I recently found myself falling down the social media rabbit hole…again. It starts simple enough: I’ve been teaching for five hours and get home exhausted, and I’m looking to unwind. The house is quiet, I’m stuck on the couch with sore legs, and I grab my iPad. A couple of hours later, I’ve watched countless YouTube videos, scrolled through Facebook, checked and responded to emails from students and colleagues, returned to Facebook to see what I missed…you know the drill.
But one night I stumbled across an article talking about how social media can “kill” creativity. And in that same week I read that The Roots’ drummer, Questlove, wrote a book about the same topic (Creative Quest), as have countless of other authors (just Google “Can social media kill creativity?”…but if you get trapped and find yourself reading articles about green-haired fish becoming extinct, don’t blame me.)
The effect social media can have on our lives is nothing new. In fact I teach a composition course addressing the various articles regarding social media's addictive impacts on the brain, as well as the positive and negative outcomes that it can have on our relationships with ourselves and others…but what I had failed to realize was how social media had an impact on my own creative process.
For the past 11 years I’ve been an Instructor in academia, which means I’ve taught, to date, roughly 1,800 students (if I add up the amount I’ve graded, I may cry and retreat to YouTube, so bear with me). To say I'm busy during a regular semester is an understatement. But why, then, was I not being more creative over the summer? Part of it was definitely the need to unwind, yes. But during that time away I often felt the pressure not just to write, but to write something “of worth.” These pressures can not only be overwhelming, but they can halt creativity altogether.
What I was struggling to figure out, however, is how the pressures today were different from when I was in graduate school. I was naïve back then, yes, and fearless, but I’ve always faced (harsh) criticism with an “I’ll show you” mentality. But the past few years have been different, and I was looking for an answer. I never realized that my retreat into social media to fill voids could be one of the causes for my creative decline.
Everyone is different in his/her creative process, but when I started to think about when I’ve been most creative, it’s been in those quiet moments of boredom. Of silence. And in those moments I would paint or write or play guitar or draw. It wouldn’t always be anything extraordinary, but at least I was being creative. I didn’t think about if someone would “like” my poem or “love” my painting – I did it because it’s a part of who I am. I need creativity to survive.
What’s the point of all of this? The point is that I’m here writing again. That I put down my iPad on the first day of summer break. And to remind myself that some days I need to step away from the virtual world and enter the creative one.
So if you'll excuse me, it's time to shut down my Mac. There's a poem I need to write.