I’ve Been Struggling To Write Anything Lately…

My Friends Suggested I Write About It.

For the past couple of months, I have been suffering from Writer’s Drought. “Block” is simply too good a word, suggesting a stream of creative discourse is merely backed up, desperate to be unclogged by some cognitive Mr Muscle. My mind is a barren wilderness. If you listen close enough you may hear the wisp of the occasional heading or opening sentence as it tumbles from ear to ear.

Perhaps it’s the stress of the new “working from home” lifestyle, with looming deadlines, late-night to early morning crunches, and an overbearing pressure to deliver at a time where every sale counts, not just towards the performance of the company but the security of both you and your colleagues’ futures.

Maybe it’s the strains of being a new parent, the responsibilities of raising a child, the 4am wake up calls, and the constant nagging fears of whether or not you are doing the right things every step of the way.

It could even be the omnipresent anxiety of a pandemic virus, losing sleep over keeping the family safe while staying home, staying alert and staying away from any covidiot who refuses to wear a mask, whilst trying to keep abreast of ever-changing rules over permitted movements and acceptably distanced social interactions.

If I was a betting man, I’d say its a heady cocktail of all three.

Suffice to say, at a time where any kind of travel is awkward and unappealing, my brain seemingly laughed in the face of quarantine and took a vacation.

I wanted to write a piece about the unrelenting barrage of headlines and heartache 2020 has served to us on a daily basis and the hot mess that is 280 characters of people’s despair, outrage, conspiracies, and panic that accompanies it. From global disease to a failing economy, police brutality & civil unrest, thanks to the immediacy of social media all of this has overloaded our everyday data streams. Its really not good for you. The result is “Crisis Fatigue”; we simply don’t have the capacity to deal with such intense and prolonged levels of stress that we are all currently experiencing, which is why you might be feeling pretty exhausted and lethargic all the time.

I had to step away from Twitter for a little while, it just got too much for me. Staying informed of the current situation is one thing, but it’s very easy to become consumed by it. However there are practical uses, and I didn’t want to simply abandon it. So I reassessed how I utilised the platform and looked for ways to streamline my interactions with the Bird Site. I found two particularly wonderful tools. These won’t be new for some people, but were a welcome relief for me.

Calm Twitter Chrome Extension

Firstly, I installed the “Calm Twitter” Chrome extension. Created by Yusuke Saitoh, this simple addon hides both the current trending topics and the “explore” tab from the website, leaving you free to simply scroll through your personal feed without the distraction of ominous hashtags. (It can also hide likes, retweets, follower counts and more.) It’s like Zen. This alone has made a huge difference in both the way I use Twitter, and the resultant effect on my mood. Combine this with adding specific keywords to the native Mute function, and the streamlined user experience is not only calmer (hence the name of the extension!), I’ve found it’s also a shorter one.

Secondly, I dropped the app version in favour of Owly. Not only does it retain the mute functionality, and tuck any trending topics away to a separate menu off the home-screen, but the full user interface is highly customisable, as is the ability to truly tailor your feed by entering & following specific topics of interest. However, the greatest advantage since switching over is I haven’t seen a single advert or promoted/sponsored tweet whilst using Owly.

So why didn’t I write about this? For three reasons.

  • Firstly, because whenever I sat down to do so, I literally could feel the emptiness of the void inside my head. I couldn’t even formulate the opening line. (Not even a postcard.)
  • Secondly, it felt awkward, obnoxious and downright impossible to attempt to construct a worthwhile, interesting piece from such a blinkered singular narrative, as if there was any genuine importance to my personal online experiences during a such large scale and “unprecedented” event which has affected all of us. (Essentially, the pressure of writing about anxiety gave me anxiety.)
  • Lastly, I just didn’t have the energy or mental focus. I was devoid of stimulation, motivation, and quite frankly, sleep. (babies and deadlines will do that to you.)

I genuinely think there is something to the above however, and if we all were to review and streamline how we use sites like Twitter as a source to obtain information & to interact with others, we could all get a little sanity back. What has also helped me retrieve some sanity, has been to re-join Instagram.

Yes, you read that correctly, but please, hear me out.

I used to enjoy the photo sharing platform, but over the years Instagram became plagued with Adverts, Flexing and Fake People. The first became particularly egregious. It got to the point where every other post on my feed was either sponsored or targeted. A scrolling wall of drivel that pushed anything half interesting to the back, and I found myself wondering why I even bothered to open the app. I’ve also been wary of how sites like Instagram, and classically Facebook would vacuum up meaningful in-person conversation. In an everyday situation, physical interactions are always more memorable than digital ones. Whether meeting friends or catching up with family, if everyone’s already plastered their exploits all over social media the dialogue runs dry. Then there was my increasing concern of how much of my travels and experiences I had willingly handed over to the masses in photo form. When you can track someone’s movements through social media it gets a bit weird…

However, when you are stuck indoors working out of your living room for months on end, and unable to meet people in person, you start going stir crazy. “Cabin Fever” is just as real a thing as crisis fatigue, and I craved a way to stay in touch and see what cohorts were up to. When physical is prohibited, digital provides an avenue. I realised that this was where Instagram could redeem itself. I just couldn’t go back to those fucking adverts.

Enter Instander.

I discovered Instander on a lengthy forum thread over at XDA Developers entitled “Instagram without adds and annoyances”. Created by Dmitry Gavrilov, this modded, repackaged version of the ‘gram comes with zero adverts, the ability to download images and videos, and several other improvements over the native application.

In order to keep my Instagram feed as “pure” as possible, I’ve restricted myself to only following close friends and topics I have a genuine interest in. The result is a clean, positive image feed and a fun, mindful way to stay in touch with others during this period of restricted movements (without the one-upmanship, aggressive marketing and shallowness that so often can creep in with Instagram). I’m also more mindful of what I upload, to avoid both littering the site with crap, and to also regulate my digital footprint.

If I could just find the words to sum all of this up…

Huh.

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