As a designer and creative director, she relied heavily on these outlets for inspiration. She’s based in Cavite, Philippines, where in-person interaction is still limited by pandemic restrictions. Santos dreaded the seven days, but she also knew she had to do it.
“I would use my phone and social media until I got headaches from using [them] too much. I knew that I was consuming so much media to the point that it tires me out, and yet I couldn’t get myself to stop,” Santos told VICE.
She found a way out in a book called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. The book includes several activities that claim to help readers overcome artistic blocks and free their inner artists. The book recommends a “media deprivation,” which means no media for one week. This includes reading, emailing, texting, “surfing the internet,” talk radio, and TV. The book was published in the 90s but the tip resonated with Santos in 2021. Today, of course, this means blocking social media, too. According to Cameron’s website, media deprivation is among the most resisted but also the most productive activities she teaches.
That might not sound easy to anyone, but it’s especially difficult for people who depend on social media to do their jobs, and creatives who find themselves hunting inspiration online.
“Being in the design and creative industry, I find myself compelled to stay in tune with whatever new trends and design projects are coming up. I rely a lot on Instagram to stumble upon works that I like,” Santos said.
She filled her time with movies, shows, books, podcasts, and music, and she did so in the guise of education and professional responsibility. For Santos, not consuming media meant not learning, and therefore not doing the best she could at her job.
“There’s also a huge social responsibility,” she added. Like many people, Santos depends on social media to, well, socialize. “I think because I haven’t seen my friends in a while, it feels like not being in contact with them online feels like letting go of some friendship responsibilities.”
The constant stream of media, however useful and necessary it appeared to be, became too much for her.
“I knew that I was overly reliant on my media, that it would overwhelm and bombard me,” Santos said.
Due to the demands of her job, Santos could not just turn her devices off and have absolutely no screen time during her media deprivation. So she allowed herself only what was necessary for work—Zoom calls, Slack messages, Pinterest and other design references, design programs on her iPad, and Instagram for viewing design pegs (no mindless scrolling). She limited her use of these to within her eight hours of work per day.
Instead of following workouts on YouTube, Santos turned to walking for exercise. She also did strength training with weights, but without listening to her usual hip-hop hype playlist. She checked messaging apps once a day, but she didn’t open any messages.
“I would just breeze through them to make sure I’m not getting messages from anything or anyone urgent,” she said, adding that this only took a few minutes at most.
Santos also continued using an app to meditate. These exceptions aside, everything else was a complete blackout. She did this from day one to day seven of her experiment and found that it wasn’t as difficult as she expected it to be.
“I actually found it peaceful that I wouldn’t be so obligated to check on my phone,” Santos said.
It was also surprisingly easy for her to ditch checking social media, and socializing digitally in general.
“I admit that a few days away from connecting with friends online was refreshing, too. I do think that aside from Zoom fatigue, there is also a fatigue with socializing online.”
Santos said the most challenging obstacle was simply finding something to do.
Not having a phone to fidget with gave designer Kookie Santos more time to draw. Photo: Kookie Santos
“It wasn’t so much that I was seeking content. It was more of wanting to do something, anything. I’d stare a lot into space, or walk, or do something with my hands, like draw.”
“I’d stare a lot into space, or walk, or do something with my hands, like draw.”
Not having her phone to look at and fidget with led Santos to observe some new things about old objects lying around. She noticed an old framed photo in her house that was always there but never drew her attention before. She knocked on a wooden table and noticed that it made different sounds on different parts. Going to the toilet without her phone also brought her to think about more “Instagrammable” ways to design three-ply toilet paper. These are small and simple observations and, for Santos, that was the point.
Kookie Santos said she learned patience in the creative process from sitting with the plants in her garden. Photo: Kookie Santos
“The gift of awareness and observation were my favorite takeaways from that whole week,” she said.
Awareness and observation led Santos to realizations on her own creative process. From looking at the plants in her garden, she realized the importance of patience in her own creative process.
“If you cannot force plants to bloom, maybe creative ideas are that way, too,” she said.
The sky also provided Kookie Santos with reflections on creativity. Photo: Kookie Santos
Going for walks every day instead of following workout videos online allowed Santos to see the sky in different states. She imagined creativity as a painter, the sky a canvas, and the clouds, brushstrokes.
“I likened the rain to tears when breaking down during a creative rut, and how rain needs to be unloaded to clear the skies and start with a fresh canvas again. It was very cheesy thinking about these thoughts, but I thought to myself that wandering aimlessly allowed me to be more naturally creative. They were merely observations out of being curious, and yet the ideas came in so fluidly, so effortlessly,” she said. “How I wished that being creative in my work was as natural as that as well.”
She also had more vivid dreams throughout her week off media, leading her to think that “dreams are memory salads.”
Dreams are a display of uninhibited creativity, she said. They pull whatever information is in a person’s head and churn out images and plots that might be dismissed as too wacky or unrealistic in everyday life.
“To me, there was a validity to listening to that crazy and wacky side of ourselves. Maybe we should entertain those funky ideas and see where they go.”
Santos said she expected big changes after her media deprivation. Things like never having creative blocks again, a strict discipline of being away from social media when it’s not necessary, and a perpetually clear and calm head. She wanted every creative person’s dream. Instead, she found that she simply valued awareness, observation, and presence more, and she’s okay with that.
“I think taking the media deprivation is a process of trusting in the things that you can learn from yourself and from your lived experience. So much of the time we look out for answers, but maybe there is a value in looking in,” she said.
She described her designs nowadays as “a little bit more joyful, relaxed, and myself.” Instead of immediately turning to media for creative inspiration, she has learned to turn to herself and her surroundings.
Santos did a second media deprivation week a few months after her first, and said she intends to do one every so often. Right now, however, she said she’s back to her distracted ways—starting and ending her days with social media, regularly checking her phone, and playing with her Nintendo Switch until her eyes and head hurt.
But she’s now more aware of her habits, and is able to briefly step back when necessary. She also took some important lessons with her.
“I feel a little bit better in tune with myself,” she said. “I can trust myself for answers more.”
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