On boundaries, limitless content, & the audacity to create
"They all say the same story and none tell ours." ~ Solmaz Sharif
from Sharif's poetry collection LOOK (2016). Spaces omitted.
I write about the boundaries I've set (and reset) with social media, why I maintain them, and why I believe we're all storytellers.
When it comes to modern television, I live under a rock.
Last week, my housemates started watching a TV episode. Since I was already in the living room, I stayed with the intention of watching for a few minutes.
Of course, I stayed and watched the entire episode. Days later, when my housemates finished the season, I stayed and watched that, too.
Later that night, I began to question my audacity to take up space as a creative.
I thought, "People are inundated with such fast-paced, exceptionally-produced, thematically-dense content. Why would anyone spend time in my corner of the Internet? Why do I bother creating these plodding, self-centered reflections, when the entertainment industry hands to us, on a silver platter, one show after the next — these powerful pieces of storytelling into which thousands of people pour their life’s work?”
In the world of digital media, we're offered an abundance of stories. However, we need boundaries for how we consume this content. We also need ways to keep our own capacity for storytelling alive.
Each time we login to social media, our minds are flooded with bite-sized glimpses into the lives of other people. Though bite-sized, the amount of content quickly becomes overwhelming — to say nothing of the breathtaking diversity of matters people post about.
When we watch TV shows, we’re immersed in full-fledged works of storytelling. The music, the acting, the directing, writing, production, among countless other components. Large teams of people work behind the scenes, pouring time and energy into each episode.
Today, it's effortless to gorge ourselves with stories — whether by scrolling for hours through social media, watching reels or TV shows, even listening to music all the time.
While cultural content travels at the speed of light, we ourselves remain limited as viewers, listeners, readers. We're humans. Our well-being demands boundaries for how we consume this content.
Ideally, my boundaries look something like this:
Being critical of content. For me, this means questioning what assumptions, ideologies, & motives drive the production of what I'm consuming.
At the bare minimum, I ask myself, "What effect does this content have on me, and why?"
On social media, if someone posts a picture from their life and I notice myself tensing up, is it because I'm comparing their post (curated & intangible) to my life (embodied, impossible to curate)?
Or if it's a piece of heavy news — like news of a tragedy, accompanied by links to donate or sign petitions — then I ask, what is my relationship to this issue, as a person who lives a life of relative comfort and privilege? Do I trust those links translate to meaningful impact? Do I have the bandwidth & resources to contribute, knowing that doing so does not instantly qualify me as a "good person"?
Being careful about the amount of content I consume. With social media, my goal is to stop scrolling the instant I begin to feel overwhelmed by how much content I’ve seen. When my threshold swells beyond an hour's worth, I reset by taking at least a day away from those platforms.
If I come across a thematically-heavy post (as my own posts tend to be), I don’t always feel obligated to read it. In the past, I’d try to empathize with every compelling story on my social media feed — convinced that internalizing their insights would make me a better, wiser human. Now, to avoid mental & emotional fatigue, sometimes I give myself permission to skim long and heavy posts.
It's a practice of constant negotiation. Still, I do my best to maintain these boundaries for a few main reasons:
1. Before we can be present to the stories of others, we have to be present to ourselves.
Consuming digital content is not an essential activity. Taking care of ourselves is.
2. Consuming content with care, as well as critically, is a way to respect the labor of the people who created it.
It's as if a chef poured years of craft into cooking a meal, and someone scarfed it down like fast food. The act of consuming doesn't need to be destructive or mindless. It can be an opportunity to appreciate the labor behind what we're presented.
For me, it's enough to remember that invisible amounts of human labor happen behind the scenes. Inside every creative industry, there are humans who've made sacrifices like I have — of stability, maybe respectability — in their pursuit of a creative career.
2. If we consume content uninhibitedly & mindlessly, we lose touch with what it means to tell our own stories.
I can imagine how I'd change if I watched an abundance of TV.
Over time, I'd subconsciously place more truth — more of reality, more elements of a life worth living — within the fast-paced, compellingly-constructed imaginaries of television. Slowly, I'd become disconnected from the truth and beauty within my own lived experience, however drab in comparison.
Stories have the power to compress time, giving us perspective on our own lives. Through stories, we relearn that a slow or painful season is part of a larger journey, unfolding across years or decades.
But when entire industries hand us stories on a silver platter, why tell our own?
To borrow from writer & speaker Leticia Ochoa Adams, I tell my story so that one person can feel less alone.
All of us are limited, incapable of watching every show or reading every book. I may not become a published author, but among my social circles, maybe there's one person who struggles with body image & disordered eating, but doesn't hear it talked about except by me.
For all of us, whether we identify as creatives or not, there is always worth in telling our stories.
Whether it's through music, posting on social media, or talking to a friend, we have access to countless ways to express our lived experience.
In doing so, we build a culture not only of consumption — of accepting stories produced & packaged by industries whose central aim is profit — but of reaching into the worlds within everyday life.
When we tell stories that draw from our own experience and imagination, we look with compassion and curiosity into the nuances of our living — into its slowness, sometimes-unbearable heaviness, its richness. We learn how, in the midst of them, we are not alone.