Why I wish I could give Van Gogh an iPad (and other thoughts about technology and happiness)

For as much as I talk about how important it is to live a life away from technology, I sure do stare at a screen a LOT during the day 😅: illustrating on an iPad, creating content for Instagram, organizing and designing our website, and writing and responding to emails.

Computers have allowed Grace and I to juggle many more roles and reach a far larger audience than we would be able to without them. Plus it allows Grace and I to live in different states and be in touch every day, running the business together. How amazing!

When you are grateful for something, I think it’s a decent sign that it’s a healthy activity. Another good signpost: Do you leave your digital sessions feeling renewed, and accomplished? Or do they leave you feeling envious or isolated?

There have been times in my life when technology detracted from living. When I was living remotely and isolated in Kentucky, Instagram felt a bit like a replacement for friends. There were some people who did turn into real-life friends, but mostly I was seeking an outlet for my creativity I think and, without the structure of community, it turned into an impulse that was hard to control. I probably got less than half of the things done that I should have been doing.

What I really needed was community and purpose, and although Instagram sort of helped with that, I don’t think I was actually filling those needs. It was mostly an illusion that led to depression and anxiety. Maybe without Instagram, I would have figured that out sooner. (Who knows? I think we figure things out when we are ready to.)

I’m a big fan of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a system for reflection. CBT allows you to reflect on the events in your daily life and process them in a direction that leads to being more aligned, more in tune, and more focused on what brings more joy. (I’ve been using an app called Bloom that’s taught me a lot about CBT. It helped me quit checking on Instagram every spare minute and start reading more books instead. Not sponsored, I’ve just found it helpful.)

What I’ve come to realize is that when technology can help me with a creative goal, it feels different than when I consume content.

So although my body gets physically tired of sitting in front of a computer, and it requires me to take breaks every hour or so, my mind is enlivened by writing, illustrating cards, learning, creating content for Instagram, and interacting with customers.

Being an artist in the 21st century just means you have different tools to get the job done.

Side Note:

I often wish that I could give Van Gogh and Monet an iPad, because I know they would have loved not having to buy and lug around paint! (And who knows, maybe Vincent and his brother could have set up a Shopify store together 😂)

I studied oil painting in college, and the physical labor of it is intense. So now that I’m in a wheelchair, I’m extra grateful for getting to draw on an iPad.

Sometimes people are sort of confused about “computer art.” For me, I use my iPad and apple pencil just like I’d use an analog drawing or painting medium (in an app called Procreate). However on the iPad I’m able to use really cool features like copy and paste, working in layers, and using symmetry to make my art faster. This saved time then allows me to also be our webmaster, graphic designer, customer service rep, and copywriter. (Recently all of these hats have felt kind of overwhelming to juggle! 🤪)

Part of my mission with this newsletter is not just to show that snail mail can be a super worthwhile activity, but also to talk about the role of technology; to figure out how we can use it with a considered approach so it doesn’t use us.

The more we talk about it, the more we will think about it. The more we think about it, the more likely we are to pick up a book or write a card instead of reaching for our phones whenever we have a boring moment.

My guess is that most people reading this are already thinking about it. But I’d bet you probably feel the incessant pull of technology too, and I hope this email helps you think a bit differently about how you can use it vs. be used by it. 

What are your thoughts about this? Have you ever struggled with an addiction to social media? Do you feel the burden of your phone pinging and ringing? (That’s something I still need to figure out!) 

Lean into technology when it helps you feel more creative, connected, and fulfilled. Lean into analog when you’re feeling unproductive, low energy, or distracted. 

Thanks for being on this journey with me. We’re all going through quite a revolution. Like the industrial revolution or the advent of farming, the internet has changed the way we live. There isn’t a way around it, simply through it. We have to figure this out and help our kids figure it out too.

Write a kid a letter. Teach them how to address an envelope. Lend them some stationery. (We had a first-time customer recently buy an Ultimate Stash as a “going to college” gift for her daughter who often leaves notes on her bedside table.)

Who might you write to today who needs an off-screen moment of joy?

Writing letters definitely helps people feel less alone, and can open up other opportunities for connection. (Check out this feel-good news article: I wrote 100 letters to my friend with cancer. It transformed our lives.)

Wishing you some grounded, analog moments in this week ahead.

Portrait of Van Gogh, by me, Leah Nixon, done in Procreate on my iPad.
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