A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Erin Loechner's Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path. I receive a lot of books in the mail, but I only write about them here in special cases -- and this is definitely one of those cases. I'd seen the book around online for weeks, popping up in various Instagram feeds and mentioned in articles and podcasts, but I wasn't sure if it was a book for me. I've loved Erin's work on Design for Mankind for years, but I was nervous that the religious elements of the book wouldn't resonate with me, a childless, agnostic atheist. But as I kept noticing it more and more places -- and kept getting drawn to the title and the book's beautiful, simple aesthetic -- I decided I needed to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did.
Not only is the book beautifully designed, including beautiful photos and little journal prompts throughout, but it's also incredibly inspiring, especially for anyone who spends a lot of time online (like bloggers) or on your phone (like most of us). The book covers a variety of topics -- blogging, success, motherhood, mindfulness, work/life balance, and more -- but one of the topics that resonated most with me is the topic of social media. You might have read my post, Inspired Unfollowing: A Week of Conscious Content Choice, earlier this year, and so you know I'm thinking a lot social media and how it can impact the amount of positivity in your life.
In the book, Erin writes about how she learned that "thinking about living is not the same as living." Those words -- particularly in relation to social media -- really hit home with me. When we're online -- whether it's reading blog posts, checking email, scrolling through social media, reading news, etc. -- we're, for the most part, thinking and consuming, rather than living and doing. Through the book, Erin brings up the question What am I looking for? and when I read those words, I was stopped in my tracks because one thing I love about my online life is the looking. I love that I can find almost anything I'm looking for at almost any time. I love that, in that looking, I've found newness: new friends, new items, new ideas, etc. I love the hunt. But, as Erin so wisely writes:
The same hunger that seeks community, togetherness, discovery, and expression also roars with pride — with self-doubt, comparison, envy, loneliness. Online, we fed ourselves both.
For every force, there is an opposing force. Though the online world is amazing and inspiring at times, it's also uncharted and overwhelming at times. It's both wonderful and terrible. We spend so much time looking, and, as Erin writes, "Sometimes, when we're looking for what we want, we find what we need." In reading Erin's book, that's what happened to me. When I picked up the book, I was looking for information on how to take some of the stress out of my life, but I found something else: and important reminder and incredibly insightful wisdom on how I'm using technology in my life.
Her words on Pinterest -- my most popular social media platform -- were particularly eye-opening for me. (If you're not a Pinterest fan, imagine that this is about a different platform, or whatever aspect of life you turn to to see what "perfect" looks like.)
Pinterest has, in a few short years, become an addicting escape, and impossible standard, an invaluable resource. A synonym for perfect... Who could've seen the downside as we pressed our noses to the screen, eyes widening with wonder, watching as our dreams scrolled by, pin after pin after pin? Who could've known that more isn't what we truly need? You could've known that more would make us feel like less?
Seeking more -- more information, more followers, more inspiration, more perfection -- almost always makes us feel like less because, after all, when you're seeking more, you're essentially saying, Right now is not enough. And, on a more personal level, I am not enough.
This feeling becomes amplified when you work online. You begin, as Erin writes, "to see yourself as one dimensional, a girl on the screen." For many bloggers and online creators, there's a huge gap between the images on the screen and the real person behind those images (as anyone who knows me in real life knows well!). To keep up with what we do, bloggers need to be online and on social media. But finding balance (particularly for those like me, who have strongly addictive personalities) online and on social media is incredibly challenging.
When your personal identity is so intricately linked with your online presence, this becomes even more complex. Erin writes, "Identity is a powerful force. We rarely see ourselves as others do, and we often view the world — our own, someone else's — through a distorted lens." We want to believe that who we are is not what we do online, but the more time you spend online, the more the line between our identity and our technology becomes blurred. At one point in the book, Erin is writing about Adam and Eve and she says, "In the pursuit of knowledge, they lost wisdom. In the pursuit of themselves, they lost themselves." To me, this says a lot about who we are now, at this point in society. So many of us are seeking some validation or understanding of ourselves online, and, frustratingly, we still feel misunderstood. Erin writes:
I do feel misunderstood, but the one doing the misunderstanding is me. The one doing the misunderstanding is the one who wrongly assumed my social media profile and smiling square image must perfectly capture who I am. That my presence online must perfectly match my present off-line. That who I am is what I do, that my outsides match my insides...
...But what do we know of comparing our self to ourselves? What do we know of comparing our richest reality to the one-dimensional screen? What do we know a flattening our identities so they can be cropped, manipulated, forced into one-liners and profile explanations?
This whole online world -- and how it relates to who we are and who we'll become as a society -- is still so new, relative to the whole of humanity. But, with the ever-growing online world, something honest, something true is being lost. When I read these words in the book -- "On a good day, I tell the truth on Instagram.… But on most days, I don't write what I think in that moment. I write what I think others expect me to think in that moment." -- I found myself sighing deeply in recognition. As Erin puts it, "Our culture is prone to concealing what is.… Under-the-rug sweeping is the default." Social media only exaggerates this tendency of ours to push away the imperfect. Social media is often criticized for being an addictive, mindless, time-suck, but, as Erin puts it, that's not the true danger:
The dangers of social media or far subtler than the distraction, than the addiction, than the habits we form by scrolling through screens multiple times a day... social media has encouraged us to crop out the contradictions in ourselves. It has caused us to airbrush the parts of our lives we don't love about ourselves. It has caused us to sweep our personalities — whether too big or too small — under a Moroccan Pinterest rug in the name of a consistent social media presence. In the name of online optimism.
The most worrisome aspect of social media isn't the time we spend on it or even the sometimes soul-crushing comparisons we make between the screens and our real lives. The most problematic aspect of social media is what it does to our personal identities when it encourages us to crop and summarize and condense who we are into a limited amount of space. Social media can feel spacious -- a variety of platforms from which we can see the world and connect globally -- but it's actually incredibly restrictive. We are not flat, square images. We are not black text on a white screen. We are endless shapes and colors and moods and feelings. We are complex and intricate and mysterious. We are gloriously imperfect shades of gray. Erin writes:
Excepting that we are gray, that we are flawed, that we are a great many things, is one of the most difficult parts of today's information society. We are taught that knowledge is power, that what we do not yet know can be explained and placed in a box on the shelf, lid sealed until further notice. We spend our time on social networks attempting to condense our personalities into tiny profile boxes, trying to verbalize intricacies within flattened screens.
The intricacies of who we are as people cannot be accurately conveyed through a screen, no matter how many images, words, or videos we share. Our truest selves will always be present only in real life, and only in the ever-shifting day-to-day interactions and thoughts and emotions we have. We can do our best to tick of boxes and define who we are, but no definition will ever be enough to encapsulate the whole of who you truly are. As Erin so wisely puts it: "We are not either/ors. We are both/ands."
All of this online / social media stuff is just one aspect of this amazing book. In reading it, you'll not only gain insights into Erin's story (which, I feel, many people will relate to in some way -- whether it's as a blogger, a parent, a friend, a spouse, or just a person trying to make the most of what she's been given in this life), but you'll also gain tons of unexpected inspiration. I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm so glad I picked it up. (A reminder that, just because something doesn't necessarily tick off all of the boxes you identify with, it doesn't mean it won't teach you amazing things.) I'd highly recommend you read it, and I'm so thankful that Erin's publisher has agreed to give away a copy!
How to Enter
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- Winner will be chosen + notified on February 27, 2017
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