DISCLAIMER: This is a personal opinion piece which might seem out of the blue, part confession and part manifesto, which will be lengthy, and probably a bit of a ramble. Turn back now! Otherwise you may want to go pee first and maybe pour yourself some coffee or iced tea and get comfy.
I want to offer some of my thoughts from the last week or so… in case you haven’t noticed (no offense taken, haha), I’ve been a bit quiet around here since after the craft show. I’m still sorting through things, but this level of involvement is about what you can expect from me for a while anyway. Let me elaborate.
I legitimately have a lot of stress in my life. A big move (to a completely new city), a big relationship change (my husband will be leaving in a week to be gone for a month and a half), and a big job change (which I haven’t lined up yet at all) are three of the biggest stressors a person can have in their life. But I feel like I can handle all of that. What I can’t deal with anymore is the anxiety that I am falling further and further behind in “Life.” I have lived most of my life feeling like my success and what I can accomplish now isn’t good enough, like I’M not good enough… and I know that a major contributor to this anxiety is the Internet.
I can’t actually blame the Internet itself for this anxiety. After all, the Internet is an amazing invention and resource! We have unlimited information and knowledge at each of our fingertips (for those of us fortunate enough to live in a first world country anyway), and that is amazing! I don’t even understand how it works... it might as well be magic. But, this technology comes with a price. Numerous studies have been done about the effects of today’s technology on my generation; how it re-forms the way we process information, our thought patterns, our habits. It is SO integrated into the way we live that it is radically reshaping our culture and how we relate to each other and ourselves. The Internet just happens to also be very accommodating to negative tendencies that we already struggle with as human beings, and that fact cannot be taken lightly. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to pay attention to what is happening around us.
Like I said, I can’t blame my anxieties on the Internet, but I can’t deny that it has played an enormous role in my development as a person. I grew up with it, after all. My natural inclination has always been towards negative thinking and self-doubt ever since I was a child, which would have been true with or without the Internet. However, since I started using the Internet in my youth I have noticed a constant struggle with two major things as a direct result of using it: discontent and perceived lack of time. Both issues deal with a wonky perspective on reality and ultimately end in anxiety or worry. I want to discuss both of these things and their effects on me as an artist and as an individual, and a few of the conclusions I’ve come to regarding the reality of the situation we are now in.
The Effects on Me as an Artist
As a ten-year-old kid and a fresh new DeviantART user, I would spend hours browsing amazing art. A good thing in the long run, because I can point to DeviantART and several artists I discovered through the site (Tracy Butler in particular) as catalysts to my desire to take my art seriously and improve, and for exposing me to a lot of really great art. It played a huge role in developing my tastes at that age, for better or worse. However, being me, I also spent a great deal of time depressed and unhappy because I wasn’t as good as other artists my age (or artists twice my age!), or didn’t produce as much work, or didn’t have a signature “style,” or didn’t have as many followers, or whatever else I compared myself to.
Something that all creatives must keep in mind is that the Internet heightens competition to a global scale. Gone are the days when artists could strive to be “the best” in their own sphere, because now that sphere has expanded to the entire world (yes, there has been a shift back towards “local” art, but the use of the word “local” on the internet is really just a marketing ploy because the selection for consumers still remains global). As a child until now, I have had a difficult time dealing with the fact that there would always be someone better than me. I was not content to be the best artist in my class, or with making sales at art shows by age 14, or with winning contests, etc. The praise of my friends and family and of strangers who happened across my art was not good enough. I have always been a perfectionist, the type to give up if I feel like I can’t be the best at something (and I’ve never been a patient, hardworking person, so if greatness did not come easily I usually threw in the towel rather than make the effort to improve). Thus, I have spent years “binging” on various creative sites, where I try really hard for a few months to achieve all the stats and popularity, only to be discouraged (big surprise) and toss the whole thing.
