Procrastination, instagram stories & the anxiety of not doing

Do you ever put something off so long it makes you feel anxious? But because you’ve put it off so long already the pressure of actually tackling it builds up in your head, which only makes you less likely to begin? Do you ever write lists to avoid doing the thing you know you should be doing, and waste cumulative hours of your free time refreshing social media platforms you really couldn’t care less about, just because it shaves enough usable time off of your lunch-break to justify not really engaging with more than a cursory thought? I do. And the fact that without ironic fore-planning this blog post has taken me over a month to post is evidence of that. I don’t believe that procrastination is a new thing, nor do I think that social media platforms are solely used for trivial matters, clickbait, self-assurance and stalking - but I do have to confront my own uses of time and imagine that I am not alone in my habitual scrolling. For over a month this blog post has smouldered somewhere in the back burner of my brain and for over a month I have had the nagging notion that I needed to address my procrastination, that I needed to switch on the critically productive part of my brain. I like to think. I like to criticise. I like to engage. Anybody that knows me (or I would imagine, anybody that has casually read this blog) can agree, or at least imagine, that over-thinking things is what I like to do best. And once I get started (now for instance, on a train between Haymarket and Glasgow) I type and type and type, and think and think and think. But something happens in the in-between moments - the period between dinner and sleep, the bit between waking up and putting away the washing - something happens that makes me purposefully turn away from real engagement with ideas. Because browsing Instagram or checking Twitter or logging into Facebook messenger engages some part of my brain but not all of it and not in a way that particularly challenges me - and that’s easier.

I can’t count the amount of times I have opened Instagram without really realising what I was doing, only to instantly realise that it was the very same application I had just closed in order to do so. I open Facebook and refresh without even consciously telling my thumb to do it. My phone is always within my reach. The muscle memory in my hands and some subconscious desire to be engaged with a community - even a digital one - does this without me deciding to take the time to do so. And then back to Instagram, or maybe whilst doing so somebody sends me a Snapchat and I end up watching snap ‘stories’ - which are really the biggest time wasters of all, and disappear after 24 hours of being ‘active’. Why is that? Why are app developers integrating ways of using temporary imagery to express ourselves? It bothers me. Because you try and recall something you saw a day or two ago, or even a week or a month, something that managed to pierce through the shallow (but moreish) images of brunch and of holidaying and #OOTD and #TBT - only to find that it’s gone. The small impression made in this superficial collage of online community information has vanished, and thus is perpetually changing. But what bothers me more is that I wonder about this stuff and yet I conform entirely. I post an Instagram story every now and then to remind my ‘followers’ that I’m here and that I’m ‘active’ but I don’t really know why. Is this all part of a larger social anxiety that we are not achieving enough with our relative wealth, opportunity and intellect? Are we as a Western world of young, talented people just every day trying to justify that capitalism is worth it despite for the most part working low-skill jobs and actually engaging with fewer ‘real world’ experiences? I don’t know. I guess I’m just thinking out loud. 

(YES - that was a funny joke, a reference to the fact that actually this isn’t out loud at all but on a screen, just like everything else these days. At least this will linger for more than 24 hours. Ha ha.) 

My real worry here is a selfish one. All of these half-hours spent keeping ‘up to date’ only push me further and further away from taking the time to make creative progress. Critical progress. Career progress. Physical progress. LIFE PROGRESS. I write a tweet about doing research and maybe take a picture of a magazine. I (triumphantly) share the fact that I have pushed myself to make progress and in doing so it almost takes the edge off the desire to create. Some of that urgency that makes me want to make art in the first place is appeased. If I’m being really honest sometimes sharing your plans for work feels so good and so satisfying and so smug that you never make the damn stuff at all. What fucked up kind of online world is that? The world of over-produced creative fantasies? Half-formed dreams of bigger ideas that end up unsatisfying but with 50+ likes on Instagram? It’s not enough! I did some experimentation earlier this week and was really pleased with the outcome of my prints. It is taking a lot of restraint to not share a picture of this online. YES I hear you, someone shouting at their screen, it’s all about balance! And using social media as a tool to help you. It’s just a shame that our increasingly short attention spans hunger for immediate, disposable content and constant validation of our own purpose. With some 90 million active users of Instagram I don’t think I’m the only one dealing with this conflict. Best case scenario in this strange wanna-be-artist online sphere is that you share the shit out of a project so everyone knows exactly what you’re doing and then when you want to show people in person they don’t give it the attention you crave because they have read a hash-tagged summary of the theme on your twitter account. Worst case scenario you tweet about something you consider making, feel satisfied that people have ‘liked’ your interest, waste the next 6 months of your life observing what other people are doing on the same sites and then never end up making anything whatsoever.

