Create Not Consume: A Challenge for August
A few days ago I was flicking through Instagram Stories when I saw one from Sara Tasker, aka. Me and Orla. It was an answer to a question someone had asked her about how to become a better writer (or at least I think that was the original question). Her answer was simple: write everyday. How little I’ve written for myself this year is something that’s been playing around the back of my mind for a while now, and her answer brought it bang to the front. How can I become a better writer when I’m not writing everyday? Or even, right now, every week?
Then, this Sunday, I listened to Cait Flanders on the Being Boss podcast. In the interview Cait talked quite a bit about her shopping ban, and the far-reaching benefits of it. Emily (I think, I get confused between her and Kathleen’s voices somethings!) said how the ban really appeals to her, as she is very much an all-or-nothing sort of person. I nodded along. I am too. I find it far easier to give up something completely, than to just cut down. I’ve learnt the hard way to no longer buy biscuits or cake, as I can’t just have one, or one slice. If I have stuff in the house, I will eat it.
Listening to this episode made me remember another Being Boss episode, an interview with my favourite person online: Alexandra Franzen. In it they discuss why Alex isn’t on social media. She says she used to be on Twitter, and gained quite a following, but one day she sat down and thought about how many hours a day she was spending on the app, and then did the sums to work out how many hours a week, a month, a year, a lifetime that added up to. The numbers horrified her. So she gave it up.
As I was thinking about all of these things, an idea came to me: to do my own consumer ban. But rather than shopping like Cait, a ban on consuming content.
Following Alex’s example, I did a few quick sums.
Over the last couple of months I’ve watched every single episode of Love Island. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve genuinely enjoyed it, and refuse to feel embarrassed about watching it. But, there were 56 episodes in total, plus the Hot List and Aftersun shows each week. That’s at least 56 hours of my life, well over two days, I’ve spent watching a bunch of people I’ve never met, and never will meet, crack on.
I’ve also watched The West Wing (in my opinion the best show ever made) the whole way through, about six times. The show is 116 hours in total, so that’s 696 hours I’ve spent watching it, or 29 full days. A MONTH. A WHOLE MONTH. If I live to 85 say, I’ll get 1,020 months in total. I’ve already spent one of those watching this show, surely that’s enough?
And let’s not get started on how many times I’ve watched The Gilmore Girls, Buffy, Friends, Dawson’s Creek… I purposefully didn’t buy myself a TV when I moved into my flat in Frome, thinking it would prevent me from watching too much. But I don’t think that’s worked. If anything it’s meant the opposite, as because I’m streaming there isn’t a natural end to it. Another episdoe just follows directly on.
Then there’s my phone. I installed Moment a while ago, but ended up taking it off as I was so horrified by the results, and annoyed at how it kept reminding me off my addiction. I was using it for at least three hours a day. And I couldn’t tell you what I was doing with it during that time, most of it was spent just mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I don’t even post that much – maybe on my grid a couple of times a week. I’d honestly like to post more, but get put off because I know that my photographs and captions are nowhere near as good as what other people are creating. I fall into the comparison trap way too easily on there.
I’ve tried really hard to make my hours at my laptop working as productive as possible over the last six months, as I have no desire to spend anymore time on it than is necessary. BUT I still often find myself trapped in internet loops – moving between the same five or six websites on rotation. It’s ridiculous, and so frustrating, as it’s often meant that I haven’t felt that I’ve been productive enough to stop in the evenings, or not work weekends. Which in turn feels like I don’t get a proper rest to refuel.
Thinking about how much I consume, and then thinking about how much I create, I can see that there is a real imbalance. As I said above I haven’t written anything for myself in a really long time. I keep telling myself that it’s because I don’t have time and that I’m focusing on my business right now, but I know that is bollocks. I do have the time, I’m just spending it consuming rather than creating.
Before we go any further I just want to make it clear that none of this is a judgement or comment on anyone else’s digital consumption habits. It’s my own current habits and relationship with digital content that I want to experiment with. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with social media, TV or the internet. I’ve met some amazing people through Instagram, and it genuinely adds something to my life. I don’t think doing this ban will make me a better person in anyway, and if you ever feel like I am gloating about how virtuous my habits have become, then please feel free to tell me!
So for the rest of Sunday I started to play around with this idea of a content consumption ban, and what it would look like. Cait says on the podcast that everyone should feel free to make up their own rules, so I decided to do just that.
Originally I thought about making it a ban on ALL consumption, but then quickly realised that there was no way I was going to give up reading (and also, that it wouldn’t benefit me in the slightest). I love reading, and generally find that it fuels my creativity rather than diminishes it. It’s the digital stuff – TV, social media and the internet – that I wanted to cut back on. I also know quite a few people do a social media ban, but this has never appealed as I do really love Instagram, and it’s not something I want to give up. I just want to change how I use it.
So here are the “rules” I’ve come up with:
The Create Not Consume Rules
No TV – including Youtube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.
No films at home.
No Facebook or Twitter.
No Internet browsing. Internet only for work.
No emails or internet post 6pm.
No consuming on Instagram – feed or stories.
No internet shopping.
Podcasts (I thought about this a LOT, but decided to allow them as they’re not looking at a screen and I’m not addicted to them. I find them easy to switch off.)
Weekend newspapers and magazines.
Posting on Instagram, and replying to comments and direct messages.
I’m basically taking myself back to the 1950s! I’ve thought about calling it #analogueaugust, and I’m looking forward to sharing what my #analogueevenings look like!
I’m really nervous about this, I’m not going to lie, and laugh if you want to. I use TV and the internet as a bit of a crutch. If I’m feeling low or anxious, I know that switching on Netflix or diving into Instagram will take my mind off things. And I know that not being able to do that will be hard. I fully expect there to be some quite uncomfortable moments. I have a lot of habits that will need breaking, and that is always tough. I wondered about setting myself a creative task at the same time – maybe another novel in a month – but decided against it, as I didn’t want to pin the success of this experiment to anything else. Nor did I want to give myself the excuse that, “oh, I’ve written 1667 words today, I can now watch TV”. I hope I use my extra time creatively, but we shall see.
I’ll be sharing my thoughts and thinks that I’m learning on here, in my weekly newsletter (sign-up below!) as well as on Instagram (@fbarrows). I hope you find it interesting!