Social Media Vacation

I was using facebook and twitter a lot. I felt guilty for using them so often because it was eating up time I could be using to actually accomplish something. I felt anxiety because the continuous partial attention may be ruining my ability to think. I’d considered quitting twitter, but I hadn’t made any decisions. Then, I did something I hadn’t really done in a while: Reflected on life, evaluated what was happening, and proposed a change.

While using them, I was deep in the grips of loss aversion. I can’t quit! I’ll lose communication channels! I need to stay updated! I’ll miss out on information! So, I needed to take a step back and evaluate the pros and cons. I needed to figure out if the benefits outweighed the negatives. I also needed to specifically categorize what I’d be losing out on. Fear is aided by vagueness. My loss aversion could be conquered by clinical, analytical precision.

When I evaluated twitter, I decided that I could quit. Twitter wasn’t improving my joke writing, or my writing in general. (Aside: Maybe if I had found twitter before webcomics, I would be exclusively a writer because I can’t draw well.) It actually reduced the domain of jokes I could make because I wasn’t writing dialogue anymore. There are cool links on twitter, but I don’t need them when I already read the blogs of the people I follow. In fact, this wasn’t really a benefit because I felt that I needed to cut information intake so I could produce more. Twitter’s mostly empty calories, anyway. (Example: What’s the point of reading cool little tidbits from Smashing Magazine on web programming, if I’m not spending enough time doing actual web programming? Moreover, reading code would probably be a better use of time.) There were jokes, but I read web comics anyway, so I didn’t need them; I get enough laughs. Roger Ebert has become annoying by constantly hawking Amazon wares. That left a few people who I follow personally: Lloyd and Erin. The rest of the people don’t update enough to be that much of a loss. Most of Lloyd’s updates are pictures, and I confess that I don’t often click on pictures on twitter.

I actually talked to Erin about how much she updates (I was talking to Stevie about twitter at their apartment) and she only said once a day. When I told her that I was thinking about quitting Twitter, she said, “But how will I ever know about your fantasy football team?” I thought that might be reason enough to quit; that is, I don’t need to bore people with that stuff.

So, I wouldn’t lose that much by quitting twitter. I could still engage with everyone I needed to through other channels.

What would I gain? I think the phrase “addition by subtraction” is helpful. More time. More attention. It’s one less thing to pay attention to, and one less thing to distract me. Less empty calories, which I could replace with better reading. My writing would probably get better too.

Since this post has gone on longer than I thought, I’ll try to wrap up and I’ll write about facebook another time.

I decided that quitting Twitter was a net gain. So, right now I’m taking a vacation from twitter. I think I’ll do it for three weeks, but I doubt I’ll want to go back after that.

I still click on the link, but I don’t sign in (more on the addiction later, too). I tell myself. Would you rather browse twitter all day? Or would you rather read Marcus Aurelius? I tell myself I’d rather read Marcus, but I’m still not there yet. I’ll read a few pages and get distracted. Still, this is a start.

If you’re reading this, leave me a little note about Twitter. Do you use Twitter? How often? Is having it a net gain or net loss? Do you think your time browsing twitter is okay, or would you rather read a classic book? Is that a false dichotomy?

2 thoughts on “Social Media Vacation

  1. Lloyd Nebres

    Ten Years in teh Blogosphere 
    (or, Not Quite a “Little Note”)

    I never did like the word ‘blog’ but am compelled to use it now, as it has long reached the level of the idiomatic and familiar, in common usage—both online and off. I must first apologize for using your now-hoary weblog as a space for me to write, but (a) I no longer have a habitual space in which to do so and (b) you asked such a compelling question!

    The length parameters of which I shall now ignore, and respond to at length. Not to mention the topic parameter. This isn’t going to be just about Twitter, but pretty much the range of my online expression for the last decade.

    As you well know, it began with weblogging at ATDP. A direct offshoot of a seminal idea that began with the first Internet Classroom in 1996, the notion that the web should be a writing realm that extended the domain of the laboratory or classroom was, as far as a I could tell, fairly unique to the time. There were already a few pioneers doing ‘web logs’, much of which was a collection of interesting linkage in the nascent web; but I quickly joined the bleeding-edge ranks of those who saw that a more expansive form was… obvious. That is, the written web; the one where self-expression using the written word was the way to go. And where hyper-linking was the currency.

    Personally, I stayed pretty much stuck in the late 1990s and early oughts. That is, through the decade of my blogging habit, I remained with Manila/Userland Frontier and EditThisPage. I would be stunned if anyone these days even remembers that hoary proto-CMS. ::chuckle:: But dude, that is indeed where it all began, and credit must be given to crusty ol’ Dave Winer for starting that tech path.

    All of the aforegoing (neologism, yes?) is by way of saying that where (a) the past decade in my online life was devoted to the written word, as manifested in the pages and days of The Free Radical (although I did indulge in more-than-occasional forays into images, image galleries and even a kind of visual web art—combining text and images on a page into a piece of art) it seems that (b) the next decade of my existence may well be documented in an equally quotidian series of images of the world around me. Thanks be to Steve Jobs of course, and the miraculous totem of the iPhone… as it has been written, “the best camera you have is the one you have with you.”

