Noticing, and Making Social Media Work for – and not against – You

A few weeks ago, I listened to Krista Tippett’s interview with artist and author Maira Kalman. It is a great interview, and I really enjoyed listening to it. But when it was over, I felt unsettled. Something was bothering me. I realized that I was intensely envious of Ms. Kalman’s life.

This was strange. I’m not normally someone to covet what other people have in life. I’m much more of a “focus on your own work” sort of person. So I decided to spend a little time thinking about what had triggered this reaction, and why.

The part of the interview that made me envious is the part that Tippett chose for the title of the podcast – daily things to fall in love with. Kalman describes her daily routine, and I was struck by how present she is in that routine. The particulars of the routine are not important, although there’s a morning walk in Central Park that sounds delightful. What is important is how much space and time she has in her life to notice the little, beautiful things in life. Things as simple as two chairs would catch her attention. She’d notice them, and then eventually they would make their way into her work. In a very real way, making space to notice things is part of her job, and she’s very good at her job.

I realized that what I envied was that space. And once I figured that out, I had something I could work with to get back to my “eyes on your own paper” ethos. I cannot remake my career into one of an artist/author (I mean… I can’t even draw!) but I can open up some more space to notice the little, beautiful things in life.

However, pledging to make more space to notice the little, beautiful things in life is like saying you should stop to smell the roses. It is a nice sentiment that you probably won’t act on.

Luckily, I had recently opened an Instagram account and was looking for something to do with it. I opened the account because my 11-year-old has asked if she can have one, and I think I should spend some time on Instagram before I decide whether she can have one now, and if she can, what the rules should be. But I wasn’t sure what to share on Instagram, and how I should use my account.

I’m still figuring that out, but I have found one use: To help me stick to my goal of making space to notice the little, beautiful things in life. I try to notice some everyday thing to fall in love with each day. When I can, I take a picture with my phone. And then on Sunday, I share my favorite picture of the week on Instagram. Here was the first:

I’m having fun with this little project, and it is having its intended effect: I am making more space to notice things.

It is also a good example of how I approach social media. I am only active on the platforms that I think work for my goals, not against them. In practice, this means Twitter, and now Instagram. I try to curate my Twitter feed so that it brings me information I am glad to have. I have learned a lot on Twitter over the years, often about things it would not have occurred to me to go learn about. There’s also a lot of garbage on Twitter, and keeping my feed balanced takes some effort. So far, it is a net positive in my life, and so I stay. I don’t post as much as I read, but I try to make my posts be like the posts I like to read: sharing information about things I know that other people might be glad to learn. I “stay in my lane,” as the jargon goes – I don’t get in arguments, I don’t talk about things I don’t know about, and I try to steer clear of outrage pile-ons, even if I might inwardly think they are richly deserved. Twitter works for me as a place to learn and to stay up on the news, and so that is how I use it.

I think Instagram may be the place where I go to find and appreciate the little, beautiful things in life. So far, it is working for me and my goals, and so I think I’ll keep it.

I still haven’t decided what to tell my 11-year-old, though. Probably, I will let her have an account, but it will need to stay locked. I wish I could also teach her to only use social media to work for her, not against her, but I think that may be something everyone has to learn on their own.

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