Of course, the reality of the situation is that all the time I spent going back and forth between furiously playing the popularity game and throwing myself pity parties should have been spent just MAKING ART. There are SO many quotes from successful artists giving that very simple advice that I found so difficult to follow (Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Ira Glass just to name a few). The Internet made it easy for me to remain in a never-ending cycle of idleness under the really very flimsy guise that I was gleaning inspiration or “making connections.”
[A side note on networking… Hear me on this, fellow artists: all of those favorites and followers you have mean NOTHING. The actual investment that those “networking connections” have made was literally no more than a passing fancy, a click of a button. Worse than window-shoppers, they don’t even have to physically “show up” to consume your work… their “support” is utterly meaningless. Unless someone put money in your account or even just took the time to leave a thoughtful comment, the likely truth is that they added your work to their favorites with as much thought as they did when they hit “like” on the cat video their cousin posted on facebook (which they only watched for about 20 seconds out of the minute and a half of the clip’s runtime). You and I know this is true because we have done it before too. So, don’t let your self-esteem or confidence in your work be ruled by stats, because in and of themselves they are meaningless.]
Anyway, the point is I wasted a HUGE amount of time on the Internet when I should have been doing stuff like making art. I knew I wasn’t actually producing anything, but actually producing something is hard work and takes a lot more effort than looking at other people’s work and wishing. Eventually I would become a kind of ghost, living vicariously through the artists on the Internet. I recognized how pathetic this was, so I would often “quit” in a fit of frustration, only to return a few months later and do the whole thing all over again.
The Effects on Me as an Individual
This wasn’t just a trend with deviantArt (and Yerf and Tomgeeks and all the other art communities I’ve been a part of at one time or another). Other problem sites for me have been 43Things (a goal keeping site), numerous hobby/lifestyle/productivity blogs, and, of course, the Infamous Pinterest… Here is my professional opinion on THAT particular website: Pinterest, I believe, is ultimately a curse. I do know some people who have had good things come from it (diversified cooking, for example), but I think the negatives outweigh the few success stories in this case. I myself have had a love-hate relationship with Pinterest from the moment I “requested an invite”. I’m honestly ashamed I kept it up as long as I did; it was a guilty pleasure in the truest sense as I knew it was awful for me. It masquerades as a life-improving way to curate beautiful things and good ideas, but it’s really nothing but a factory for discontent and wasting time, or at least it is if you are anything like me. ALL of its users acknowledge its fallacy openly. Each of us Pinterest users have seen the numerous pins about the irony of how Pinterest is so full of great ideas that it becomes more fun and more gratifying (and more time consuming) to collect the ideas and pretty pictures than to actually implement them.
My end result (after 3000+ pins) was not an improved life with better time management, a better body, optimum health, more beautiful things in my house, delicious home-cooked meals every night, and a gorgeous wardrobe and hair… it was guilt, unhappiness, and anxiety. We all openly scoff at check-out-line magazines and would feel ridiculous for spending $5 on one (even though we do it anyway). We also know that magazines make us feel inadequate, unhappy, and dissatisfied… all Pinterest did was eliminate the outrageous price and give us access to every magazine topic ever conceived AND make it cool to do all at the same time. How sinister can you get?! Also, I would submit that Pinterest is 100% unnecessary for all of the things it claims to help you achieve. Want to cook better? Use those dusty yet tried and true cookbooks, or take a class... Want a cleaner home? Try turning off the computer for half an hour... Want to have beautiful things in your home? Just go shopping for Pete’s sake, or even better: realize that you don’t actually need “things” to make a home. In my experience, Pinterest is primarily used as a “just in case” bin… the neat ideas we find are rarely pertinent to our actual needs and so merely put the idea in our heads that we have needs to fill that in reality don’t actually exist. Sound familiar? It’s a tried and true advertising tactic.
