I missed my stop because of Twitter

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I was on my way to my ever first life drawing class. It was raining a little, I was tired from the shopping I’d had to do beforehand, but freshly caffeinated and pumped to finally do this thing that’s been on my bucket list for years, and I was late – I’d barely make it on time.

Then I missed my stop.

When I lived in London, I’d take pride in being able to take a nap and wake up just as my stop was coming up. The only time I’ve ever missed one was the morning I was texting a crush-just-turned-date, when life was all soft around the edges and I could barely make myself care about work, or getting there.

Yesterday, I missed my stop because I was on fucking Twitter.

We know by now that evolution has not equipped humans to deal with non-stop connectivity and social media, and that most of us have a hard time finding healthy ways of interacting with technology. I’m seeing more of it again at the moment: Craig and Chyna Benzine recently quit the internet for a month, Casey Neistat has just deleted social media apps from his phones after reading this NY Times article, which features Catherine Price, whose book I read last year. I have a copy of Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now in a box somewhere. We get it. We know about the phones.

When I did my own phone detox last year, I didn’t expect it to change my life, and it didn’t. My habits shifted only slightly: my phone is always on silent anyway; I have notifications turned off for most apps; I don’t engage in ‘phubbing’ (looking at your phone when someone is talking to you) unless I do it deliberately (rude? Maybe, but so is talking at someone who’s giving you every nonverbal indication that they’d rather not be talking, including talking at someone who’s doing something on their phone already; maybe you are being the distraction right now, I don’t owe you my attention, oh my god, I have to stop now); when I kicked Facebook off my phone last year, I never reinstalled it. I did reinstall everything else because I’m fickle like that, and mostly I’m okay with this. I can tolerate the minutes and hours I lose on social media when I get sucked into the vortex. But I never agreed to an app having any influence on my physical whereabouts. (except, you know, Google Maps)

I once read that if you want to change your habits, a move is a great framework to do so. In new surroundings, old habits don’t necessarily apply, so we’re able to restart and build a new routine. Over the past 3 weeks since moving to Germany, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the kind of impulses I get on a daily basis. More often now than in the past years, I want to read. I want to create. I’m itching to dig deep into a challenging book, to learn about storytelling, to get better at making videos and put more words on the screen for this blog and other projects.

At the same time, there’s a completely different impulse. It’s where I suddenly end up for half an hour on some random Twitter account with videos of people almost getting run over by cars. It’s where I sit on public transport with my book open, and because Black Leopard, Red Wolf is really dense, my mind can’t hold on to the words, and I end up scrolling – through Twitter. And then I miss my stop.

I’ve deleted Twitter from my phone now, so I have less reason to be on it. But then there’s the other aspect of phone use: we’re so used to people looking at something that having one’s head up has started to seem a little … weird? The other day I was sitting in a café, staring at the wall opposite as I waited for a short story idea to happen. Next to me sat a guy who was waiting for his friend, so he wasn’t engaged in any activity (other than trying to contain his very excited little dog). And all I could think was, Am I freaking him out? I felt self-conscious about thinking!

What a strange world we live in.

Like many people, every January, I set a word for the year ahead. This year, as in 2018, mine is Intention. It’s about going through life with open eyes, about doing things deliberately. That’s what I tell myself I want. It’s about making choices: how do I want to spend my time? Is this dog video a good way to spend my time? If I want to catch a breath in between doing things and pick a Youtube video to watch, am I about to piss away 20 minutes of my lifetime? In most cases, yeah. And it hasn’t felt good in a long time, and I’m trying to figure out how to stop it.

This week, I was happy in my own company

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Earlier this week, on my way home, I walked past a man and his young bull terrier. Pulling the excited animal along behind him, he picked up a phone call just as I passed them. ‘Hi,’ I heard him say. ‘Yeah, I’m okay ... I’ve been feeling a bit introspective lately.’

‘Me too,’ I thought before I turned a corner and lost them.

Everything has been moving in this direction for a while. Right now, I get most of the human interaction I need from my work hours. After work and on weekends, I tend to stay on my own. I haven’t felt this way since my early teens, so it’s almost a bit concerning now – how content I feel with myself, and my own thoughts.

I’m an only child, and an introvert, so I grew up entertaining myself. I would come up with the greatest stories to play out with my animal toys, or I would draw. Once I could write, I would do that. By the time I had my own computer, I would sit inside, curtains drawn against the bright afternoon sunshine, and write pages and pages of stories nobody would ever see.

It’s similar now. Of course, age and years of depression change you, so nowadays I can’t go 24 hours without leaving the house, or a dark cloud will form above my head. But I take a notebook, or a podcast, and I walk. Maybe I run errands, or maybe I just wander. Maybe I take photos or sit down somewhere to write. If I hear from a friend or family member, that’s great. If I don’t, I don’t miss it.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke had a lot to say about ‘Einsamkeit’ – solitude. In a letter to friends in 1906 he called it a ‘plaster cast for the soul’: ‘My inner life has been dislocated for months, and solitude for now only is a plaster cast for the soul, inside which something is healing.’*) He mourned the attitude towards people who like their own company (‘Parents fear when they notice in their own children the quiet tendency to be alone; those shy boys seem eerie to them, who early in life have their own joys and their own sorrows[…].’) when solitude is a necessity for everyone; especially the artist, and those who love, because a good love is a love where ‘two solitudes protect, adjoin and greet each other’ – as it is impossible to truly love another person without having taken the time to get to know oneself.

Fun fact: in my near 30 years in this life as a German, I don’t think I’ve seen Rilke’s use of the word ‘Einsamkeit’ as meaning solitude in modern German. It always means loneliness; there is always a negative connotation to it.

It’s not always easy being alone. Especially these days; social media can connect us, but it can also remind us with even more ease how much we’re missing, and increase our feeling of disconnection. I’m sure I’ll wake up soon one morning with the belief that everybody I care about has decided they don’t like me anymore.

Until then, I keep learning to enjoy my own company again. If we can believe Rilke, the relationship with ourselves, after all, is the only one in our lives that will not be characterised by distance.

* All clunky translations from the original German are my own.