productively unproductive

Modern technology helped to keep my sanity intact in the early days of motherhood. Hours and hours spent nursing and unable to move were made less monotonous by the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest apps on my iPhone. I could text and email with friends without having to be in front of a computer. I watched the complete “Friday Night Lights” and “Felicity” series’ on Netflix, either on our living room television (via AppleTV) or my iPhone with earbuds in, depending on where I happened to be nursing Graham or where he fell asleep on me.

iPhone selfie (while tiny Graham slept on my shoulder)…
in between checking Facebook and Instagram, I’m sure

Don’t get me wrong: there were lots of moments of quietly admiring my little one and watching him peacefully nurse or sleep in my lap. Those moments of early bonding were very important and we had no shortage of them… but when you’re nursing for what feels like 12 hours a day (actually, according to BabyConnect I believe our max was nearly 8 hours spent nursing over a 24 hour period), you also still need something to make you feel connected to the outside world when your life as you once knew it has been completely turned upside-down. When I otherwise might have felt overwhelmed by the monotony, I was able to stay connected to some sense of normalcy by seeing what friends had been up to, ask questions of my mom friends when I was dumbfounded by my new responsibilities of being a mother, order diapers or other sanity-saving baby gear on Amazon in a matter of seconds, or just get lost in the sweet and honest relationship of Eric and Tami Taylor for 42 minutes at a time.

As with most things, though, there is a good side and a not-so-good side.

While modern technology made me feel connected when I needed it most, it also continues to keep me connected when what I need most is to be disconnected. When catching up on some blogs today (on my iPhone while nursing Graham, natch), I came across this post on Unclutter and it immediately struck a chord with me. “We’ve Cured Boredom and That’s Not Good.”

Yes.

In particular, this quote by Scott Belsky stood out:

Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.

(I encourage you to read his full article entitled “What Happened to Downtime: The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space” via 99U when — you guessed it! — you’re avoiding boredom on the mobile device of your choosing.)

This insight from the original Unclutterer post also resonated with me:

It’s impossible to generate a truly creative thought while the incessant barrage pelts us. It’s like complaining that we’re not dry while standing in a rain storm. You won’t dry off until you go inside and get away from the falling water.

What has prevented me from boredom while nursing my little one has also infiltrated what used to be my sacred moments of introspection, brainstorming (intentional and unintentional), plain old quiet, and general unplanned creativity. I’m filling up any limited quiet time I do have — what with an infant around now, and all — with a whole lotta noise. In the last few years, I have probably had more ideas for products or projects than I care to admit that I have not pursued because my mind was too distracted by so much figurative noise to really focus on them. In being what I feel is “productive” with my downtime, I’ve become unproductive where it matters most: my creativity. My mind no longer really has any isolated time to just be. And I’d like that to change.

I’ve seen online friends commit to having social media-free weekends; perhaps I need to give that a shot (though it seems inconceivable to me — probably all the more reason I need to try it). It needs to go beyond weekends for me, though. I need to change my habits for the long term. While there is so much good that has come from the connectedness of technology and social media, I desperately need to find the balance of reaping its benefits without letting it infiltrate every waking moment and limiting my true productivity and potential.

When I close the Instagram app, I need to not immediately open it again out of habit (I have done that more times than I care to admit without even realizing it).

Have you become productively unproductive due to modern technology? If so, what have you done (or what do you plan to do) to take back some quiet time for your mind?

comments

  1. This post totally resonates with how I’ve been feeling lately. While Social Media certainly has positive attributes, it has just as many negative. I find myself constantly saying how I just “don’t have time” to paint or write or spend time with friends since becoming a mom. I am sure that if I added up the amount of time I spend on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter , I could have painted a masterpiece in that time frame. At the very least I could have had coffee with a dear friend. I vote for these social media sites to add a timer on the top of their website, so that we can visualize the time wasted. Is there an app for that?

  2. Great post and very thought-provoking. When I’m not checking email on my phone, it’s Facebook or Instagram. But there are also evenings when I’m not on my phone and tearing through a book the old school way with Post-Its and a notebook or in a craft/sewing haze and completely lose track of time. Those are some of the best days of creative release. I definitely see the value in keeping downtime sacred.

    @Jess: There is definitely an app that times you out of a Website after a certain number of minutes (which you set). I believe it’s a plugin on Google Chrome.

  3. Absolutely…I think most moms (and bloggers) understand this issue all too well. I’ve decided to go back to a desktop computer, as I find myself way too distracted by the laptop which I can carry into any room. I want to be present at my desk working, or present with my husband and kids…I find it hard when I can have that temptation anywhere.

  4. @Jess, yes, there are definitely some desktop apps that allow you to set it up so it locks you out of a certain website after you’ve spent a set number of time on it in a day. I don’t know what it is and I’m not sure if there is a mobile app like that, though!

    @Nellie, yes those days where I’m so into what I’m doing that I forget Facebook and Instagram even exist are the best days! :)

    @Susan, so true — I try to leave my laptop on my desk and only bring it into our main living space when I really need to use it after hours. It’s too tempting to be on it all the time if it’s right in front of me and just stare mindlessly, rather than actually being productive!

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