    Solipsistic though this all may be, it’s about as accurate a depiction of my online existence thus far. I did write/post every single day for ten years on TFR, and it looks as if the pattern is going to repeat itself now, with Twitter.

    And my usage of Twitter being, as you accurately note, mostly the posting of photographs. But this is only of late, or to be more precise, only since I started using/abusing Instagram. ::chuckle:: And it’s not exclusively image-sharing; I haven’t neglected text and, as you might have noticed, I describe or caption each image, to the extent that Twitter’s now-classic letter-limit allows. On occasion, I try to make the accompanying text poetic or at least gracefully depictive of an inner, imagined, world that may or may not be analogous or related to the actual image being tweeted.

    So again, apologies for the surely-unexpected logorrhea here in your commentspace—but yes, I use Twitter, and often. It’s a net gain for me in that, since I stopped writing in TFR mid-year last year, I have found an online domain which satisfies what had become a necessary and vital habit: daily expression of self online. An expression that I needed for myself, but also for a small audience of listeners and watchers I had gathered over the years. Students, colleagues, friends, family, who had been wondering what happened to TFR. Well, I can now say that some of it has migrated to Twitter. This is not to say that I won’t ever pick up the threads I made in TFR at some point, but for now, the Twitterverse is what I have, and what I do.

    My time ‘browsing’ Twitter is fine, in the sense that I don’t overdo it. This is partly because I’ve limited the number and type of Twitterfolk I follow, and partly because it is far from the only source of information and data that firehoses into my brain these days. I gave fairly thorough thought, several months ago, to the composition of the list of people I follow. It was clear to me from the start that following more than a few dozen Twitterers was quickly going to be unsustainable. Like you, I’ve ruthlessly pruned. The composition of my list is a topic that I’ve wanted to write about, and that’ll have to be done elsewhere, or for another post reply, if you’re at all interested. But the short of it is that it has taken real work and time to fashion a list of Twitterers into something truly amazing for my own purposes. Amazing in the sense that I’ve been able to gather a small crowd of intellects, sensibilities, and personalities that genuinely enhance the quality of my (online) state of mind. It’s not secret, either. Anyone can look at my list and glean an idea of the type of circles that populate, overlap and define my online reality these days.

    Would I read a classic book (oddly amusing to call it that) instead of read my Twitter stream? No and yes. No because frankly, my days of reading printed books exclusively has passed. But also yes, because I have a ‘pile’ of books I’ve accumulated on iBooks and Kindle on my iPad that I desperately want to read, given all the time in the world. So it’s a false dichotomy in the sense that the domains still overlap; it’s still a question of reading. The puzzle is how to balance these types of reading, and it’s a challenge I continue to wrestle with, with some glee. It’s all an embarrassment of riches to me, given my perspective of someone born in 1960 and who cut his literay and intellectual teeth in the days of paper and ink, when words on a screen were not even a futurist’s fondest dream.

    A true dichotomy, and one I wrestle with a lot these days, is would I rather go online than talk to the kids. Of course, sometimes it’s a matter of getting them (or forcing them!) to talk to me… getting them to remove the goddamn earbuds from their ears and put away their iPod Touches; but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that it’s also my fault for having my iPad virtually an appendage of my body.

    I glance at the lines I’ve penned above, and realize, with some dismay, that I do miss writing in my old TFRspace. Who knows… I might still return to it. But you gotta admit, 10 actual years was/is a long time for doing something exclusively, particularly something in the realm of cyberspace, where real time is measured in vanishingly small increments and the future rushes at one with surreal speed.

    So, for now, tweeting is my modality. And it pleases me to know that I continue to remain in your short and exclusive list of follows, and will try to provide some interest for you, to deserve it.

    Apropos, it does sadden me to know that you’ve seemingly given up on the dream of the presidency. I can only hope that the future you will inherit from my wastrel and numbingly stupid of a generation will be one in which true leadership in our country will be in a different form, one that has burst beyond the constraints that limit it today.

  2. Shawn R. McDonald Post author

    Hi Lloyd,

    Thanks for the long comment! Since I have a blog, I probably won’t respond with something blog post length, unless I get carried away. I just have a few points to make.

    I think your switch to Instagram was heavily foreshadowed. You were putting up daily pictures on your blog’s side bar, and you often posted photos as blog entries. Twitter+Instagram feels like a natural evolution if you take a step back and put a narrative spin on it.

    We use twitter differently, both in terms of creation and consumption. It seems like the photos are your current primary mode of expression. When it comes to expressing myself, I already have my web comic and my web log, and both of these are more important to me than Twitter or Facebook. When I use the latter two, it sometimes feels like those modes of thought are replacing other modes of that. I actually have more to say about this and facebook, so I won’t elaborate here and will write a post about it.

    In terms of consumption, I think I had moved away from ruthlessly pruning the people I follow. I was using Twitter to fill empty space. I’m waiting for a file to upload, so I’ll check Twitter. I could do better with it if I stopped following half the people I follow. I may just quit altogether, though, and find other ways of consuming your content, Lloyd. I also have a different perspective when it comes to information. You see it as a boon. I’ve often felt like I can’t stop getting bombarded by information, haha.

    As for the presidency, I don’t think it’s worth having 20 years from now, but I’ll talk about that later too.

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