And so there seem to exist two worlds: the online and the physical. And for me at least it seems a pre-occupation with one, the more convenient perhaps, is affecting the other. You may be shaking your head at whatever device you are reading from but these kinds of questions are going to play out all around us, all of us, even if you grew up in a world devoid of social media and cyber bullying and googling things you didn’t understand. Yes the internet allows a sharing of information that has never been available before. A way of expressing ideas and opinions not tethered to bits of paper and being in one exact place at one exact time. Would you be digesting this text If it weren’t for the internet? It’s a fantastic thing. But I wonder if it is starting to become the product itself and the reality itself as opposed to the tool. Recently I brought a couple of zines into the cafe in which I work. We have a small collection of print material for people to browse whilst having a cake/coffee/tea/whatever. In showing the new titles to my colleague, I was interested to notice that before reading a page she was sharing this new addition to our magazine collection on her Instagram story. I couldn’t help thinking that this was odd - what if Grub was actually a fanzine dedicated to some kind of Donald Trump x Tilda Swinton bedroom action? I mean it quite obviously isn’t (can you imagine that document), and I had already talked it up quite a lot, but it sparked something of a realisation in me. Before starting sequencing or before starting to eat you have to document first! Social media first! Instagram first! There is excitement online and there is an excitement to share. But what of the actual event? The reading? The item? The sequence? I’m not even being critical of social media and this relatively young online second-world but I am observing - interested, and slightly anxious. I’m all for using the internet to celebrate things, to document things, to promote things… but when did this celebration start to over-take the actual experience? The THING should come before the SHARING of the thing. And personally, in my own ‘practice’, it seems to be slipping the other way.

Thoughts? Does anybody else notice that generally speaking we seem to be concerned primarily with the documentation of ‘events’ (in the loosest term: things, work, art, fun) than the actual doing?

And why is that?

Things to look at/listen to that are relevant to these ideas:

Culture Laser: I Wish I Was Lonely

3 years too late discovering this podcast which is a shame because it is a fantastic resource. This episode is from 2014 and features an interview with Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe, the creators of ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’ - a participatory performance encouraging audiences to reflect on usage and dependency upon mobile phones.

Dear young photographer: ‘Shoot lots of pictures. Be a doer, not a chatter’

Advice from Magnum’s David Hurn for young practitioners. An interesting article, I adore his term ‘an exaggerated sense of curiosity’, and I believe this to be well-meaning. But I found this a little frustrating to read. With over 60 years shooting experience comes an earned air of authority - but this is an authority over a way of shooting and digesting pictures that is changed, and changing, every day. The ways in which we interact with photography is so foreign to the 50s, the 60s - I don’t think telling today’s youngsters to take lots of pictures (when they probably shoot 30+ on their phones every day) is particularly useful. There have never been more images in circulation, ever. If I tried to go a day without seeing an image of something I’d have to stay inside with everything switched off and do very little. I agree that we need to be encouraged to do - but I would say thinking (and chatting) is more important now than ever.

He also suggests going on a 6 month trip around the world in order to figure out what you want to do. Well. Wouldn’t that be lovely. 

Are you Living an Insta lie? Social Media vs. Reality

I will be honest - slightly dubious about this video’s sponsorship from (whose own social media channels are more or less a catalogue of #bedroomgoals #bestfriends #fistpo fashion-baiting) and I know full well that this subject matter is nothing new - but the cause and event style chain we see unfold is something that is obviously very difficult to experience when seeing the world through our own very particular viewpoint. This is what made this video interesting to me - that what we post coaxes our online peer groups into their own form of digital action, making every solo post shared online really a wider interaction between similar cohorts. 

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