Something different from me this Bandcamp Friday – a present for you from the first series of my creativity podcast Attention Engineer. Sixteen quotes from brilliant artists to provoke, inspire and encourage.
Series 2 starts next Wednesday 7th October with a very special guest from Portland!
Friends, I’ve been finding everything really hard lately.
I have a lot to feel fortunate for – not least the ongoing generosity and support of my Correspondents, THANK YOU! – but there’s really no getting away from the fact that this global pandemic continues to have a dramatic, far reaching, unpredictable effect on all of us, however grateful we are for our health, a roof over our heads and the ability to keep buying the groceries we need to survive (thank you again, Correspondents!).
Despite knowing better, over recent months I allowed my work hours to expand to late nights and most weekends, and even though I had a feeling something was going to snap at some point, I kept pushing myself until OOPS, snap it did. Yep, the warning signs were there – noticeably slower brain function, tears flowing every day at little provocation, being quicker to anger…
Since that awful night I’ve been thoroughly reassessing the way I, as the boss of my own company, treat my workforce – me. Pretty poorly, it seems. I know the kind of work I do is like a gas – it’ll expand to fit whatever container it’s in, so the main change I’m making is to set strict boundaries. I start work at 10am and am not allowed to work past 6pm. I don’t work on the weekends. I’m experimenting with taking half days on Wednesday and Friday (that’s a scary one, because it feels like I’m skiving off, but what’s the point of working for yourself and not creating your own schedule, right?). I’ve made myself work long hours on enough gloriously sunny days in my life, it’s time to live a little!
The irony that I started reading Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism” a week before my crash is not lost on me, and I picked out some really useful concepts that I’m working to implement going forward.
1/ Editing – rather than adding more and more detail to to try and explain something, you take things away to get to the true message.
2/ Uncommitting – in the book he uses the example of someone who creates a time consuming detailed weekly report for his team that no-one needs or reads, and suggests experimenting by stopping doing that thing for a while to see if anyone notices.
3/ What’s Important Now? (WIN) – a very helpful question I’ve started asking myself whenever I start feeling overwhelmed.
Relating these three ideas to my current situation, it was clear that some tweaks needed to be made. I was planning a short break from making my podcast anyway, so the timing was great for taking a step back. I’ve been reassessing how I can use the limited time, energy and mental bandwidth I have as one human person to do the things that only I can do to the best of my ability, and what non-essential things I can reduce my time on. Kicking my bad social media / phone scrolly-scrolly habits over the past year massively helped with this already, but I was still very obviously doing too much and expecting too much of myself.
Alongside music making and podcast making, my other major commitment is, of course, The Correspondent’s Club. Its predecessor, Supersub Club, was set up as a yearly subscription with quarterly deliveries, because I knew I didn’t have the capacity for, and didn’t want the stress of, delivering things monthly. While there are many ways of approaching music making and releasing these days, I still believe in the artistic power of an album to contain a collection of songs that say something together as well as individually. My focus will always be making the very best next album I can rather than creating new stuff and rushing it out just because there’s a schedule.
So, four months into running The Correspondent’s Club feels like a good time to make some minor tweaks, now I’ve had time to see what works and figure out which perks people are responding most warmly to.
It turns out the two most time-consuming perks, the monthly voicemail and monthly online gig, are the things I can dial back on most easily, that will actually improve if they happen a little less often and that I feel will consequently be enjoyed by more people. These will now move to happening quarterly, in line with the music and art bundles. Everything else will stay the same.
As always, monthly members can up-or down-grade their subscriptions at any time, and I will never be offended if you decide to change yours. It blows my mind that people are so invested in my music making that they want to subscribe in this way, I value each and every one of you who do so, and urge you always to ensure that 1) whatever you choose to pay is a comfortable sum that doesn’t adversely affect anything else in your life and 2) that you always make sure you feel you’re getting value for your money.
There will always be a physical limit to what I, as one person doing this, is able to give in return for your patronage, but I promise what I do deliver will always be of the highest quality, made with love and care, focus and attention.
