How We’re Really Missing Out

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A few months ago, I made the decision to rejoin Facebook.

I loved reconnecting with my friends and family up north, as well as sharing ideas in a less in-depth venue, with the many blogging buddies I met during my time away from FB.  I had found the muse once again with blogging, and I found the three blogging groups I joined to be very helpful in my efforts to increase exposure.

It was great.  And then it slowly began to take  over.

First, I found myself playing catch-up after days when I didn’t log in.  I had to read everything in my newsfeed, and one day off could lead to a lot of time spent making up for it.  Because what if I missed big news from someone?

I (mostly) stayed true to my commitment not to discuss politics at all, but I clicked on everyone’s links, even when the articles they led me to were anything but uplifting.

I made sure to visit everyone’s blogs in my blogging groups, so that I could comment on their posts before it was “too late.”  I was spending a great deal of time reading about everyone’s adventures.

And of course I had to login on a daily basis, to be there for my online friends who were going through challenging times.

And then there was the drama.  Facebook has been a hotbed for that lately.  And watching it has been like watching a train wreck.

A couple of days ago, I caught myself rushing home to start up my computer and check in on the latest drama.  And I finally had to ask myself, what am I doing?  What am I getting out of this?  Aren’t there things I would rather be doing?

This moment of clarity really led me to think about the time I spend online and to rethink my use and perception of this tool.  I had fallen prey to Fear of Missing Out.  And in doing so, I was missing out on opportunities for joy and happiness that were right in front of my face.

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Here are a few of the lessons that I learned:

  • We don’t always need to be around “like-minded” people.  There is something wonderful about connecting with people who share ideas and are living in the same counter-cultural way that we are.  Before we moved to the marina, I knew very few “minimalists” in real life.  It was through my conversations with other bloggers that I learned how to live as simply as we do, and gained the courage to take the plunge and do it!  However, there is a danger in viewing ourselves as “separate.”  We are a part of humanity, not just a small subgroup.  Having friends who are different from ourselves adds some color to our day and allows us the chance to learn from each other and grow.
  • It’s okay to miss out on the details of someone’s life.  It is okay to not get caught up on your newsfeed.  It is fine to miss someone’s blog post.  If somebody has big news, they will contact you personally, if they need to!  There is no need to miss out on the world around us, because we are busy getting caught up on everyone else’s world.  And I won’t hate you if miss a post here–nobody else will, if you miss one of their posts, either!
  • Online “friendships” need to be kept in perspective.  It’s true that you never know everything about someone else, but we see a very limited picture of those we interact with online.  Even when we try to keep it “real,” it is a very censored version of ourselves that others see.  It is valuable to share ideas and gain support from people we meet online.  But these are not the same as friendships and relationships in “real life.”
  • There is no persona that we need to protect.  We become involved in drama, because we feel the need to defend the person that everyone online thinks we are.  The drama we see online is much more intense and prevalent than the drama we encounter in “real life.”  This could be because everyone works so hard to create a “face” for themselves online, and we feel the need to protect the way we appear.  There is nothing to defend though.  If a total stranger, on the other side of the globe, “judges” us, so what?  In the grand scheme of things, does that matter at all?

Keeping these lessons in mind, I am finding it much easier to be intentional with my time spent using social media, and my online time in general.  With a little practice, we can learn to use this tool to enrich our lives, rather than having it use us.

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Lesson #11: The Internet (It’s Complicated)

Note:  This post is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

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It is interesting that this is the next lesson that I will be talking about, because it has been something that has been on my mind a great deal lately.

I have a complicated relationship with the Internet.

Two year ago, I gave up Facebook.  I found it sucking up my time, and I found myself drawn into non-productive political debates.  I desperately sought connection, and on Facebook I felt alone in a crowd.  So I deleted my account.

But that doesn’t mean I was never online.  I began e-mailing a number of other bloggers and developed some very close friendships.  And through these friendships, I found the courage to make some major changes in my life.  In that basement, I spend the vast majority of my time online.

