Disclaimer: Normally, this blog is dedicated to matters of vocalism, vocal technique, and the art, craft and health of singers. These next few installments will deal with a different issue that I feel may very well intersect with the art of singing in unexpected ways. Let’s find out together.
This past week, on Monday, November 23, 2020 I made a decision to remove Facebook from my phone, and delete all of my other social media accounts which included Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and TickTock. I did all of this just days after watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, which I highly recommend, with my younger, (still impressionable) daughter.
This decision came after four years of the Trump administration, which had made me hyper-vigilant to social media on which political discourse (and polarization) was rampant, not to mention being eight months into the Coronavirus quarantine with all of it’s life-changing complexities to work, social, and family life. But, waking up on November 8, after the longest (5 day) “election night” in history, and realizing that I DIDN’T have to immediately grab my phone to see what had happened in the few precious hours of my slumber, was the first sign that I could relax and maybe, just maybe, put down my phone.
At the very start of the pandemic, realizing how much more humans would have to become reliant on artificial intelligence, I lamented that “the machines have won,” and truly feared that we were racing towards a future that would more resemble the plot of the movie “The Matrix,” where a virtual reality would soon displace the physical one. Indeed, since the invention of the smart phone in 2007, I have always feared this trajectory, which was kicked into hyperdrive by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. With each new app and virtual reality, I wondered “Do we really need this?” More and more time was spent looking down at the magic rectangle, isolated, texting rather than talking, thinking rather than feeling. Even when “contactless payment” was first introduced by Apple Pay some years ago I thought again “Do we really need this?” Now, living almost a year in isolation, and fearful of not only touch, but the slightest breath, from another human being I suspect that the machines knew something we didn’t.
People often ask me “How are the kids doing in quarantine?” “Fine” I say. “They’ve been bred for it.” And that really is horrifically true. My teenagers have spent the better part of their lives with this technology as their primary means of communicating with friends, not by telephone but by app, Snapchat, Instagram, and a whole host of new apps specifically designed to connect teenagers. Apps that are also designed to look like something else, in order to hide themselves from suspecting parent’s eyes. So, “How are my kids doing?” I don’t think they’ve noticed a difference yet. In fact, I think they are very happy to be doing everything online. They’ve been bred for it.
However, as it turns out, in this humble parent’s opinion, having the world in the palm of your hand is not necessarily a good thing. The world includes horrific images, political and racial bias, bullying, and porn. Yes, there are parent filters, and parent monitoring apps. But there are also many ways to circumvent these precautions which any self-respecting teenager learns by the age of 13. It’s not easy out there. The genie is out of the bottle and we are paying the price.
Like many parents, I try to institute phone-free-dinners, and time zones, where we actually have to look each other in the face and talk about something real. Any parent will tell you this is not as easy as it sounds. I started planning vacations in remote locations with very little cell service, on purpose. And of course the strictest punishment of all is to take away the little magic rectangle for any length of time. All of these tactics revealed how addicted my teenagers had become to this technology. And, over the last four years, and the intense past eight months, how addicted I had become as well.
But, how could I ask my kids to put the phone down, if I didn’t do the same thing? It’s a pretty notorious axiom that “Children don’t do what you say, they do what you do.” So, it was time for a change.
On November 23 I wrote a Facebook post declaring my separation from the platform and deletion of the app from my phone. I told my FB friends that the app would still be on my computer, but that I would only continue to use it for targeted professional purposes. Easy right? Not so much. Here’s a small account of my week.
After removing Facebook and other social media from my phone and tablet I felt an immediate sense of anxiety, almost jet lag. Consciously picking my head up to look at the sky, I wanted to go out for a walk, to clear my head and “celebrate” my decision, but the day was too busy. I did look on the computer twice today, a quick perusal of my farewell post, and the comments that it inspired. I wanted to answer, but I knew that would keep me on the app for more than an hour. So I didn’t.
Surprisingly there was not much anxiety over losing Snapchat and Instagram, as I did not use them much. Really, I only had them to keep tabs on what my kids were doing. So now I can’t really keep tabs. That in and of itself is anxiety making. But is that also part of the addiction?
Several friends reached out to me on Facebook messenger, and also regular text messaging to give me their contact information. This was very comforting and I took it as a sign of real friendship. I also got an offer to write a blog about this experience. Of course, it was my intention to do that anyway for Cabaret Hotspot, which may create a conflict of interest.
Evening was difficult, much like the urge to snack, the urge to check my Facebook feed on my phone was strong. Watching TV without multitasking was noticeably difficult. In fact I am writing this journal entry into the Notes app of my phone at that time. Am I fulfilling some subconscious need to be on my phone, to multitask? Is writing this blog taking my attention away from my kids at this time? I need to get off the phone!
By the end of the day, and noticeably throughout the day, I really did feel better, less tied to the machine.
Instinctively grabbed for my phone in the morning. Realized I would only be checking my mail and not all the social media apps, not Facebook, noticed the shift in my perception of the day. Felt less busy, less pulled in different directions. My email still had notifications from Instagram and Twitter, trying to pull me back in. Trying to gain interest for me to engage in the platform again. I deleted them.
Very strangely, after only one day of not using my phone, other apps are now sending me messages, like my weather app and fitness apps. It seems like they are plotting against me to get me to pick up the phone.