I’ll leave you for now with the latest quote I’m going to be taping up on my studio wall. I picked it up from “Essentialism”, but it’s actually from Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Despite dialling back on everything for the past couple of weeks, somehow I still seem to be on track to complete the album recording this month. That’s the main thing…but is it really? Workwise, yes of course. But even when you love your job, as I love mine, there’s more to consider.
A wise friend texted me last week that in a crisis like Covid-19 “our only task is to stay healthy, sane and alive…until we have a surplus of energy and resources all we need to do is live”.
And that’s really the main thing.
Here’s to surviving. Please let me know how you’re doing here in the comments.
Release date: 8th September 2020 Label: My Big Sister Recordings Distributor: Southern Record Distributors
GET THE SONG
+ Get “The Only Way Out Is Through”, first single “Everything Looks Normal In The Sunshine” PLUS unreleased track “Cancel Your Hopes” FREE when you join The Correspondent’s Club. + Download PWYW from Bandcamp. + Search for “Penfriend” on your music platform of choice.
ABOUT THE SONG
I can’t do much of anything when I’m feeling down, let alone write a song about it, but one day in 2019 when I was trudging my way back, I made an attempt to leave a breadcrumb trail for my future self.
“The Only Way Out Is Through” is my attempt to trap the “shapeless forces” that “pull at me”, making them solid by assigning words to them, reducing their power and size to something I might feasibly be able to overcome. The aspirational sentiment that “resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful” is one I find very hard to enact in the moment, but something I can at least continue to strive for.
Ironically, this song is being released during my lowest fortnight of the last 12 months, so the safety line of lyrics I knotted inside the music is a helpful reminder of brighter days.
The choice to release music in a universally dark time isn’t one I take lightly. “The Only Way Out Is Through” is the most resonant and useful piece of music I have to offer right now, a rescue raft for whoever needs one.
That’s what this song is for me.
Gotta get out of this Making a meal of distress Fatalistic to the bone Thunderclouds in every home Gotta get out of this
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
Gotta get out of this Drowning in yesterday’s tears Intimate conspiracies Shapeless forces pull at me Gotta get out of this
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart I never meant to wish on a falling star But I won’t let it go
Denial take me away Pretend like I’m not the queen of stretching the days In all the wrong ways – til they break Denial take me away I crave your sweet mistakes but Resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
[music] Written, produced and performed by Laura Kidd at The Launchpad, Bristol. Drums by Max Saidi. Mixed by Dan Austin. Mastered by Chris McCormack at Blacklisted Mastering.
*If you’re a paying Correspondent, DO NOT FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO PAY! If money is tight, DO NOT FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO PAY! All contributions help get my new album made, so are much appreciated, but PWYW is my genuine gift to you 🙂 XOXO
1. Hello and welcome 2. Everything Looks Normal In The Sunshine 3. Witchy hair 4. Dispensable Body 5. On my own space station 6. Long Shadows 7. Attention Engineer and memories of Germany 8. Seventeen 9. Cancel Your Hopes 10. Thank you and massive courgette 11. The Only Way Out Is Through
NOTE: this is a six song download + chat, most of the tracks are set as bonus tracks to maintain a fun air of secrecy, but they will appear as if by magic once you place your order.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend my time in the ways I do. A life’s primary occupation builds up through an infinitesimal series of decisions – what we wanted to be when we grew up, which subjects we chose at school, what the careers advisers told us we could aim for (secretary, in my case), influence from books we read, friends we had, good and bad relationships with good and bad people, exam results, the necessity of earning money to live on, and on and on.
I don’t need or even want to get immediate results from the things I make, but I like to stand back occasionally to get a better view than I’m able to have in my busy day to day life. I’ve never liked the idea of doing things just because I’ve always done them.
