My on-again, off-again romance with social media is off-again. This will be my first trial separation from LinkedIn and Twitter, my second from Facebook. I’m even reconsidering the role my blog plays in my newly simplified life.
I’ve deactivated my accounts for a couple of reasons: First, I’m genuinely interested in discovering the degree to which I have become hooked on these seamless communications platforms. But, mostly, and in the words of Greta Garbo, I just want to be alone. It’s time to leave the cocktail party that never ends, at least for awhile.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I have grown to dislike my online friends, followers and contacts. On the contrary, I’m quite fond of them (from a distance, naturally, as I don’t know most of them personally). It’s simply that I can’t get myriad updates and “timelines” and status reports – theirs and mine – out of my mind. The busy work of social media is taking over.
It wasn’t always this way. As a tenderfoot in the online world, I was happy to ignore the dozens of ways I could use it to distract myself from the actual business of making a living (or, simply, living). I was happy because I was ignorant. I didn’t really understand how Twitter worked, or what distinguished it from Facebook.
The more I learned, however, the more determined I became to wield these instruments of my virtual identity as they were designed: with near consuming attention to detail and timeliness, regardless of need or import. (Does the world really need me retweeting somebody else’s observation of a junior league hockey game?)
In fact, I am not alone in hooking off. About a year go, just prior to Facebook’s initial public offering, CNN reported, “With a website that boasts 901 million active users, it seems unlikely that once you get on Facebook, you’d ever leave. But deactivating from the social networking site is not that unusual. Close to half of Americans think Facebook is a passing fad, according to the results of a new Associated Press-CNBC poll. More and more people are stepping away from the technological realm and de-teching. There are even sites where they can pledge to delete their Facebook accounts. And tech writer Paul Miller from The Verge decided to leave the Internet for a year to reassess his relationship with it.”
Regarding his decision, Mr. Miller explained on his blog last April, “I’m abandoning one of my ‘top 5’ technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. . .By separating myself from the constant connectivity, I can see which aspects are truly valuable, which are distractions for me, and which parts are corrupting my very soul. What I worry is that I’m so ‘adept’ at the internet that I’ve found ways to fill every crevice of my life with it, and I’m pretty sure the internet has invaded some places where it doesn’t belong.”
I’m, not especially “adept” at any of this stuff, but I appreciate his point. Just as I do Jonathan Minton’s. According to Dahlia Kurtz, Sun Media’s social media columnist, in a piece she wrote in January, Mr. Minton, “calls Facebook mental junk food. He twice de-activated and re-activated his account. ‘It became a mind-numbing and addictive distraction,’ says the 31-year-old. So why did Minton return? ‘Because it’s a mind numbing and addictive distraction.’”
As for Mr. Miller, now that his year-long hiatus is nearly up, what has he learned? In his latest column (a colleague posted it for him) he writes, “Leaving the internet was so great. . .at first. It was the relief of pressure that I’d wanted for years. No more push notifications, no more calendar invites, no more reply-all’d email threads, no more retweets, friend requests, text messages, or rabbit holes. I was alone with my thoughts. . .But then old habits reared their ugly heads. Time-wasting habits like video games and pulpy sci-fi novels, and then more disturbing signs like a general avoidance of social activities.”
So, then, maybe there is no solution, no real escape from the inescapable. Technology is not the enemy. As American cartoonist Walt Kelly once wrote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I’ll mull this over in the weeks ahead, while I’m not updating my Facebook status.