This is one instance where the adage “ignorance is bliss” is beneficial, and far from the original idea about sticking your head in the sand regarding things that actually matter. It astounds me that I’ve made such big, sweeping statements against commercials and advertising in the past while at the exact same time I was embracing the very thing I claimed to despise. I don’t usually going around telling people what they should do with their lives, but this I will say: If you have a Pinterest account, go delete the damn thing and be rid of it. Or, if you aren’t convinced yet that you are doing more than wasting your time, pay close attention to how you feel about your life and your self after you’ve spent more than an hour pinning away. If you are one of the few who has the power to reap the practical benefits of Pinterest without letting it drag you down, more power to you. If not, please think twice about what you are doing to yourself.
Anyway! Pinterest wasn’t my only problem (it’s just the only one I can actually blame for being evil, haha). Every productivity site I came across and joined ended up sucking away my time and energy, and I would inevitably saddle myself with guilt and self-imposed deadlines and expectations. I overwhelmed myself to the point where I would become paralyzed and spend very little time actually achieving said goals, quite similar to my experience with art sites. I let myself be tricked into thinking all of these self/life-improvement ideas and goals were achievable, and in a very short amount of time, let alone that all of these things were absolutely worth spending time and energy achieving. I felt inadequate as a human being because I wasn’t a super-hot homemaker who lived off the grid and made everything by hand and grew her own vegetables and had a craftsman house on a lake by the coast in the woods that was both tiny and large and full of awesome things who wore awesome clothes and had a farm and a perfect family and a full-time, super-fulfilling and enjoyable career. It sounds ridiculous when it’s all written out like that, but for some reason I spent a lot of time actually believing I could have all of those things at once. No wonder my blessed life seemed dull in comparison!
I have wasted a LOT of time over the years on the internet, and I multiplied my anxiety that I didn’t have enough time in the day by not only using the time I actually had to do nothing, the nothing I was doing made me feel like I needed to do more and be more. This vicious cycle left me feeling drained and like I always had a huge pile of things to do, when in reality all the pressure I was feeling was self-imposed. I was harried and easily depressed. I felt guilty if I wasn’t working hard to cross things off of my to-do list. And when I was tired and couldn’t work anymore, I went back to the Internet because it made me feel like I was doing something (self-improvement by osmosis? I have no idea… the way I can rationalize stupid things scares me). This cycle was a familiar path for me. I’ve tried to quit so many times, and “just be more disciplined,” but I would ALWAYS go back to the same sites and try again, thinking somehow I could keep it under control, while the same thing happened over and over and over again, in the pattern of any run-of-the-mill addict.
My Own Solution
The (super obvious) revelation I’ve had about myself recently is that I simply don’t have the strength of character to discern between what is just a good idea versus something that I must do, or the self-discipline to know where and when to stop. I am too easily persuaded that I can do more and should be more than I am, instead of being ok with the progress that I am making on a daily basis. I have realized that how I use the Internet is detrimental to my growth as a human being and as an artist. My natural tendency to depression and anxiety is exacerbated by my inability to discern and control the things I consume online. I can’t handle having the entire world at my fingertips. I’m not strong enough to wield that power, and I never will be if I don’t change something drastically.
Thus, I have decided to “quit” the Internet. Most addicts have very little success trying to wean themselves off of whatever they’re addicted to, and it’s more my style to quit cold turkey (as evidenced by the many many times I’ve “quit” certain websites… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted my Myspace and Facebook accounts). And I’ve done Internet fasts in the past, for a few days or a week or even the entire season of Lent that one year. But this time I intend for this to be permanent. Recovering addicts are recovering addicts for the rest of their lives, right? From this day forward I swear off all browsing and all past problem sites (and all future ones… no more getting involved in the latest thing, or anything for that matter. I simply must say an absolute No to those things or run the risk of undoing everything in a matter of minutes).