Maintaining a career in the arts once you’ve carved one out for yourself is a separate challenge to creating it in the first place, and a lot of work has to go into that, but I do like to remind myself to check in every now and then and take a longer view. What am I trying to achieve with this thing? Am I spending my time wisely? Am I able to keep a roof over my head this month? Ah, but is this part of my daily or weekly work schedule seemingly frivolous but personally enriching? And how about proper time off?
I find it helps me to have solid reasons for why I’m deciding to spend time on something, and if it’s something to be shared, it’s important to have an idea of the effect I’d like it to have on others. I didn’t start thinking about that second part until I started listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast last year on tour.
After a recommendation by the show’s host Andy J Pizza, I read Seth Godin’s book “This Is Marketing”, in which I learned first and foremost that marketing is NOT advertising, it’s about making a positive change in the world through the things you do, the skills you offer and the things you make and share. I started learning about the idea of “serving your audience / community” by thinking about what your core values are and, in Andy J Pizza’s words, “owning your weird”, and “baking” all of this into what you do, in order to attract likeminded people to your world, people who will get the most from the thing you make because it resonates with them and mirrors their personalities and experiences. It’s a world away from trying to work out what people want to buy and making that – BLARGH. No no no no no.
It was nice to learn that I’d been instinctively doing quite a lot of this stuff throughout my solo music career, but with my new knowledge, I could see how haphazardly I’d been spending my time. I think I know why – my goal to become a full time artist wasn’t clearly defined. I thought a lot about how nice it would be “one day” not to have to work for others, but I also couldn’t imagine that little old me would one day “win the prize” of getting to decide exactly how I spent my days. There are some deep-seated self-confidence issues going on there that would be more suited to a therapy session, but you get the idea.
Spending time thinking more deeply about the ideas I’ve been learning about has enabled me to take a huge leap forward in my life as an artist running a creative business. The reason I’m writing about it here is that I know it doesn’t only apply to careers where people make things and tout them on the internet.
I don’t think a lot of us give ourselves the time and space we need and deserve for self reflection, to ask ourselves simple yet difficult questions like “what are my core values?” and “are they reflected in the things I spend my time doing, both in and outside of work?”. These can be very challenging ideas, and for many reasons we can find ourselves in situations that really don’t fit, but are necessary to sustain our finances.
It’s important for me to keep my goals and my reasons for pursuing a project in mind so that when I feel tired, or low, or like everything I do is frivolous and pointless, I can easily remind myself of them. I need these reasons, that aren’t linked to short term ideas of success like money, or followers, so that on the occasions I do step back and wonder why I’m putting so much time and energy into something, I can remind myself, and keep going.
I started reading “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl this week, subtitled “the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust”. In the preface, Frankl writes “I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”.
I’m very happy with the concept of defining my own measures of success, unrelated to finances or acclaim. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about at length during various panel discussions, seminars and talks to students as a visiting guest over the years, and something I regularly ask the guests on my podcast.
So, what struck me most about Frankl’s quote – aside from the obvious incredible generosity of spirit, coming as it does from someone who lived through such horrors – is the first line – “listen to what your conscience commands you to do…” – that mysterious, tantalising “call of adventure”, as Joseph Campbell would describe it in his “Hero’s Journey” framework, the elusive thing that gives us the enthusiasm, energy and drive to do something, make something, learn about something. We can’t put our finger on why we’re interested in that thing, but we are, and there’s so much adventure in indulging that, putting in the minutes and the hours, starting to break a big dream down into manageable chunks, working gradually towards a goal and being open to whatever exciting avenues open up to us along the way.
In “Art Matters”, Neil Gaiman writes about your goal as being a huge mountain in the distance. It’s not necessarily clear how to get to the mountain, but you can tell if you’re getting closer or further away with every decision you make. Since reading that book, I’ve practised asking myself questions, whenever something comes along to pique my interest, or I’m invited to do something I hadn’t planned on – will doing this take me closer to the mountain, or send me further away? Is this thing a diversion, or a way of getting closer to where I need and want to be?
