I have a confession to make. I manage four Facebook pages, three Instagram accounts, three Pinterest accounts, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel and you know what? I still love being online. So, when I read yet another (ironically online) think-piece about how creatives need to wind their anxiety back by getting offline I am often the dissenting voice in the room.
As creatives it is impossible to not have an online life. But it can be a force for good, rather than something that forces you into a fetal position. Not that I recommend becoming part cyborg like me. Instead, I’d like to advocate for a One Eye Open policy. Essentially, this means to take in what you need and avoid what you don’t. Sometimes you may have to squint at the screen, but with a few strategies and outlook adjustments you can absorb all the online world has to offer but in a mindful and positive way. This way, there’s no need to go off the grid just to escape yet another Instagram post detailing someone’s breakfast/book launch/homewares line.
If I had heeded all the well-intentioned advice and walked out on my online life, what would I have missed out on? The week I wrote this post, I learnt the Home-Work design team had a book launch coming up, Kit Palaskas (whose web page is shown above) was offering piñata workshops and Beci Orpin was delivering four events during Melbourne Design Week. I watched the latest Chanel show, learnt about a new exhibition space, saw a controversial film that had its funding pulled but went ahead and screened anyway and attended a free lecture series at the NGV. I saw there was an ARI gallery putting a call out for applications and that a high-profile magazine had some new opportunities for content providers.
I choose to take only what I need from this content (information, inspiration, opportunity) and close myself off to things that don’t help (envy, overwhelm and self-doubt).
I also assert mindful consumption of social media. Here are some strategies that have helped me reclaim some much-needed work hours that would otherwise be lost to viral cat clips and Busy Phillips’ Insta stories.
Think of Pinterest as a library rather than a gallery. Decide what you are ‘looking up’ before you get in there, make yourself a dedicated board, search and get out. Those who scroll endlessly are doomed to suffer image fatigue with the added bonus of insomnia.
Notifications — while deemed a danger by many — ultimately save me a lot of time. Just because you get a ‘ping’ doesn’t mean you need to react to it. I can see if my business boosts are working, if workshop tickets are selling or if a student or client has a query. I don’t have to respond straight away, but my phone acts like my little silent secretary, keeping me informed. I only look at my personal page once a day because, really, how many Guardian articles on Meghan Markle can I justify reading in any twenty-four-hour period?
You love it. I love it. We all love it. But the recent shifts in algorithms and added functionality mean that looking and posting require far more babysitting than it used to. That little square is the most curated gallery on the planet, and is the most effective means of reaching your audience — or even just learning who they are in the first place. Dedicate two sessions a day and trust me, in fifteen minutes you can see your feed, comment and even post without coming to any undue harm or image exhaustion.
Content providers of all walks are on here, but wordsmiths (for obvious reasons) use it in the same way visual creatives use Instagram. Find your tribe and define your voice. If it’s not for you, don’t add it to your already crowded alphabet soup of social media commitments.
Stay off it unless you need to learn something or you’re there just for LOLs. (This is where the cat/hedgehog/film trailer lives.) It’s like brain sugar: addictive and no good! YouTube is an amazing learning tool but it’s also riddled with distractions and fake news. Buyers beware!
It can be easy to think that creatives with high profiles and beautiful online content have all their ducks in a row while the rest of us are floundering around trying to wrangle Snapchat filters. You’ve heard the term ‘curated’ content and you may believe successful content is hard work. But in all honesty, fellow creatives don’t put things online with the express purpose of making you feel badly about yourself or igniting your imposter syndrome. Sometimes it’s there to entertain, advertise, inform or inspire, so put your defences down a little and let it do all that for you. Take the time to share, comment and applaud people’s online efforts, even if they are creative superheroes. They aren’t stealing your oxygen. Those lucky enough to have made it to the top of the pyramid are more often than not the most generous with their knowledge and content.
Creatives with successful online profiles have worked out their voices and who they are pitching to, but that doesn’t make what they present any less authentic. Jess and Lara from Home-Work really do like each other and celebrate each other’s creativity. Kitiya Palaskas is as colourful and expressive as her work implies. And Beci Orpin, while now at superstar status, only got there by being her generous (albeit genius) self.
Online life can be a force for good, change, inspiration, networking and all-round motivation. But it’s important to recognise that the One Eye Open policy also means one eye closed. Rest and reflection will always be an important part of the creative process; your mental and even your physical health will suffer if you run at it 100 percent of the time. If online content is coming at you as a wave of blue-light midnight anxiety rather than morning coffee happiness, your mind and body are telling you to back away from the devices. Every now and then we all need to turn down the volume no matter how great the music.
Ramona Barry is a writer, curator and maker based in Melbourne. She is currently coordinating the Art, Craft and Cookery Competition and the Makers’ Pavilion for the Royal Melbourne Show; curating a series of workshops, design field trips and public conversations for RMIT University; and running a creativity course in partnership with the Bundoora Homestead Art Centre. Ramona is also co-author of The Craft Companion (Thames & Hudson).