a letter about social media and the creative life

Our social media hiatus is nearing its two year anniversary. Within these past (almost) two years, we’ve had the opportunity to answer questions and give a perspective that others have lost. A decade ago, living and creating looked similar to what it had for thousands of years. Relationships were cultivated around a table or, in more recent decades, over land lines. Art making was done out of a desire to do something with the ideas in one’s head, many of which arrived out of sheer boredom or quiet contemplation.

Things have changed. Relational and creative life look a lot more like this these days:

art by Kristen Sims

Every week we receive a letter or two asking about our social media fast, and the benefits and struggles we’ve encountered. I got another couple of emails this week and I thought I would share parts of my response to one of them here, in hopes that it may shed some light on our growing perspective as social media platforms get further and further in the rear-view for us.

…………………………….

Dear _________,

Thanks so much for writing. Oh gosh, I totally hear you about social media and the inauthenticity being bred on these platforms. I think that was one of the big factors for us just needing to walk away and take a break, and one of the biggest factors for not returning after the break. I think we humans are hardwired to live authentic, truly connected lives, and the curation and lack of connection that social media breeds wares on us all. I can hear and understand your weariness with it all, and I totally feel for you because I remember exactly how discouraging that was. 

Unfortunately, it was a love / hate relationship, some days awful but some days really fun, which made it difficult to finally pull the plug and walk away. I agree with you that there seem to be some really wonderful creatives out there, but they did seem fewer and fewer as the platform got more widely used and became a copycat Pinterest board of sorts. 

I think there are two aspects to consider when it comes to using or leaving social media. Personal and Creative. When it comes to the personal aspects, you are the only one who can decide what it’s doing to your insides. I had attempted to stop following the people that seemed fake, formulaic, or repetitive. I tried to draw some boundaries around when I would and wouldn’t allow myself to use it. But I proved to be pretty bad at keeping my own rules, and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to use it in a way that was responsible or honoring of my time or the time of people I was with. 

Creatively is a different issue. I really think we soak up creative inputs like sponges. whether we realize it or not, our brains are logging all of this “inspiration” and using it for fuel. I really saw a culture of lemmings being developed creatively on Instagram. It’s hard work to walk away from that constant visual input, to allow yourself to get bored enough to form your own ideas and come up with your own inspirations. But that hard work is the work creatives have been doing for hundreds of years before social media came along. And those are the artists we praise and admire the most. So I see no real benefit in the culture of artists being bred right now.. people who don’t actually remember how to take a long quiet walk alone (without their phones) or spend a day reading a book and sketching ideas in the park (without their phones) or even sit on the toilet without their phones. 

I / we felt insane freedom and a surge of new creativity when we walked away, deleted the apps, and even chose times to turn the phones off and just let ourselves begin to exist and think again. Now the way we reach people is different because we’ve thought of new ways to connect and serve them as a result of all this time on our hands. Time and boredom breed creativity that others “don’t have the time” for. 

..Here’s the little secret that no one remembers when it comes to marketing and growing our business.. just because we aren’t on Facebook and Instagram doesn’t mean our couples and fellow vendors aren’t. We get annoying emails from Facebook every week trying to get us to come back, letting us know that our reach went up 300% that week because people posted about us or shared a blog we posted or an article we wrote. Everyone else is still living on those platforms and sharing on them. So we only have to work hard, do a good job creatively, and follow our guts and they will talk about it. It’s an unexpected reality that we were shocked and surprised to discover as we got further and further away from our dependence on social media. 

Here’s the sad reality – you either give your life to it or you jump ship and do something new. (the something new is actually something thousands of years old.. creating without dependence on these silly platforms) You mentioned feeling behind if you aren’t posting all the time and we get it! the sad truth is you are! There are too many competing voices out there, some of whom pay to be heard louder than all the others, not to mention fighting with algorithms you can’t control. It’s enough to make any creative heart lose it’s will. 

I’d love to talk with you more about what it looks like to at least take a breather, a little step back, and reconsider your relationship to social media. … I hope that helps and that it feels like a pat on the back from a friend rather than a firehose of too much information! 🙂 I’m here anytime you want to chat more.

warmly,

ash

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