Are all diversions bad or worthless? Of course not. But we have to set our own priorities. It’s up to us to define our own mountains, and there can be many that sit under different categories of our lives – a health and fitness mountain, a creative mountain, a “one day I’ll do X” mountain.
Just under two years ago I eloped to Canada with my beau to get married by a waterfall in a mountain range just outside Vancouver. It was glorious. The day after the wedding we embarked on an epic driving trip that took us all the way to Banff and back via stops at Kamloops, Vernon, Revelstoke, Lake Louise and Canmore.
As we left Vancouver on day 1, I remember my jaw dropping as I gazed at the most beautiful mountains I’d ever seen. I couldn’t imagine anything more lovely, and yet as we drove, they got prettier and prettier.
I used to think that I didn’t need to reach the mountain, because it was too far away and the journey towards it was so beautiful anyway – and it is – but I now know there are always other beautiful mountains to aim towards, and only by taking those steps will I ever learn how to keep trying to reach them.
So – what’s your mountain, and what’s your first step towards it?
The thing that’s got me through the ups and downs, the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion, the anger, the frustration and the sheer bizarreness of 2020 is the daily routine I established for myself in early January.
I spent the last chunk of 2019 hopping from tour to tour to tour, winding down a long running music project, wondering what to do next, and how. I played 35 gigs around the UK, France and Germany between September and Christmas. There were ups and downs; some great shows, some awful ones and, as always, a hell of a lot of travelling time to ponder life, the world and my place in it.
I realised that, above anything, I was craving structure, routine, something I could be in control of. Time to develop ideas, time to reflect, time to get fitter, healthier and happier. I’ve always been a bit of a productivity nerd, reading all the major works on the topic throughout my years of freelancing, trying to learn how to run a small business and, in more recent years, how to be a better, nicer boss to my one employee (me!), with varying results.
For me “productivity” isn’t about being the most efficient machine possible, squeezing every last drop of usefulness out of yourself in an effort to “kill it” or “smash it”. If, like me, you’re someone with a lot of ideas and a burning desire to make or do things, getting organised is essential – however you do it.
Over the years I’ve tried different ways of trying to be able to make steady progress with long term goals while having manageable and enjoyable daily and weekly plans that incorporate exercise, reflection and introspection, deep work on the things I care about and healthy food that gives me the energy I need to have the most pleasant day possible. This is the ideal and, while I’ve occasionally managed it, I’ve often felt like the classic duck on the pond analogy – giving off the impression everything is calm and under control, all the while paddling wildly just beneath the surface.
I love the fresh start of a New Year, so in early January I set up some new daily routines for myself, started The Artist’s Way for the third time (and actually completed it, woop!), got serious about being consistent with exercise and meditation, and almost immediately started feeling fresher, clearer headed and more galvanised than ever to make my best work possible. On bad days, I trundled through the hours, tried my best and then moved on. On days when it all seemed utterly pointless, I tried to do a little exercise anyway, knowing that every deposit of good faith I put into myself would do *something* positive, whether I felt it immediately or not.
So, what’s my secret? Planning, showing up, trying my best, tracking my progress and then showing up again tomorrow. That’s it.
There’s something about drawing a tick on a piece of paper that just makes me happy. I get a jolt of satisfaction that makes me want to keep going so I can do it again. Where the dopamine hits we get from seeing notification alerts on our phones can actually make us feel worse, there’s something wholesome about crossing off a task in my bullet journal. Knowing that I’m one step closer to reaching a goal is part of it, but I think the knowledge that I’m living an intentional life full of useful things is also a big driver.
I’ve been keeping a bullet journal for a few years, and would highly recommend it (I use it alongside Trello for longer term goals and moving tasks around easily, Evernote for storing information, Bear for writing without distractions and Google Calendar for scheduling things), but how I do things isn’t perfect, or fixed, and I’m always interested in tweaking and improving.
The key difference between my old system and this new one is the accountability aspect. If I didn’t manage to meditate three times a week in June, I just shrugged and thought, “I have to try harder to do that next week”. This month, every time I don’t manage to achieve one of my small goals, I have to write down why that happened.
