Going Without (and Supplemental Reading)

by Amee Bohrer

Though I prefer fiction, I enjoy books that jive with the themes of my goals and interests as well.

On topic of my quest to leave behind social networking– admittedly, it’s dubious that I can do it entirely– I found a relevant inspiration to persevere: “Give it Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less,” by Mary Carlomagno, a professional organizer.

For 12 months, Carlomagno gave up something each month. And while the premise was intriguing, I bought the book because of the variety: newspapers, cell phones, cursing, taxis, and even multitasking! Those were the surprises, and the others are more conventional.

I started this blog during Lent 2011, and giving up something substantial is a terrific and ongoing muse.  What will I give up for Lent 2012? This book gave me some great ideas, and opened me to more possibilities.

Written in 2006, some of Carlomagno’s sacrifices have already become almost anachronistic.

I stopped working in daily newspapers in 2005,  and already the transitions were in progress for daily editions to go online.  Now every paper of note is fully online,  and some are exclusively online publications, like Patch.com. The stragglers of the print newspaper industry are constantly competing with the 24/7 news cycle, TV, social media and independent bloggers.

Most Americans find the bulk of their news online now, and choosing to sit and read print editions of a newspaper is a luxury for anyone.

This chapter about newspapers was my favorite. During April, National Poetry Month, Carlomagno substituted poetry for the New York Times with her breakfast. She said it improved her mood exponentially in the morning. She began with Emily Dickinson, and also savored Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Christina Rossetti, who I need to investigate.

Fantastic idea for February– start each morning with poetry. I have enough poetry books! Although I need some fresh blood. Time to visit the Joliet Public Library.

Carlomagno described frantically reading the Times cover to cover every day, so as not to feel left out in discussions with her friends and co-workers. Even though it was a chore, she would never be caught unprepared when asked, “Did you see that article in the Times?”

I empathize with that directly. Facebook has become the social media equivalent of the New York Times. Major life events are ultimately validated when they become “facebook official.” And like the Times, keeping up with the constant feed of updates from all our friends is a daunting but socially mandated task. One reason people check their accounts so obsessively is simply because information changes so quickly now, and no one wants to be ignorant of the milestones in our social circle. Dates, times and locations of parties and events change; relationship/marriage statuses change; births and deaths are announced.

If we miss out on the crucial status update or invitation on facebook, the onus is squarely on us. We’re expected to keep up, and if we default in our reading– we pay the social consequences. Except each friend we have is like a separate newspaper subscription– and we can’t keep up with it all. No one has time. Regardless of how much we customize our settings, limit our friend lists, and try our best to keep up with the statii of our inner circle, we’re bound to miss something.

By far, this is my favorite sentence not just in the chapter, but in the book:

“I wanted to be the bold person who said, I don’t read the newspaper, I only read Whitman.”

In a perfect world! But good journalism can be as important and invigorating as poetry. The world needs journalism, and poetry too.

However, there’s a major difference between Carlomagno’s experience and mine.  She could still have bought a copy.  The Times are widely available. But facebook is an exclusive party that I am electing to leave. Once I’m gone, I have no access. I’m not planning to simply deactivate my account, which is what most people do when they feel frustrated or need a “break” from facebook for a certain period of time. Once I schedule my account for deletion, I’m not planning on coming back.

And I do this knowing that facebook may refuse me if I try to come back in the future, and create a new account. I’ve read about it happening to other people. It’s a big gamble. But I don’t want to undertake this in half-measures. I have 54 friends left to delete, and then I’m done. Wow.

What inspires me to keep deleting and go whole-hog with this endeavor is that anything less wouldn’t force ingenuity. Carlomagno only gave up the Times for one month, and it was enough to renew her passion for reading, lessen her social anxiety about knowing everything to impress her friends, and most importantly? It propelled her to seek out a replacement.

Feeling left out from discussions about the news at work, Carlomagno joined a reading group to engage in social interaction about diverse topics, with members of different backgrounds and viewpoints. Brilliant!

And just like her, I will need  innovation to replace what I’m giving up. My days are already much quieter, but I’m getting more done.

And my friends are filling in the blanks, and letting me know about the highlights. A friend found out she’s pregnant this weekend! She called to tell me. I may not get the news as fast as everyone else, but those who want me to know make sure I get the the top stories of their lives.

I’m connecting better with individual friends, but there’s still a hole as far as group interaction goes. Wall banter is superficial, but it was kinetic and fun. With each status or post, I never knew who would comment, and how those conversations would unfold. Sometimes I would wake up and find friends of mine had “talked” on my wall, and that was a fun discovery to see how they connected.

Carlomagno had the right idea.

It’s time for me to look for a group to join, and discover a fresh conversation– off-line.

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