pull my smartphone out of my pocket and retreat into the lull of social media streams. The impulse was so strong, so insistent and sudden and reactive, that it startled me more than my memory lapses had done. Was I really about to soothe my disengaged mind by disengaging further?

I finished baking in a kind of unsatisfied stupor.

/ / /

On Sunday afternoon, a friend texted me saying she’d noticed we weren’t at church that morning, and was everyone well? I read her text and then mentally added it to the long list of messages awaiting my reply. Of course I should have written back immediately. It would have taken a single minute of my time and then been off my mind, plus it would have communicated my very real gratitude for her concern. Texting for me, however, has always taken on a form of Gestalt psychology in which my reply is weightier than the sum of its parts—the minute of time it takes, the choice of wording, the motion of my finger on the touchscreen. Entering a conversation requires my presence.

[Cue the overwhelm.]

Text messaging. WhatsApp. Voxer. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Each one a little universe full of people I care about, people to whom I want to give my full energy, attention, and emotional engagement. It’s not possible though, at least not considering my personality** and the creaking slowness with which my brain changes direction. I want to be present for all, but I can’t, and my extremely unhelpful coping strategy is to check out. Use social media to escape rather than engage. Let the faint interactive buzz of clicking “Like” substitute for the warmth of hard-won connection.

** ISTJ for you Myers-Briggs folks, Type 4 for you Enneagrammers. Basically, I’m an introvert who overthinks everything, including which personality test highlights this the best.

Tucking all these potential conversations away into spare pockets of my brain for later retrieval only serves to make me more fragmented, but the more fragmented I become, the more compulsively I scroll through social media in search of distraction. It’s the worst kind of loop, the kind that leaves me guilty and tired and replaces a section of my brain with Swiss cheese every time I pass “Go.”

I still haven’t replied to that text.

/ / /

Everyone and his Great Aunt Ruth knows that to make it in the online world these days, one needs to be both proficient and prolific in social media. This has a way of freezing my fingers cold on the keys.

If I can’t generate frequent snack packs of content throughout each day in addition to these slow-cooked posts, then am I in the wrong field? How are other writers able to be “on” for so long and in so many places each day without flying into a billion brittle bits?

I know the answer, of course, or at least some of its nuances. I know that personality and temperament have more of an impact on us than we often realize (more on this in an upcoming post) and that some good folks derive energy from the very things that sap mine. I know that a tremendous amount of work is often tucked into the archives of success, that diligence has its reward and its cost. I know that the sacrifices behind the scenes of others’ art might put my small concessions to shame. I also know that one size was never meant to fit all, no matter what the business experts claim.

Still, opening Twitter feels like smacking myself repeatedly in the face with a flunk card.

/ / /

I confess that while part of me feels snubbed every time a friend announces that he or she is sick of social media and wishes to get rid of it forever, another part of me completely understands. It’s not from the social media itself that I want freedom but from my own responses to it, the stress and disconnect and addiction and guilt, the impulse to self-soothe by scrolling through contacts’ photo streams, the wild-eyed withdrawal from conversation. I’d like to think that this is what my friends have meant as well—that we’re sick of the versions of ourselves we encounter when we reach for our smartphones.

This confession doesn’t come with a moral or with a list of tidy solutions. I will still be a terrible texter and a flaky Facebooker when the sun comes up tomorrow. (If you’re one of the ones waiting on a reply from me, I am sorry and can offer you contrition brownies if you come over.) Rather, this is my way of looking the beast in the eye and owning the reflection of myself I find there. It’s a truth-telling exercise. It’s a return to engagement, slow-cooker style.

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10 comments

  1. I’m with you on the reason for wanting to leave social media. The only reason I keep staying is because I like all these people I know there and am afraid of losing touch.

    If it helps any, some of the best writers I know are hardly involved in social media at all. They post a link to new content on their social media, but don’t create snack content. They also rely on email subscription and RSS feeds to keep readers engaged. It’s possible!

    • I don’t want to lose touch either, and the hard thing about all this is that I genuinely care about everyone (or nearly everyone 😀 ) I’m connected to via social media. You have a good point though about a lot of good writers not expending much energy on snack-sized content. I also seem to remember Elizabeth Gilbert pointing out recently that she has so much time to write because she is childless. Oh, right, I thought. I genuinely forget sometimes that different people’s daily lives are filled (or not) differently.

  2. “Still, opening Twitter feels like smacking myself repeatedly in the face with a flunk card.” #nailedit I love you and all the ways you make me feel like I’m not crazy. 😀

  3. Hi. My name is Meg and I don’t do social media well. I have a facebook account, but hardly ever (if ever) engage on it. I do use it as a reward when I am procrastinating. I like the posts from TED and NPR and Jimmy Fallon. I also like to keep up with people I should be talking to, but am too busy–but I just lurk, I don’t usually even “like” anything. I have a blog, but I haven’t posted since….May? I can’t remember. I have Failed in that arena. I work hard to read my favorite bloggy friends, but that is the only thing I am committed to on the internet. I don’t do twitter. I don’t do instagram. I don’t snap chat. I don’t face time. I am old and still call people on the phone when I have a minute (usually in the car). You look like an expert to me. You should feel proud!

    • I have hazy, slightly nostalgic memories of calling people while driving–using a headset, in case any of the Internet Safety Guard is reading–back when I used to commute all over the Delaware Valley to teach. I do not recommend this type of commute, for the record, but it was nice having the uninterrupted time to talk. Maybe one of these days telephone calls will become retro-chic and come back into fashion?

  4. Oh, lordy, YES. Twitter fail, bigtime over here. And i’m not a 4 and I’m not a true introvert, either (though I’m getting closer to that as I age). It’s just plain hard and we need to give up the incessant push to be all things to all people all the time. Do what you can, when you can. That’s all any of us can do.

    • “All things to all people” = the absolute worst business philosophy, but somehow it’s infiltrated the way we try to do things online. Thanks for reminding me that… LOGIC. 😀

  5. I think that flunking in social media or social real life is something I will always struggle with as an introvert. It’s just hard. And scary. And overwhelming. Keep being you, please. Keep writing your long, thoughtful posts. That’s what we love from you. It’s enough. More than enough unless you decide to do more. Then that will be enough. 🙂 xo

    • Haha… That last sentence is absolutely how I feel about others’ writing too. 🙂 Thank you to the moon and back for seeing my enough-ness and reminding me of it. XO

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