Digital Burn Out

Ambassadors, I have a confession.

I am running into a wall. Full speed, no brakes, and with a strong penchant towards being a glutton for punishment. Because even though I know the cause of said wall-running-into, I keep causing it, over and over and over again.

This is what happens every time I open Twitter:

So, this begs the question: If I’m feeling so much burn out, why do I keep doing it?!

As with most things in my life since I can remember, I go through waves of obsession with things. Some of these things come and go and come and go again, as I move through phases of infatuation. As many of you may already know, different platforms of social media can shift in and out of our collective obsession spells, and my individual love/hate relationship with social media ebbs and flows in the exact same way. Recently, I have rediscovered that fast paced, limited character driven (RIP, 140) platform known as Twitter. I first became part of the Twitter world in 2009, as I followed along with the Green Revolution in Iran. In fact, it was through that weird little platform that I became involved with Everyday Ambassador as a writer. But in the past few years, I had noticed my attention drifting towards Facebook and Instagram.

Given the current state of American affairs, a few months ago, I couldn’t help but pop my Twitter account open and take a stroll down the timeline, watching reactions, retweets, favorites, gifs, you name it. I was hooked yet again. I say was, but I mean am, I AM hooked again because I can’t stop. Once I got back on the saddle, I began to notice that I had about an hour’s head start on breaking news, access to hilarious takes on said breaking news, and I’ve been able to watch reactions to events in real-time, constantly refreshing my timeline by viciously hitting the home button quite a few times.

Which brings me back to my problem with burn out. I find myself losing focus, zoning out into a mindless round of scrolling when I should have been doing something, almost anything else. I’ve been catching myself flopping down on my bed after work and sacrificing half an hour of my life to the time line gods without a second thought.

I notice these things, mentally slap myself in the face, exit the app, and move on, but then, like clockwork, I’m back at it as soon as I unlock my phone for any reason (I’ve probably checked it about six times since I started writing this piece and that’s a pretty conservative estimate).

And then there’s this guilt, this nagging guilt that in some weird, twisted way, it’s my civic duty to glue my eyes to the screen, every day, and almost every hour. I’ll let the following tweet accurately articulate the conflict currently raging in my brain:

But how does scrolling through social media translate into participating in my civic duty? The answer is – IT KIND OF DOESN’T. Unless the endless scrolling leads to endless action and participation, it’s all for not. I had similar love/hate feelings with “social media activism” earlier this year, which led to me to apply for (and then get!) an organizing fellowship with Organizing for Action (aka OFA). Through my fellowship with OFA, I was able to transform my frustration into action, and for six weeks, I had my eyes glued to the screen not to post long, elaborate rantings on a social media platform, but to learn how to organize a community event, leading me and my Chicago team to host an event all about restorative justice at a local school, encouraging them to shift their discipline practices from those of punishment to those of mutual understanding, communication, and reconciliation.

Keah Brown writes about Twitter burn out and how to fight it.
Keah Brown

The other burn out problem that comes with Twitter obsession is when I make the mistake of scrolling through replies. It’s really disheartening and depressing to get a glimpse of just how ugly the world can be when we use the connective power of the internet to tear each apart with our key strokes. I came across an article, written by a writer named Keah Brown, and it is a great, in-depth look at a complicated relationship with a platform that fuels her career, yet exposes her to constant abusive troll attacks. She is a disability activist, creator of the hash tag #DisabledandCute, and she contributes to a bunch of publications such as Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Essence. In this piece for Dame Magazine, Brown picks apart a question she hears from her family and friends all the time: If Twitter is so miserable, why don’t you just leave?

“The question, while well-intentioned, isn’t plausible for me at this stage in my career. Twitter, despite its may failings, gives me a sense of community in my chosen identities Black, Disabled, and female. There is a group of people there that I can talk to about popular culture, books, movies, music, and cheesecake. More importantly, Twitter is where I make money. I don’t make the money from sponsored tweets or the other traditional ways in which many people can make money on social media. My revenue comes from my activism and discussing my lived experiences via the platform. I’ve had threads on the mistreatment of disabled people, ableist language, high-heeled shoes, and my very first unassisted ponytail turn into paid essays. If I weren’t on the platform would those essays still have happened? Maybe. But the audience I have built via Twitter and the editors who read [a] thread of mine and like it enough to reach out and ask me to write for their publications might not know me at all.”   

Keah goes on to provide examples of marginalized members of our community who take frequent Twitter burn out breaks, allowing them to recharge and come back, ready to face the trolls, refusing to be silenced.

I recently went down to my humid home, Miami, and celebrated Thanksgiving with my massive Cuban family for about five days. It’s crazy how easy it is to ignore a timeline when your day is packed with dinner reservations, hanging with friends, and family parties. I stepped back from my incessant need to check Twitter for five whole days and guess what? No institutions collapsed, my citizenship wasn’t revoked, and I didn’t feel constant stress and anger over situations that are somewhat out of my control.

And so, what is this point of all this ranting? I’m not sure I’m even fit to give anybody else advice about how to curtail their social media habits (Spoiler Alert: I am a millennial), but I can certainly work on recognizing my own problem, picking it apart, and giving you a peek into how I personally try to live a more productive life with, and sometimes, without, social media.

I pledge to try my best to cultivate a little more focus, and give myself a break from the burn out every now and then. Won’t you join me?


Our Digital Detox series explores different ways to disconnect, use the digital world responsibly, and rekindle human connection. 



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