One of my July goals is to get to bed by 10pm (so I can read for longer!) and another is to get up at 7.30am to exercise. The latter I can usually manage, the former I find really hard. So far this month I only have three + signs in my “go to bed by 10pm” row, and by the middle of the month when I make the next tracker page to take me to the end of July, I might choose to revise that goal, if it’s clearly not working, or have a think about how to achieve it, if it’s something I still really care about trying to achieve. I like this. Instead of feeling like I’m failing at a simple thing I think will improve my life, I can look at whether it’s actually achievable given everything else I’m doing, and adjust it for the next batch of 15 days if necessary.
It’s easy to feel like we have no control over our futures, but we all have at least some control about how we spend some of our minutes, hours and days. I work in the nebulous art of translating feelings and ideas into audio that moves other people, which is why it’s so appealing to me to be able to do concrete things every day that have an effect on how I feel, and therefore how well I’m able to move through my day, working on the things I have decided are important.
Getting back into running has been one of the best things I’ve managed this year, because it shows me that’s true every single week. Every time I run up my local steep hill I’m able to take a few more steps before stopping to walk for a minute, and every week I consistently run twice a week (21 in a row so far, yay!), I can write that down and feel proud of myself just for showing up, again and again.
You may not be able to run, or want to, but I’m sure you could find a little something to do for yourself every week, or every Monday and Friday, or every day, that you can feel good about ticking off each time, and that will show you what you’re capable of as time goes on.
It’s not about being the best at something, it’s about showing up, trying your best and then doing it again. I feel the same way about making albums. I could make the best album in the entire universe, and I still wouldn’t have any control over how it’s received in the world. Once my work is “out there”, all I can do is go back up to my studio and make some more.
I choose to keep turning up because, as photographer Chuck Close so wisely said, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Over to you:
What could you do towards your big goal next month? What could you do towards your big goal next week? What could you do towards your big goal today?
Thanks to everyone who joined me live last night, I really enjoyed it.
I’ve been playing online gigs since 2013 and they’re always a little nerve-racking, especially when playing new material – but when everything comes together like it did last night it’s too exciting not to share. I’m going to continue amping up my monthly Penfriend TV shows so I’m already looking forward to July’s and planning some new segments. Hope to see you there.
If you’re a paid Correspondent, DO NOT FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO PAY! If money is tight, DO NOT FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO PAY! All contributions help keep the project afloat, so are much appreciated, but PWYW is not a trick 🙂 XOXO
Suddenly, I find myself with only a little bit of an album to complete.
You might know I started writing this new collection of songs in February 2019, and the next six months proved to be such a transformative period that I ended my longtime music project to start this new one – and I’m so thankful you’ve decided to join me on Mission: Penfriend.
I recorded and mixed six songs by the end of the summer then set off on various tours, spending long solitary driving hours pondering my musical future, making plans and gradually figuring out the best way to make my transition. Recording stopped, pretty much, til December, but snippets of songs were still being recorded into phone memos.
This February I wrote four songs in one day, egged on by my friend, guitarist Charley Stone. We were playing the 20 Song Game, which I love, and I went from being sure which 6-ish more songs I was going to finish and record to being a bit overwhelmed by choice. In music, this is very much a “high class problem”, but it was a problem nevertheless.
Last week I sat at my desk and listened to all the things I’d chucked into my Works In Progress (WIP) folder and made a shortlist. It’s not very short, but it’s a list and I’m going with it!
I find that with any self-motivated project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the little decisions that need to be made. You can’t write “make an album” or “write a book” on your to do list and expect to get anything done. Your brain sees the words and runs away to hide in tasks that are easy to conceive of and easy to complete. I joke – though it’s not really a joke – that the only time I start thinking about cleaning the house is when I have a day free to make music. My brain just can’t handle such a tenuous concept. I have to sneak up on it, breaking down the massive inconceivable task into tiny pieces. Sit at desk, make list of potential songs, plug in guitar…
Deadlines help, but it’s hard to obey self-imposed deadlines, especially when there are so many other things I “need” to do, not to mention scary world events to deal with in some way. I recently hired myself for the pretty hefty part time job of podcaster, which is going really well, and could easily engulf my entire week if I let it.