And that was okay.

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After we moved, I found that I was kind of at a loss with my writing.  My personal journey became more private, and I found my inbox filling up with unanswered e-mails.  I spent more time reading, more time looking within.

A number of my blogging friends quit writing their blogs, and I wondered if this was the next step–if it were the “right” thing to do, when I reached a certain level of “maturity.”  I began to see my time online as a vice, and went through a cycle of forced digital breaks.

And that was okay too.

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And now, I kind of feel like I’ve reached a balance for the moment.  I’ve rejoined Facebook, so that I can check in with everyone, and save the more occasional in-depth discussions for e-mail.  I’m happy with the frequency of my blog posts, and I’m glad that y’all have come back to restart the discussions!

What works, is what works for me in this moment.

And that’s okay.

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So, my thinking is a little different than it was when I wrote that lesson #11 was “The answers aren’t online.”  I no longer think that a certain amount of Internet time is “good” or “bad.”

 But I do have a few thoughts on the issue:

  • Beware of using the Internet out of boredom.  Sometimes, I find myself refreshing the same 3 pages, just biding the time.  This isn’t “bad” or “immoral,” but it also isn’t something that I enjoy or something that makes me happy.  When I catch myself doing this, I ask, “What would I rather be doing?”  Sometimes, I’d rather write a book or take a walk.  Sometimes I’m just tired or hungry!
  • Online time can become an escape.   When something is bothering me, I often find that I get involved with discussions or search for a diversion online.  Again, that’s not good or bad.  There is nothing wrong with an escape, when your mind needs it!  But escaping is a short-term solution.  Eventually, we need to deal with whatever it is we are trying to escape.
  • You don’t need to try to change the world.  I have sworn off political discussion, because they only led to anger and hard feelings.  But I’ve found myself sucked into other discussions, feeling like I needed to advocate for something.  It’s good to inform and to share your ideas, but it’s also fine to bow out if the discussion becomes emotionally draining.  A great example of this for me has been all of the discussions that have started after Robin Williams’s death.  For my own mental health, I’m only engaging in those, in moderation!
  • Everyone you meet is on a journey.  Through my online interactions, I have met some people who have shared amazing ideas and completely rocked my world.  But it’s important to remember that these people are not fully enlightened beings, they are just people on a journey, just like me.  They have ideas, but they don’t have the Answers.  And they bring their emotional baggage to the table, just like I do.
  • Online interactions are great practice for “real life.”  While I don’t really buy into the whole introvert vs extrovert thing, I do realize that I haven’t fully developed the skill of being assertive.  So I practice online.  The conversation is slower, and there is time to think through my responses.  I’ve found this to be a great way to practice, and it does gradually transfer into my “real life” conversations.

I think the most important thing to remember is that the Internet and the many communities on it are tools.  Use them to help you in your journey and to get closer to finding your answers.

Just remember that then answers themselves are not “out there.”

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Digital Diets–Why and How

I love the Internet.  It is definitely a positive force in my life.

It is during my online time that I am able to develop and share my writing, receive feedback and encouragement from other aspiring writers, and form great friendships with like-minded individuals.

However, we all know that sometimes the virtual world can get a bit out of control.

Maybe we’re staring at the computer screen, instead of spending time with our kids. Maybe we’re using the computer to avoid facing issues, or completing tasks in real life.  Maybe the Internet has gone from adding to our lives, to taking us away from reality.

When that happens, I recommend a brief time away from the computer.  I recently took a little more than a week off, and I was able to realign my focus and prepare for the changes that we are currently making in our life.  I’ve returned, after facing the issues I had been avoiding, ready to set limits and allow my online time to once again become a positive aspect of my life.

Are you ready to go on a Internet diet?  Here are some tips, to get you started:

1.  Let your friends know.  That way, if you slip up and login to your e-mail, there will be no messages waiting to tempt you.

