To Tweet or Not to Tweet

via Flickr”]Never have traffic lights looked that good.......

On Friday, I celebrated Earth Day by going screen-free for 24 hours. I did a Facebook Fast for the month of November and quite enjoyed it. The Earth Day screen fast took it a few steps further and involved fasting from both the computer and the television.

To help my daughter understand nutrition, we talk about green light, yellow light, and red light foods. Green light are things like veggies that we can eat as much of as we want. Yellow light foods are things like meat and grains that provide essential macro- and micronutrients but which can be unhealthy in excess. Red light foods are those that provide little to no nutritional value but which we eat for flavor or to participate in cultural rituals.

Facebook, is a red-light food: fine in moderation but it’s all too easy for me to overdo it.

Blogging is more like a yellow-light food. It provides enough value to me it could be a green-light food were it not for the blog stats. I refresh blog stats dozens of times a day, if left to my own devices. They are a source of anxiety, and while blogging itself is a nourishing experience, I need to watch that I don’t go overboard. I think of it like a ribeye steak. Even having been a vegetarian for seven years, I recognize the nutritional value of a lean-ish cut of meat from a grass-fed cow. But ribeyes have that yummy marbling of fat through them and often have that tasty ribbon of fat around the edges, too. That’s good energy, but too much is going to raise my cholesterol in the long run and give me a bellyache in the short run.

I think Twitter is another red-light food. I think of it like marshmallow Peeps. I understand that it’s a cultural phenomenon and that many people really love it, but I personally don’t really understand it. I’m pretty sure that this lack of understanding is protective and that if I truly understood Twitter (or Peeps), there would be no stopping me from becoming totally immersed.

E-mail is darned near a green-light food now. Back in college it used to be fluff. It was a way of passing around Smurf-related pornography and keeping in touch with high school buddies. It was sort of the electronic equivalent of writing notes: fun, but not at all necessary. Now, though, it’s practically vital to have interactions via e-mail. Even during my screen fast, I needed to check e-mail once to pick up an important note from my daughter’s accompanist. For better or worse, e-mail has become a necessity in my life. And most of the fluff has been moved to Facebook, so there’s little unnecessary stuff in my e-mail inbox anymore.

All this is to explain that I have a nuanced view of technology. I don’t think that new technology is inherently evil. Neither do I embrace new technology immediately (but mostly because I’m cheap and paranoid and still haven’t figured out what the heck Twitter is for).

But once I go for the new technology, I have trouble creating balance.

I discovered three things from the screen fast this Friday:

  1. My kids and I get along with greater harmony if I’m not distracted checking my blog stats and commenting on Facebook twenty-nine times an hour.
  2. I can’t really get by without some online interaction. To do so, I would have to rearrange the way I interact with my friends and many of my relatives, and I would have to change how I receive information. I look up schedules and directions and operating hours online. I download recipes and coloring pages and craft ideas. Yes, I can do all of this with a library, a road atlas and a phone book. But that’s not how I’m used to doing things now, and it would take a pretty significant shift to move back to this way of operating.
  3. I have trouble engaging with online media with moderation. I do better with all-or-nothing scenarios, much like I do in the food world with refined sugar. I do pretty well with a complete prohibition against sugar; I did it for two years and didn’t feel like I was missing out at all. But give me the go-ahead to eat any sugar at all, and I go nuts.

I play this odd mind game in which I romanticize pioneer days and say, “Nineteenth-century farmers ate little to no sugar and they were fine. I would be fine without sugar, too,” and “Mormon pioneers pushed handcarts across more than a thousand miles of grassland and mountain ranges to get to Utah. I can do errands without my car.”

Trouble is, in order to buy into this one part of the truth, I also need to buy into the rest of it. It diminishes the effect of this reasoning when I admit that nineteenth-century farmers also routinely suffered from hunger and malnutrition and food poisoning, and that a large percentage of those in the handcart parties didn’t survive the journey. None of those people had Facebook, but neither did any of them have antibiotics or x-rays or indoor plumbing.

I want the benefits of a screen fast while still maintaining my connection with my family and friends both online and off. I want that sense of harmony and connection I get with my kids when I’m not online, and I want that sense of harmony and connection I get when I’m riffing off of my friends’ comments and blog posts online.

I want the creamy middle, but I don’t know how to find it.

One Reply to “To Tweet or Not to Tweet”

  1. The creamy middle… now I just want a cadbury egg. Thanks, Charity. 😉

    I haven’t actually made myself do a Facebook fast but I am like you with food. I am better off saying I can’t have any of whatever it is than trying to be moderate. Self-control, it’s a tough one.


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