I’m also acutely aware that I’m a terrible workaholic, more than happy to dive into my endless schemes and dreams at the expense of having any time off. I love what I do so much and have always been really bad at stopping, ever. I’m trying to get better at that.
There will always be more stuff I’d like to make and do and, because of how my mind works, that will never come to an end, so I could feasibly work 12 hour days forever and never be “finished”. I write this here to remind myself, more than anything else, and perhaps to nudge you to be good to yourself, too.
I spent part of Sunday reading through the daily diary I wrote in the year I turned 18. It was a disappointing read, to be honest, the amount of times I wanted to shake my younger self and say “please just break up with him once and for all and do NOT go back!” was kind of painful, and I closed the book feeling really sad for this confused young person who was already displaying the workaholic tendencies I mentioned earlier. Why I was working 3-4 very late nights a week at a pizza restaurant around supposedly revising for my A levels I don’t know, and I wish someone could have stepped in and explained a few things to me about sleep, priorities and focus.
This week I’ve been trying to meditate those futile feelings of frustration, anger and sadness out of my body, alongside trying to set myself up for a successful week. I’ve mentioned Cal Newport tons of times before, but I listened to episode 1 of his new podcast “Deep Questions” on the weekend and it was so timely for me. My phone is now switched off and sitting behind a closed cupboard door, I turn it on once a day to check for voicemails and WhatsApp my sister and a few friends and that’s quite enough. I’m not checking email til the afternoon, and only once if I’m not waiting for something from someone.
Evenings are for dinner with my husband, snuggles with the dogs, reading and board games. I have two days a week booked for podcast work and three for music making. I have an album to finish!
What are your weekly priorities these days? Have they changed since COVID-19? Do you have any productivity / focus tips or links to share?
I have one more before I sign off for the week – check out my favourite YouTube channel by Matt D’Avella. I highly recommend his videos on minimalism, essentialism and getting things done while living a balanced life. He’s great. I’m a bit addicted…
Take care, and I hope to get to play for you at my upcoming online gig:
Next Thursday 25th June at 8pm BST I’ll be playing my monthly Correspondents-only online gig. Digipals and up will receive a link by email on Wednesday which you can use to watch live on the night or watch again later if you can’t make it. Leave me any questions in the comments and I will answer them!
“Attention Engineer” episode 4 is available now, featuring my conversation with songwriter Frank Turner! Recorded on the precipice of the UK lockdown backstage at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Frank talks very candidly about the highs and lows of touring, the importance of giving a leg up to other artists and the unsustainability of being an arsehole in the music industry, alongside his love of Chas ‘n’ Dave and a surprising story about an ex-Prime Minister that leaves me speechless.
Thanks to everyone who’s rated and reviewed the show so far, it’s massively helpful especially over on Apple Podcasts, because that’s how new listeners find out about things.
YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER (AND NEITHER AM I)
On 1st June I made a birthday promise to myself to meditate three times a week, after managing to completely let it slide for several months. Of all the things I put into my new morning routine at the start of the year, I know that meditation is by far the most nourishing, and so I have done 6 x 10 minute sessions in the past couple of weeks.
Meditation grounds me, energises me and focuses me. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to notice what’s jumping about uppermost in my busy thoughts, to process immediate stress, to feel like I’m doing something caring for myself. But the problem with being more self aware is…being more self aware!
Day to day, I’ve been feeling pretty much totally fine for the last little while. I’m very good at setting myself seemingly impossible tasks and focusing on them to the exclusion of all other things, which is a brilliantly effective coping tactic short term, but not a very grounded or holistic way to live life.