Unfortunately, the Internet is kind of a requirement for modern life… Besides, it’s undeniably a wonderful, useful invention! Used properly, it allows for all kinds of creative movement and even a form of community. Anybody can share their work, get help, and learn, and it’s been the vehicle for some incredible creative projects that I’m proud to have been involved in. Skype kept me sane when I was halfway across the world, sick and dehydrated in an Indian hospital room. Swap-bot introduced me to an incredible creative community of penpallers. Etsy has given me the opportunity to start my own business and put my work out there with no risk and very little cost. Facebook allows easy contact with friends and family and an excellent platform for party planning. And e-mail has made communication ridiculously simple and easy. My aunt even fixed her oven all by herself because of the Internet! I am not a Luddite by any standard (though I like to pretend). But I have proven that I am incapable of using the Internet properly when left to my own devices.
What does this look like practically? I’ve acknowledged that I can’t very well go “off the grid” without making things unreasonably difficult for myself. I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I will, however, be limiting myself to 15 minutes of access twice a day, and limiting my regular “check in” sites to gmail, facebook, twitter, etsy, outright, mint, and blogger, with occasional posts to Instagram. I will allow myself to look things up during that time (directions to places, recipes, references, specific artists or projects, etc), but I will not let myself “browse” (including on Etsy!) and I can no longer follow blogs except for ones by people I know personally. I will have to use the Internet for work; when I’m working I won’t set a limit except to only be on work-related sites (none of these multiple tab dealios, which is difficult for me because I tend to flip back and forth between random stuff and work while I wait for things to load, etc). Again, I intend this change to be permanent at this point, for a good long while at least.
What is Ahead
This is still a very young endeavor… I’m only a few days in after all. I’m finding it’s more habitual than I thought; anytime there’s a lull at work I automatically go to open Chrome… it got to the point where I finally just removed it from my toolbar. But already I feel an immense weight lifted. I don’t feel like I have to keep up with anyone or that I’m somehow falling behind. I feel free to do whatever I choose when work is done for the day, and I have better boundaries regarding that work. I am more willing to let things go at their own pace. To be clear, if I hadn’t identified the underlying problem with me, I wouldn’t be enjoying this new freedom because I would likely have replaced the Internet with some other distraction or thing to consume and gone on being frustrated and discontent. Now that I have some space for thought I am forced to be more reflective, which is kind of uncomfortable because I’m realizing that I have had no direction in my life for the last few years. When all the trappings I thought I needed and wanted and all the goals I thought were worthwhile pursuits have been taken away, what am I left with? I’m 22 years old. Shouldn’t I know what I want by now?
I know that a lot of people my age are like me… no sense of direction, no clear goal for their lives. But I don’t think that should be the new normal. And I wonder if part of the problem is that we have too many options, too many good ideas and opportunities, and it is overwhelming. We are crippling ourselves. How can we sort through the entire world at our fingertips, bombarded constantly with endless possibilities, and know what to choose, let alone discover what we were made for? We give ourselves very little time to get to know who we are, choosing instead to try to build an image of ourselves based on the things we “like,” what we consume. We try to be everything and end up with nothing. Who are we? Certainly not the summation of our Pinterest boards or Facebook profiles. What we want to be is not who we are. Until we come to terms with who we are in reality we won’t be able to move forward with any kind of clarity.
So, I don’t know what this means for Scoutaroo, which is a small part now in the course of a lifetime. It could be more, it could be nothing… at this point I feel like I need to put a lot of things on hold until the chips fall in Santa Cruz. A lot depends on where we end up. And I don’t know what this means for you, or how you will choose to use the World Wide Web from this point forward. The Internet has a place; I suggest we keep it there. If you’d like to do something similar to what I’m doing, I would love to join forces with you via e-mail or snail mail! Whatever you decide, I hope you take seriously the effect that our rapidly changing world has on how you relate to yourself and others. We can’t afford to “go with the flow” or our lives will succumb to entropy every time if we are not deliberate.
I will hopefully be checking in from time to time via twitter and here, but as I said, you can expect some quiet around here for some time. The shop remains open! Buy the rest of my stock! ;) But for now I need a bit of silence, some true stillness instead of sitting in one place idling, fooling myself into thinking I’m going somewhere just because the engine is running.