Spherical lights dangle from the ceiling of the entryway, casting dim glows largely transcended by the buttery afternoon sunlight. The slightly tinted windows welcome this warmth, amplifying the rays onto the veins of nearly every charcoal stone tile as if to invite footsteps into the library’s heart.
Beyond this, the work areas marshalled at the back are almost entirely cloaked by aisles of towering bookshelves. I try to make myself weightless to avoid disturbing the tranquility that runs in conjunction with the stillness. An unbreakable yet fragile focus surges through the room, and not even the occasional hushed cough, tapdancing of keyboards or whooshes of crinkled pages appear to splinter anyone’s rhythm. I patiently pass by rows of readers and studiers, hoping to find a desolate spot to settle in. Hopefully, by integrating into this productive trance, I’ll be able to chip away at my growing plethora of duties.
A few days ago, in a very virtual class, I was tasked to compose a personal narrative — due in little over a month — in adherence to different course concepts. The goal, ultimately, is to write about a life experience and its overarching lesson.
Depositing the first few words onto a blank page has always been the hardest part for me, especially when I haven’t assembled a direction for them yet. But once the initial droplets of ink are tattooed onto paper, my pen will begin to scribble itself, and everything should naturally piece together. As eager as I am to get started, I’ve got to cocoon myself somewhere uninhabited to ensure my thinking will be uninterrupted.
Long corridors stretch through the library’s interior, leading to individual study rooms each snuggly wrapped by accent walls that shimmer with resplendence. Arbitrarily, I peek through several slanted glass panels embellished into the top half of the doors until I’m able to locate an empty room. After turning the door handle and stepping inside, I take the sole unoccupied seat stationed by the rectangular table, plopping my notebook down on the tabletop.
The desk is positioned against the wall, forcing me to face a window that separates me from the street. The road is about twenty metres away, partially obscured by trees that shine like emeralds. I gaze out and try to brainstorm topics to write about, clicking my pen and watching small shrubs basking in serenity. Minutes pass, and so far, nothing.
Instinctively, I grab my phone and dive into social media, hoping to submerge myself in others’ posts to kindle some much-needed inspiration. There’s a special magic that comes with readily available tips, whether from visually appealing posts or succinct threads. I browse the web, opening plenty of tabs and apps, before punching in tags I consider to be relevant.
I swim through floods of posts: writing tips, prompts and original work. Although these aren’t leading me to a clear-cut answer regarding what I should craft, it’s at least echoing a voracious chime that encourages the wheels to keep turning. I keep digging, waiting for the “aha” moment to arise.
There are dramatic tales detailing relationship squabbles, upbeat recitals of major accomplishments and anecdotes of embarrassing moments. At the most basic level, they each contain one conspicuous trend: conflict. From these few posts, the stories of surmounted conflict seem to be more resonant to me since they produce a lesson that’s widely interpretable and relatable. I reminisce on an array of calamities I’ve endured, juggling ideas around to see what could translate well onto paper.
Abruptly, a notification materializes at the top of my device, signalling that someone has sent me a post. Out of impulse, my thumb taps it to reveal a nonsensical meme. It’s so random that it’s a bit humorous, so I double tap it. I click the explore button near the bottom, which puts me in a feed of posts generated by the app’s algorithm.
Beyond these four walls, I hear a fair number of cars frequently zooming by across the blotching pavement. I momentarily look up to see the traffic light switching to amber and then red. A lone SUV, its paint job resembling a thin fog, stops behind the crossline. Its windshield wipers lazily swipe at the mild drizzle coming down from greying clouds.
My attention resets back to my phone. An angel and a devil sit on opposite shoulders of mine, the former rationalizing against procrastination while the latter counters that there’s still lots of time left until I have to submit the assignment. Temporary hedonism wins over.
I’m scrolling through a perpetual traffic of distractions, spawned quasi-willingly by my fingertips. Sports update. Double tap. Another meme. Double tap. Photography. Double tap.
It goes on and on, posts perishing with each brushstroke before an additional cluster immediately makes its debut. And it continues.
World news, an album release, celebrity announcement, local news, infographic, viral video, comic strip, pet pic, inspirational quote, DIY tutorial, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
…And it continues.
Roaring raindrops suddenly drum against the glass, prompting me to look up again. Darkness burrows itself through the library’s tall windows, delivering egregious news of the time that has decayed. Distant but abrasive wails from whirring winds manage to permeate the room, just scarcely, with modest vibrations. Facing the pandemonium, I sheath my phone into my pocket.
Obsidian clouds swirl in the sky to paint a cacophonic portrait, concealing the area with a tenebrous blanket and camouflaging the trees. Heavy rainfall plummets in accelerated blurs, reverberating at over a thousand beats per minute, while robust forces hurl trash around like feeble toys.
The electricity cuts off, leaving me in a boxed void. Mumbling voices outside my door are predominantly drawn out by the guttural howls of thunder, led and accompanied by expeditious flashes of lightning. Periodically, the wind whistles high-pitched tunes, a broken melody resembling a weeping ghost.
It suddenly dawns on me that I’ve been bewitched by social media. For well over an hour, I lost track of time and subsequently neglected not only the schoolwork I should’ve been completing, but also the physical reality around me beyond the digital.
Librarians are going around talking to people; one addresses a small group in front of the study room adjacent to mine. I open the door and step out with a few other curious visitors.
“The storm’s cut the electricity off,” the librarian says in a rough, monotonous voice, stating the obvious while tying her dishevelled silvery hair into a bun. “Consequently, the internet’s dead too. We implore you to not leave the premises until it’s safe.” A terse conversation ensues, marked by a moderate, nearly woeful tone. I don’t stay any longer, since there’s nothing else I need to hear.
Back inside, I return to the chair by the desk and sew myself to it. The one light source — aside from the frequent flickers of lightning — emits from my phone, which is at 30% battery life. With however much time it has left, I decide to power off any diversions and shift my concentration back to the vacant sheets before me. If I’m going to be stuck here, it’s best to make the most of it.
Invasive distractions are organically embedded into countless social media apps, which can transition us away from helpful resources and into the indulgence of extraneous content. When such a diverse variety of content is so accessible, getting sidetracked is almost inevitable. We have to remember to wipe clear of any obstructions like they’re pellets of rain blurring our visions.
With a clear mind, I suppose that maybe the internet being cut is a good thing. Taking the wifi out of the deck could draw me a better hand that forces me to play only the productive cards.
I recall the posts I read earlier before being absorbed into irrelevant material. Everybody had their own stories to tell, so I consider mine. We’ve all weathered hurdles, meaning there are all sorts of lessons to glean and share. Sometimes, it’s so obvious that we don’t consciously acknowledge it.
A reflective window divides me from the commotion outside. I watch it, and it peers back. I let different thoughts tornado in my head, the debris of internal freewriting spiralling like convoluted jot notes.
Finally, on the pages in front of me, the first few words appear.
Why I Wrote This Piece
This story was concocted from an amalgamation of multiple personal experiences. Combined into one narrative that warns against the excessive use of social media, it reminds us that technology — and other distractions — can end up stumping our productivity; we shouldn’t lose ourselves in storms that untell our stories. However, these platforms can also serve as resources and tools to help bolster our work. It’s worth considering how to strike a healthier balance.