by Dana Lauder, Jo Lien, and Sarah Lalone

taking a social media break
*image by Dana Lauder

The Backstory:

Dana, Sarah, and I all joined Clickin Moms around the same time, but it took us a little while for our friendship to form. Dana and I had infant sons born within months of one another, and I remember feeling a sense of kinship commiserating about how our post-baby hair growth was giving us fits. My first memory of Sarah was reading a thread she had started about some images she shot in a coffee shop, and I remember admiring her strong sense of vision and desire to excel in photography. She was on a mission. The three of us started recognizing one another through our weekly posts to the 2012 Project 52 group, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that we became close. That fall, I was putting together a small critique group of photographers interested in applying for CMPro. We were looking to add a few members to the group, and I immediately thought of Dana and Sarah. Before too long, our regular CC sessions were turning into daily chats, and we quickly bonded over our experiences as mothers of boys (all three of us have two-year-old boys; Sarah and I also have older sons) and our all-consuming passion for photography.

We prepared extensively for our application to CMPro, and pushed the “submit” button consecutively — first Sarah, then me, and then Dana — and waited out the decisions together. The day I hit submit and lamented the 14-day-wait for the decision, Sarah told me, “Whenever you feel awful, come here for a squirt of water, we’ll put your mouth guard back and throw you back in.” That’s what we do for each other every day as we navigate through our own struggles to find our places and voices through photography. But about a month after Dana’s acceptance, we hit the wall. The excitement of our new accomplishment had worn off, and together we fell
into a deep photography rut. We hated our work. We doubted our abilities. We struggled to speak.

How do you escape something so ugly and all-consuming? We talked about it a lot, and we repeatedly came back to the problem of being driven by the outside “noise” — by the images that swell our Facebook feeds, by the pressure to perform on the Daily project, by the need for affirmation. That’s how the idea for the social media hiatus came to be, and before we could even think clearly, we were promising to shut out all social media outlets for one week — no Facebook, no Twitter, no flickr, no Daily Project, no CM Forum. We began almost immediately.

taking a social media break
*image by Sarah Lalone

Dana’s Experience:

Since being accepted to CMPro, I felt like I was creatively drained. I was shooting for the sake of shooting. My Facebook feed was full of amazing photographers, but instead of being inspired by them, I was feeling like I didn’t measure up. It was then I told Sarah and Jo that I needed a break. I needed a week away from social media and everything that came with it. I was pleasantly surprised when they said they’d join me. Along with being off of social media, I stopped posting my images online and decided that I would shoot just for me for the week.

My week away from social media gave me a lot of time to reflect on why I started doing photography and what I wanted to do with it. It gave me a chance to look at my work with fresh eyes. I started to enjoy it again. It gave me a break from posting my images and worrying about what other people thought.

I wanted to keep working on photography, but without being influenced by what others were doing or what I thought I should be doing. A few things that helped me get through the week:

  • Finding inspiration outside of my immediate circle: I researched famous photographers and looked at work I was unfamiliar with. I tried to trace back to what inspired the photographers I was researching. I went to the library and looked at art books.
  • Reading: I purchased and read a couple of books about photography but also creativity and inspiration.
  • Shooting outside of my comfort zone: I typically shoot people, particularly my two-year old son, but knowing that I wouldn’t be sharing any of the work I shot that week gave me the freedom to try some still life and landscape work. I spent some time alone, shooting freely.

I missed my online friends, but the week away helped me to refocus and reevaluate. I made an effort to spend more time with my family and focus on areas of my life that had been a little neglected. Overall, I think the social media hiatus was instrumental in helping me to break through a creative rut and helping me to feel refreshed with my photography.

taking a social media break
*image by Dana Lauder

Jo’s Experience:

I have an all or nothing, compulsive personality when it comes to online media. My brain works in one of two ways — I can either ignore it, or I’m up to my neck in it. I have a hard time finding balance.

On the first day, I cleaned out my Google reader of all the photography blogs I was following, and removed my social media links from my bookmark toolbar. I had to — the muscle memory was almost too strong, and each time I sat down to do my job-related work, I found myself unconsciously mousing to my Facebook link or the forum link up along the top of my browser. Staying away from social media was not only a psychological habit to break, but also a physical one.

Once I was set free from my computer, transformation for me was almost immediate. On the very first day of the hiatus, my husband commented that I seemed happier, and it was true. I spent more time with my kids, I took up non-photography related projects around my home, I started going back to the gym, and I stopped feeling anxious about my work. Before the hiatus, I spent so much time worrying about how my work would or wouldn’t be received by the online community that it was almost paralyzing. I couldn’t take a single image without fear of it’s reception, and I was losing my sense of purpose in photography. What I quickly discovered was this: when you limit the source of your anxiety, the anxiety goes away.

