(By the Guardian’s Richard Lea)
Fans of Neil Gaiman can anticipate an empty January 2014, when the writer is set to take a “sabbatical” from social media.
Speaking at the Guardian, where the author spent a day editing the books website, Gaiman announced that he would take a break from updating his 1.8m followers on Twitter, his 500,000 Facebook friends and maybe even posting for the 1.5m readers of his blog.
“I’ll be taking about six months off,” he said, “a sabbatical from social media so I can concentrate on my day job: making things up.”
There has been little sign that the output of the creator of The Sandman and American Gods has slowed since he took up blogging in 2001 or since he joined Twitter in 2008, in which time he has published award-winning novels such as Coraline in 2002, The Graveyard Book in 2009 and now The Ocean at the End of the Lane, out next week. He has also written two episodes of Dr Who.
Gaiman thanks his Twitter followers in his latest novel for helping him check the prices of sweets in the 1960s but confesses that he would have “written the book twice as fast” without them.
He says the problem isn’t the amount of time spent using social media; it’s how it spreads into every cranny of our existence.
“People ask me where I get my ideas from,” he said, “and the answer is that the best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored.”
Watching school plays was ideal, he continued.
“You have to sit there for hours and you can’t read or use a phone or check something on the web. I’ll come out afterwards thinking: ‘Did I just plot out an episode of Dr Who there? I think I did.’ ”
Gaiman follows in the footsteps of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, who stopped tweeting in 2010 to raise money for Aids charities, but his reasons are much more personal.
“I feel that I’m getting too dependent on phones, on Twitter,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. That instant ability to find things out, to share. I want to see what happens when I take some time off.”
He hasn’t yet decided how far to go with his vow of electronic silence – whether to cut himself off entirely from the internet – and doesn’t yet know where he’ll be, or what he’ll be doing.
“I’m in the middle of a project right now retelling old myths,” he said. “It might be nice to do that for a while, just to have the voices echoing in my head.”
But the author is sure of one thing: his retreat from the social web will only be temporary.
“I like talking to people too much, even electronically,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
More on social media sabbaticals also see: http://graybs.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/lessons-from-a-self-imposed-social-media-sabbatical/
On a more personal note, I found that my social media sabbatical which took place between December 22nd 2012 to 27 January 2013 (or so) had me feeling revitalised, in tune with my surroundings, resourceful as to alternative avenues of inspiration, I also adapted a more holistic approach to communication , speaking to people in real time, focusing on what’s out there and happening in the streets of the community, of the city, as opposed to what I’m being fed via my various timelines.
Don’t get me wrong, I find immense value in the digital space and the way accessibility to information has evolved is phenomenal and groundbreaking, I just found that when I eliminated the urgency of having to be online all the time and constantly wanting to know what’s happening in cyberspace and around the world, I had so much time to do really valuable things which improve my external AND internal environment which in turn improved my quality of life.
So refreshing. I am seriously considering returning to that world for a bit to recharge my spirit batteries, even though my work life depends primarily on me being online.
I would suggest time away from Facebook, Twitter (my weakness) and other forms of digital social media even if just as an experiment. You would be so surprised at what your eyes are opened to when you’re not constantly crouched over into your iPhone.
I see digital sabbaticals as soul holidays.