2.  Don’t be a perfectionist.  You will likely find yourself checking your e-mail or social networking accounts.  That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and you’re off the hook.  You might even find yourself needing to go online, to conduct business and set up plans in real life.  That’s why it’s important to let your friends know not to contact you.

3.  Be prepared for some strange emotions.  I know a lot of people–myself included–who experienced some anxiety.  We worried that we’ll become isolated, and it doesn’t feel right to cut back on this aspect of our lives.  The Internet involves instant acceptance from like-minded friends.  It’s easy and it’s positive.  But, we need to work on our real-life relationships, and we need to trust that our online friends will still be there, waiting.  A friend once told me, in e-mail there are no awkward pauses.

4.  Figure out what you want to work on.  I set up a great morning routine, did a lot of spiritual reading, worked on relationships in real life, and looked into the roots of the fears I was experiencing.  Make sure you use your time well.

5.  Once you’ve seen the positives, develop a re-entry plan.  What limits will you set?  I will start out only writing 3 blog posts a week, and only writing 3 e-mails a day.  I will take my time getting caught up on the blogs that I follow, and the writers of those blogs know that (or at least you do now!!!).

6.  Stay off until you’re no longer feeling the negative emotions.  I made sure my anxiety was good and gone.  You’ll be stronger for it, your online friendships will be stronger for it, and it will put everything into perspective.

So, my virtual diet was a success!  I hope yours is, as well.

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And, as an aside, an update on my personal adventures:  We are spending tonight in a poolside room in Little Rock, Arkansas.  By this time tomorrow, we will be moving into our apartment in Houston, which we have never seen.  We will not have Internet access until Thursday, so I will not be writing a post tomorrow.  I am anxious to get settled in, meet our neighbors, and do a little sight seeing around Houston. 

But, life is good now.  We had some excellent sushi, from a small restaurant downtown in Little Rock, and I am ready to take Beanie to the pool.

Something We Do Without: Multiple Cell Phones and Data Plans

I have touched on the “connected” issue before. You know that, in our house, the phone is the servant and not the master.That we prefer real, face time, to interacting through technology exclusively.

So now, please allow me to elaborate.

We have one cell phone between the two of us. That’s it. We buy a $12 a month prepaid plan, because we don’t even use all of our minutes. We treat it like a land line, and we even keep it on the wall, where the old phone used to be. Sometimes we take it with us, but it is not allowed to interrupt dinner!

Why do we do this? Well, there are a number of reasons. First, people have become very detached from the here-and-now. By not talking on the phone constantly, by not always checking Facebook (which is a whole other post topic, that I will be writing about in the near future) all the time on a Smartphone, by not spending the entire day with ear buds in, we are able to interact with our world. We meet strangers. We people watch. We hear the sounds around us. It’s impossible to live mindfully, if we’re always “plugged in” to distractions.

The next reason for having only one phone is that we don’t want to be on call 24/7. Sometimes we like to be unreachable. We like to spend time with just us. We’ll call people back, but we aren’t going to let the phone interrupt our family time.

And the last reason is the most obvious. Having one phone, with such a small data plan is cheaper. A lot cheaper. One Smartphone, with a good data plan (which we had, back when we used our cell phone as our internet provider) is $120 a month. An additional one would be slightly less than that, but we could easily be paying $200 a month for both of us to have one. I don’t know how larger families are able to afford Smartphones for everyone! By having one phone, with the smallest data plan possible, we’re saving an incredible amount of money.

Observing Lent

Lent is something I’ve struggled with.

I understand the need for discipline, and for sacrifice. I understand that you can’t truly rejoice unless you understand suffering.

However, when it comes down to it, I love my life. I love this gift I’ve been given, and I nearly always want to rejoice. Sure, I’ve been through trials, but they are nothing compared to my family, my friends, my job, and (of course) the view of the world and nature that I’ve been privileged to see from Moonraker. I want to praise God, always.

I’ve decided this is good, and what I should do.