Today was another day of jet lag. My head is clearing in the way I had not expected. And strangely, I’m hearing the electromagnetic high pitch whistle, like tinnitus, in my ear whenever the TV is on, I never noticed that before.
After four hours of teaching, I decided to check Facebook from my computer. Grr! I couldn’t last two days! I checked my notifications and the responses to my “farewell“ post. It made me feel like I was cheating. I still have a little bit of jet lag. Today, however, I began to sing for pleasure. I found the time, reclaimed the time, from hours spent on the apps. I wondered how much, how badly I have let this take hold of me. I used to have lots of time to practice. But recently whatever free time I had was spent catching up on social media posts and engagements. So, where is the furthering of my art? Where is internal, private practice, or striving for perfection? I have often spoken to my own students about this. Instead of initially learning the words and the notes, and then slapping it up on YouTube, spend time with the piece, commit it to memory, find the private moments before making it public. But I’ve never considered before is how much of this social media is a distraction from actually pursuing the art itself. Art takes time. It takes practice and concentration. It takes diligence. And, it takes imagination, and dream building. And that’s what these machines rob us of, the time to imagine, the “down-time” when possibilities begin to form, where dreams are made, channeled from our own divine spirit and brought forth into manifestation. Idle time is important for art, for life. We don’t always need to be so busy.
I took my older daughter to the orthodontist. She has been complaining of jaw tension, grinding her teeth, tensions all down the right side of her body. This orthodontist did a thorough and very holistic examination. Then he sat her down and said “Grinding your teeth is a symptom. Yes, you need braces now. But we also need to treat the cause, not just the symptom.” He then went on to suggest very strongly that she spend time without her phone. He explained that all of the overstimulation received by the phone (The “likes“ and messages, and various engagements on social media) filled up the memory bank of her brain and made it more difficult for her brain to process all the information she was receiving throughout the day. And, that this is what was causing her physical tensions, and night-time teeth grinding. DING! A light bulb went on. I got it from a completely objective source.
At night, watching TV, holding my phone, for no reason at all. Put it down!
Nov 27 – Thanksgiving
Set up the house and the table for Thanksgiving. I was excited to take pictures of the tree, and the table, and the train, and then realized I had nowhere to post them. I forgot! Then I thought to myself “I’ll post them on my blog.“ But do I really need to? Will it make the blog post more engaging and entertaining? And if I do that, am I giving the machine what it wants? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? As you can see, I decided to post them within this article. Old habits die hard.
I did miss the collective commiseration, commenting with friends on Facebook about the Macy’s parade. Hamilton – WERK!
Made dinner and spent time with the girls, aware that I am fully present and not disengaged by the hundreds of holiday wishes that I would be receiving on Facebook. It’s a double edged sword. I would love to reach out to all of my friends on Facebook. But instead of outward reaching I am inward turning. My place is here, in the moment with my children.
Several close friends called me and texted me directly. And I made calls to friends and family. That was very nice. Speaking with friends and family on the phone made it feel like an “old fashion Thanksgiving.”
I also noticed that I was more fully present for the entire day. It was “vacation-without-cell phones” present, it was “pre-2007” present. It was “I forgot how this feels” present. It was the best Thanksgiving in many many years.
Dinner was great and peaceful. There was lots of laughter. We watched movies. And when either one of the kids did get on their phone to check messages or play “Among Us“ I would shoot them a look and remind them that my phone has been up since Monday and that this was family time. Somehow my example provides greater authority. The kids are teasing me about it but they also seem to respect it. We’re talking about them turning off all their notifications for certain hours of the day. That’s a first step.
This week has been difficult, and enlightening. Also nostalgic, reminding me of the person I used to be, before 2007, before the advent of the smart phone. Before social media. But what about the people, like my kids, who don’t have an experience of themselves before social media? Have they lost out on the opportunity for self identity? Will they be able to function without this invasive “tool?”
So far this experiment is worth it! I have felt universally calmer, throughout the week. I have been more artistically productive in terms of my own singing, and or thinking about singing. I am still drawn to the little magic rectangle because of all of its other uses (music, text messages, camera, etc). But turning off all notifications and deleting all of my social media, has proven to be VERY restorative. I wonder if I can keep this up.
I realize that my inward turn will have an exponential effect on how my children see the outside world. The kids and I have started to talk about “micro-accomplishments.” This is a term I made up for them, in response to a term that they’re already familiar with “micro-aggressions.” Micro-accomplishments are those little social interactions that are sacrificed to the world of social media, the ability to strike up a conversation in an elevator, or even to say hello to a stranger in line or on the street. My kids react badly when anyone looks at them for more than five seconds. Direct eye contact is nerve-racking to them. Asking for directions, ordering food from the waiter, human interaction and the social graces that people in my generation mastered as children and now take for granted are really in danger. So I’m going to keep talking with them about these “micro-accomplishments.” It’s also become clear to me that none of the conversation we had this week would’ve been possible if I didn’t demonstratively put down my phone. Yes, I missed a lot that happened on Facebook. But what happened in my own home was more important. This experiment is difficult, but worth it.
That’s all for now, stay tune for next week’s post on “MY Social Dilemma.”