This month (October) I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from Facebook, inspired partially by a question someone asked me years ago.

“Do you remember life before the Internet?”

People my age get asked this a lot.  The askers might be tweens, but they could just as easily be my age or older.  No one remembers life before the Internet.  There’s a cultural amnesia that’s taken hold about the Before Times.

The other day, as I logged into Facebook for the fifteenth-odd time, I remembered.

The Before Times

When we say “before the Internet,” we really mean “before social media,” because prior to MySpace and the like, our lives were relatively unaffected by our sudden connectedness.   IRC was fun, and email was faster than a letter, but telnet didn’t quite capture the hearts and minds of the world.

COMPUTER GEEK

Telnet is the future!

AVERAGE USER

It looks like DOS.

COMPUTER GEEK

It connects computers all over the world!

AVERAGE USER

So I’m using... someone else’s DOS?

So what was the world like before social media?

Before social media, you didn’t talk to people as often.  When you went home, you were alone.

You had to make time to see friends.  You got a lot fewer birthday congratulations.

It was quiet.

It was lonely.

And at the time, I lived in the middle of the woods.  Imagine Thoreau’s Walden, with hot water.

As a creative person, it was a bit like drowning.  Making human connection was a struggle, and you can only struggle so long.  When the fight finally went out of you, you sank back into an empty silence: long hours filled with nothing but your thoughts, and no one to talk to, perhaps for days at a time.

They were some of the most productive days of my life.

That’s the damning thing of it: there’s something in creativity that needs limits and discomfort.  Boredom and struggle sit like grit in the oyster of our brains, and we work on it and work on it, and sometimes a pearl is produced.

There’s more: communicating on social networks can be fun, enlightening, interesting.  But rarely is it satisfying.  Satisfying to the mind, sometimes, but not to the bones.  Prior to social media, your social time was very limited, and it wasn’t easy to come by.  It had to be satisfying.  So we called friends, we wrote letters, we made plans.

And, if you were like me, you’d wrap yourself up in your thoughts and your need to communicate and make something loud enough to break the silence.

We committed to the moment in a way that’s difficult today.

I’m not going so far as to say “it was better in my day” – I’m all too aware that’s the dying cry of the irrelevant, and I really don’t believe it anyway.  I’ll say “it was different, and that difference is more familiar to me.”

If this doesn’t ring true for you, that’s good.  Perhaps you’ve grown up fully invested in social media, and for you, it’s natural to create work inches away from a pipeline to the whole world.

I have to go with what works for me.  Silence is what my bones know, and so, for awhile, I will have some silence.  I will call friends and meet for lunch.  I will think thoughts unshared.  I will work on things that take more than fifteen minutes to craft.

Hell, I’m already writing and it’s only been three days.

So I’m leaving Facebook for the month of October.  While that doesn’t preclude other social media use, I highly doubt you’ll see much of me there either.  Twitter and Instagram don’t provide the same kind of human connection I get on Facebook, and I gave up following new social networks in 2015.

Come November, we’ll see if I’m hungry to rejoin the modern world, or stay longer in cyber-Walden.

As a post-script: I still have my blog connected to my Facebook and other social media services, so this post will appear there when I publish it.  

Original image provided by joseph61605’s Photobucket.