However, there are always ways in which I could improve my focus. In the past I’ve “given something up” for Lent but, in light of my New Year’s Resolutions, this seems redundant. I’ve thought of vices, and of things to give up. Without coffee, during the school year, I swear I’ll grow horns. I thought about eating better, but, really I’m doing pretty well.

Which brings me to my online time.

I love writing, as it’s helped me to find myself and to articulate who I truly am to my friends and family. It’s allowed me to display my courage and (hopefully) inspire others to do the same. These are my “true colors” so to speak.

I love the women I’ve met online, especially on Michigan Natural Parenting. They are my support network, in a world where parents are becoming more and more isolated.

I have my family. We always connect so closely during the summer, even with my time spent online. But right now, we need to really focus on us.

I can’t stay away completely. The next 40 days will bring Beanie’s IEP, preparations for launch day (which I moved up recently, so it’s 95 days away!), and Easter. I will write once a week,every Friday, to give you updates. That will be the only day I spend time online.

Otherwise, I’m spending time with them, working on Beanie’s therapy and potty training, preparing for spending 3 months together 24/7. When Easter comes, there will be less than a month until launch day, and I will definitely take you with us on the journey.

Off the Grid Tuesday: Limiting “Connected” Time

Today we are more connected to technology than ever. Which has led to us becoming less connected to each other.

I’ve seen people texting while eating dinner at a restaurant. I’ve seen parents texting while on an outing with their child. I’ve seen people talking on their cell phones while out with friends. I’ve caught myself typing away on the laptop while watching the Bean play.

We all know that these real-life connections are what’s important. That seeing our child grow up, interacting with them, and enjoying the company of the friends in front of us is the way we should connect.

However, technology can play an important role. I’ve found support from the ladies at Michigan Natural Parenting, and I’ve gone on to become real-life friends with many of them. I rely on the Internet as a source of information on nearly everything. Both Facebook and my cell phone allowed us to check in with friends and family during our sailing trip. I enjoy writing this blog and sharing my adventures and learnings with others.

We choose not to have a television. Yet we keep our Internet access and cell phone because they do more than provide passive entertainment. Still, if you are not disciplined in the use of this technology, it can become as harmful as television.

Here are some of the ways that we handle it:

1. We use our cell phone like a land line. It gets velcroed to the wall. We take it with us in the car, but we turn it off during outings, dinner, concerts, etc.

2. We limit our Internet time. During the week, I go online for 15 minutes in the morning, than 30 minutes (for blogging) in the evening.

3. The person in front of us always gets the attention (rather than the technology).

This is what we are doing so far. What are some ways you limit your use of technology?

Off the Grid Tuesday: How Would I Write the Blog?

While reading about our resistance to technology, it is impossible to ignore one fact. We have computers. And Internet access. And how in the world could we have that, without relying on the grid?

First, the computer. We do own one desktop right now, and Rob uses it for gaming. It uses a ton of electricity, so when we are trying to reduce our consumption (like on the boat, or in the winter), he does not use it. We have a laptop, but that still consumes more electricity than we would like. Our solution: Netbooks.

However, we learned that you get what you pay for. We tried some refurbished Asus units from woot.com . Neither lasted a year. Yet, something like this unit would use little electricity and do everything we wanted. Shop around! A netbook could be charged on solar power, would run a long time on battery power, and would use very little energy.


So, what about Internet access? We currently have a MiFi from Verizon, which runs us about $60 a month. We had a poor signal when we first started out, but it was corrected after some calls to tech support (they sent some people out here to check out the network). It requires little electricity. I updated this blog while underway and while anchored out. We did need to recharge it every other day–that may be done in the car or with solar (or other alternative) power. We are considering switching to a smart phone, which could end up costing less and providing Internet access and a phone line (we pay for a separate cell phone from Verizon right now).

Technology is a great tool. I can look up recipes, talk with friends, and tell our story to anyone who is interested. It can be had with little energy usage, as long as you are conscious of your usage and time spent online.