It would be pointless to put in time to meditate and then ignore the things that come out of it, so I’ve been trying to be more aware of how much I’m using work (fun work, this work, the work of making music and podcasts and communicating with this wonderful community of people) to deal with or minimise my emotions around this lengthy lockdown, and that has led to some wobbly days this week.
I think I’m generally doing a pretty good job in pacing myself during this long distance race with no clear end, but every now and then I just want the world to stop so I can get off. I’m nervous about lockdown rules easing in this vague and confusing way, of other people deciding it’s fine to walk right by me when I’m out because the government has told them it is. I’m wondering whether it will be possible or safe to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday with him in August.
How are you getting on with all of this?
Following my notes last week about assessing my social media use, I decided to bite the bullet and take a proper look at Facebook this week. I don’t think I can deactivate my personal account without it having affecting my ability to spread the word about Penfriend on there, so instead I started hacking down my “friends” list.
A few years ago I decided to say yes to every friend request. As I didn’t want to share my deepest secrets anyway, I thought it could be a good way to spread the word about music-related things. Unfortunately, that led to my feed being chock full of strangers and their thoughts. I’m not someone who can casually glance through a timeline of personal loss, political bile and images of animal cruelty without feeling lots of feelings, even when I don’t know the people posting, so I had to stop looking. I actually weaned myself off looking at feeds for quite a long time last year, and my brain felt so much better for it.
When I started scrolling down the list of 3000+ names the other day, I felt creeped out by how few I actually recognised. It was easy to start with, unfriending people who I’d never met, never engaged with in any way, people who seemingly cruise Facebook collecting people. I regularly have upwards of 70 friend requests a day from men around the world, and it’s not because I’m at all well known. It’s…odd.
The criteria became a bit more complicated as I went on. Someone I’d met once, years ago, befriended online and then never talked to again doesn’t need to be linked to me forever, do they? What about primary school friends who I haven’t spoken to since then? Or fellow musicians who use the site for networking? There’s nothing wrong with that, but as I’m not using the site for that purpose, why am I privy to the inner workings of their minds, and they mine? What about people I do know in real life, who wouldn’t say hello to me and have a chat if we saw each other offline? Why on earth are *we* still connected?
Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions about whether to use certain sites and how to use them. When I read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport last summer, it changed my mindset entirely. He writes about how people use social media services because they’ve become convinced that at some point, there will be some benefit. Newport suggests we should view them as a tool, dispassionately, figuring out what we’d like to use them for and assessing whether that tool is the right one to achieve those goals. For instance, if I want to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, but I can’t see their posts in my feed, and we never exchange any words, am I getting what I want from Facebook? No! Is there a more effective way of achieving that goal? Perhaps. Do I know what that is? Not yet, but that doesn’t mean Facebook wins by default.
What I feel very strongly is that it’s unmanageable to subscribe to so many other peoples’ lives.
Have you heard of Dunbar’s number? Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar shared approximate numbers of relationships the human brain can handle: 5 intimates, 15 good friends, 50 close friends, 150 friends. Beyond that, he surmises 500 acquaintances and 1500 people whose faces you could put a name to are the limits of what we’re able to manage. So you can see why 3200 people on a friends list was becoming stressful.
I eagerly jumped aboard the social media train and have had many positive experiences over the years, made real friends, had fun and shared my music. That may even be how we first came into contact, and that’s a wonderful thing! I’m not here to judge anyone else’s actions or to give unsolicited advice (that’s ALWAYS annoying), and I really don’t give a hoot what anyone else does on Facebook.
What I do care about is having energised, clear headed days where I balance my need for sociable interactions offline and online with time to make the things I care about. I want to have proper conversations with those 5 intimates and 15 good friends, and keep up with what my 50 close friends are up to, cheering them on from the sidelines.
If you used to be my Facebook friend and discover you aren’t any more, please rest assured it’s not because I don’t want to be in touch with you, it’s because I don’t think that’s a very good way to be in touch.
I always love to hear from you in the comments or by email.
Thank you for reading, have a great week and take good care.