I Can’t Unplug (And I Don’t Want To)

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight.com)

I may not be all that social these days, but I used to be.

When my first son was born in 1995, I logged on to AOL nearly every day to talk to other moms in the “Online Mom” group. (Yes, I still have the t-shirt.) My real-life friends and family thought it was really odd that I sat on the computer and “talked” to strangers for hours. But I knew then what millions of moms know now: Misery loves company. Moms everywhere have realized that a great way to combat the loneliness and isolation of new motherhood is to go online to share experiences, get tips, ask questions and generally figure it all out. (As if anyone can figure it all out.)

Flash forward to 2005. I had a busy life filled with work, friends and family, but I still found time to blog nearly every day. I read and commented on my friends’ blog posts and discovered new sites from their blog rolls. There was so much to learn and so many relationships to build, each more amazing and inspiring than the last. Like a renaissance of interaction, the floodgates were wide open and there were an unprecedented number of people to know, publications to peruse and images to see. And I soaked it all in.

In 2006, I joined Facebook and my time online continued to increase. In 2008, I added Twitter to my roster of log-ins. The amount of available content to consume grew exponentially.

The more my online connections grew, the more I started to feel disconnected from our daily home life. And it scared me.

I’ve never lost the sense of wonderment or appreciation about the opportunities presented personally and professionally because of our connected online world. Not once. But, more often than I’d like to admit, I immersed myself in the wonderful and very real emotions of my online connections at the expense of my offline relationships. I mean, how great a wife or mom can you be if you can’t peel yourself away from your computer?

When I unplugged, I had a family to love, bread to bake and a company to run.

It wasn’t like I had lost all control. I never missed a work deadline, and, frankly, I never delivered even one project that was beneath my extraordinarily high standards. I baked some damn fine bread and some mighty fine pies. But I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent there for my family. I don’t know what I missed while I clicked and scrolled, what I was pretending to notice but didn’t. But whatever it was, I can’t get it back. No one ever complained. But I know.

The more my online world grew, the more I started to feel disconnected from our daily home life. Not from the big picture but the little things. And it scared me. Pair that with the fact that as my business grew over the years, and I’ve had to double down on my efforts for work. I knew something had to give.

And so, I started limiting my social media time to stay focused on work and to ground myself in the most important part of my life, my family. Up until about a year ago, I rarely missed a day of social connectedness. But these days? Sometimes I get busy and skip my social reading altogether. I admit that I miss it on those days. It’s a sacrifice, and it tugs at me more than you can know. Questions about thousands of people’s lives dance in my head. I worry about the posts I don’t see, don’t like and don’t comment on. I worry that someone I care about lost a loved one or had some amazing success or just needed a friend and might think I didn’t bother to care. But it’s also hard to be that person who knows everything and is always in on the joke. That’s not always me anymore.

Old habits die hard, though, and that comfortable feeling of being connected can be overpowering to me. And when it is, after the long days and the productive evenings, I log back on and scroll through the posts. I binge read everything, spending hours and hours commenting and acknowledging my friends’ lives and photos of their pets and their children and celebrations and losses. Do I miss any? I know that I must. I need to sleep, but I push back bedtime another hour because I really do want all these people to know I care. It’s never going to be enough, though.

Eventually, I give up for the day. In the morning, I wake up and realize how much I need to accomplish and swear myself off of social media again. Until I concede. Again.

But the difference is that while I might lose myself in my online world for the occasional binge, I never lose sight of my real-life world. It’s like being fully awake once again.

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