Putting Away Facebook, in a Bid for Balance

It should come as no surprise that designers love technology. From software programs to computer hardware, it’s more or less our job to know how to navigate the realm of digital media. We are embedded in it. Keyboard shortcuts become a second language to the extent that we find ourselves trying to mentally “undo,” “cut” and “paste” in the real world as well as the virtual one. There are even times when I walk into a room and start looking around for the nearest outlet, regardless of the fact that, in that moment, I don’t actually need one. (Perhaps there’s comfort in simply knowing that access to electricity is nearby?) Whether I'm in a library or coffee shop to get some work done, I end up in a tangle of cords and electronic devices, situated around my laptop.

There’s no question in my mind that technology has brought significant improvements to the world we live in, making it easier to connect with people, access information, develop ways of harnessing renewable energy sources to minimize our collective carbon footprint, and the list goes on. Certainly, in the creative industry, technology allows designers to execute concepts and share ideas more efficiently, often with greater flexibility.

As with most things in life, however, balance is part of appreciating the benefits of technology. In previous posts I’ve referred to the “cacophony” of sounds, images and information that we are continually bombarded with from one day to the next. Texting, Skyping, e-mailing, tweeting, blogging, vlogging—there are myriad ways in which we are creating, absorbing and passing content on to others with no let up. This experience is exemplified in a Portlandia segment where one of the main characters finds himself in the midst of a “technology loop.” But the question remains: Where or how do we go about finding spaces to help relieve our frazzled nerves?

Inspired by my sister-in-law, I deactivated my Facebook account two months ago. My only hesitation was the initial concern about being “out of the loop,” until I came to realize that I really didn’t miss being in the know. There are disadvantages, of course, but my estrangement from Facebook hasn’t affected the fundamental nature of the relationships that I find most meaningful anyway. Most surprisingly, having just one less thing to check or think about throughout the day has decreased stress and anxiety levels. Go figure.

I’m not sure how long the self-imposed social media hiatus will last. In the meantime, I’m trying to pay closer attention to the beauty and creativity that are fostered in the real world. Facebook-free moments are still documented through memory and feelings, internal records of things I’ve seen and done though the ephemeral experiences themselves have long gone and, most likely, will not be appreciated by anyone other than those who were with me at the time.

Just as the support of public acknowledgements for the highs and the lows in life help us feel connected, there’s also a kind of comfort that derives from private interactions and conversations that are obscured from the rest of the world.

I usually begin each academic semester by asking my students whether their most significant learning experiences take place inside or outside of the classroom. More often than not, they are inspired by what they encounter beyond institutional walls, though the “outside” experiences clearly influence their “inside” work and creative output. Likewise, as much as technology can facilitate creative endeavors, it doesn’t make us more creative. True inspiration, for me, comes from the things that I can see, hear, touch, smell, taste -- that is, being in the moment.

No, this is not a self-righteous rant or a call to abandon social media. I’m simply speaking on my own behalf as an individual who both loves and loathes technology, who marvels at the beauty and innovation that is born out of scientific advances while also, at times, feeling overwhelmed by it; who is inevitably curious about the changes between Adobe CS5 and CS6 while simultaneously finding relief in taking a break from the electronic clutter in my life.

During this period of (partially) stepping back from the digital world, I am giving my mind space and time to rest while continuing to appreciate the breadth of creativity around me.