Early in the week, my youngest child found a bottle of bubbles while exploring the bathroom. “Bath?” he said. It wasn’t Bath Day, but we had free time, so I spontaneously ran the bath for him and poured in more bubble bath than I usually would. Soon, my older son noticed what was going on and stripped off his clothes to join his brother’s fun. I sat and watched as they laughed and blew bubbles at each other, and I felt an incredible sense of calm. A spontaneous bath wasn’t something I would have done before because I would have been too compelled to check my Facebook messages instead of engaging in non-essential tasks. But there I sat, and I wasn’t even shooting — my camera wasn’t anywhere around — but I was remembering why I loved to shoot in the first place. Suddenly, I felt like I was in control of my life again.

That’s not to say that I decided I was ready to forgo social media forever. That would be crazy, right? The online community is my photography home — it’s a source of learning, comfort, and friendship. I missed my daily chats with my friends, and I couldn’t wait for the week to end so that we could catch up, but I also knew that when the hiatus was over, I would have to find a way to maintain a healthier relationship with social media. I learned that it was controlling how I felt about my work, and it was controlling how I prioritized my life, and those were sad realizations to have. My passion in photography is my kids. They are the reason I became serious about shooting in the first place, and I can’t allow myself to be separated from that joy. That was something that had to change for me, and that is something that I continue to struggle with even after the hiatus has ended.

taking a social media break
*image by Jo Lien

Sarah’s Experience:

I remember very clearly Dana saying she was thinking of doing a social media cleanse. The first response in my head was honestly “that woman is way crazy!” The more we talked about the reasons someone might do it and what it might entail, the more I became sort of enticed. The three of us had just made CM Pro and after so much hard work we were all just . . . exhausted. Looking back, there was a lot of noise in my head and I felt manic. I think I (electronically via chat) blurted out, “I’ll do it… Let’s all do it.” I wanted something to change; I wanted to try something dramatic.

I literally woke up at 2 a.m. the next morning with my heart beating fast, thinking, “What have I done!?” It all seemed silly, though . . . who cares about not going on social media or being in online photography groups? Even though those things weren’t necessities, I knew it was going to be hard.

If I had to describe the week in one word, it would be lonely. As it turns out, I really thrive on digital interaction with people. In a typical day, I drive my car for what feels like hours, by myself. I work in a lab, by myself. I eat lunch, by myself. I have three FRANTIC hours of cooking dinner and bathing children and feeding dogs, and listening about my husband’s day (!) and then . . . I work on my laptop, by myself. Of course, I have a full life and I’m by no means actually alone. However, lab work and side businesses just sort of necessitate being alone for large parts of the day. Interestingly, I never feel alone or like I haven’t had a fully social day. I don’t, and that’s because I rely on Facebook, Clickin Moms, Chat, and other social media to connect outside of a pretty solitary career.

So what did I do when I didn’t have that interaction anymore? I’d like to tell you I was a lot more productive, but mostly I just played a whole lot more Zuma on my iPhone when I needed respite from work. I started working on my family yearbook but I never finished. I organized digital files and culled images I didn’t need . . . that was boring. I purchased a couple of eLearning documents but, pfft, I didn’t read more than four words. And the most upsetting thing was that I only picked up my camera on one of the days because I had to, and when I did I didn’t like a single frame. This is really unusual for me because I find something to shoot on a nearly daily basis. Even when the kids were adorable or the light was perfect, I didn’t care. I just didn’t shoot. I tried to talk to my husband about photography but I actually saw his eyes roll back in his head. Towards the end, I snuck on Facebook and CM just to read. I cheated!

I certainly can’t claim that nothing good came of the social media hiatus. I DID like the quiet it brought to my life. Things seemed slower and that was a good, good thing. I didn’t feel as voracious about Getting Online . . . it was nice to not be checking my feed after dinner but before dessert. I learned that I could scale back my social media intake to a nice level that met all my needs. I also learned a lot about myself.

What it all boils down to is that for me, interaction with other photographers is absolutely essential for my photographic motivation. I consume photography like air . . . maybe to a crazy level sometimes, but it’s how I am. Unfortunately, if I can’t see it, talk it, and share it, I don’t end up shooting it. I love the photographic community. It feels good to talk to other people that love what I love (so much). I’m sure that eventually I would have picked my camera up . . . but in short, you guys keep me going. My intellectual chats with my close photography friends, the inspiring images the community shares, the opportunity to help people trying to learn, the feedback I get on what I’ve produced . . . it’s wonderful for me.

If I had to use one word to describe what I take away from the social media cleanse, it would be Identity. It was a great refocusing agent, and it made clear where I fit into what is essentially an immense population of photographers in the world. I’m part of a new generation of digital photographers that connect globally via the internet and it escalates my work. I’d still love to turn off the computer and give film a try, and I will . . . but for now I’m happy to have my close friends and all of you.

taking a social media break
*image by Sarah Lalone

Conclusion:

When we finally ended the hiatus and met back up online, we were surprised at how different our experiences were, and how much we had learned about ourselves while away. We’d like to say that we have the answers for how to balance our time online, but we are still working out those details. Instead, what we emerged from the project with was a stronger sense of the role social media plays in our lives and how we can use it without feeling overwhelmed and diminished artistically.

taking a social media break
*image by Jo Lien

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