Five things about media and technology right now

1. The Gawker vs. BuzzFeed battle is like those movies where Godzilla fights another monster. Sure, you can root for one of them, but in the end a city is still destroyed.

2. You can’t convince me we’re in a “golden age of television” when Monday’s episode of The Bachelor was three hours long.

3. I remember the days before the web when I would be eating dinner and wishing I could take a picture of it and share it with 900 people I kind of know.

4. If you’re wondering when clicks/traffic became the most important thing, it was around the time “writing” became “content.”

5. Nobody cares if you leave social media.

Goodbye Twitter (No, Seriously!)

(Originally posted in May 2013.)

I still love Twitter – and I find it useful – but after going back and forth about it, I’ve decided to stop using it.

Now, I’m not doing this to seem more hip than people who use social media. I’m not doing it to position myself in anyway or look down on people who tweet, and I’m not jumping on some bandwagon or trend. Oh no, another old crank who holds his nose at social media. No. This just feels right for me, after tweeting for five years.

It isn’t an easy decision – especially for a writer so heavily involved with media and the web – but it’s one I have to make. It’s too much of a time suck, it’s overwhelming (it never stops), and I realized I don’t have to know every thought that a person has (and I don’t understand why people have to tweet every single thought they have). As I’ve said before I think everyone has some form of ADD now, and Twitter can only make it worse. It’s just another damn thing I have to keep track of.

There are days when I keep clicking the “New Tweets” link over and over and over and over again, which can be time-consuming, considering new tweets show up every four seconds. I keep clicking on the “Connect” button, because I MUST KNOW WHO HAS MENTIONED ME OR RETWEETED ME OR LINKED TO ME, AND I HAVE TO KNOW IT NOW. Let’s get into some stupid argument with someone for no reason! Hey, maybe the new episode of my favorite TV show will be spoiled! And I must be the first to tweet a clever joke based on something someone else just tweeted!

I hate to think about all of the hours I’ve wasted just playing a hashtag game, trying to come up with a clever entry, actually doing a search on Twitter to make sure no one already tweeted it (sometimes people seem to be competing to see who can get info on Twitter first or come up with a clever joke). How did it come to this?

This is a failing on my part. A person can always “just say no” to Twitter when they have to get work done, but these things are so seductive and needed (especially if you’re involved in media and work online all day) that they grab hold of you, and before you know it you realize that you’ve tweeted more words that day than you’ve written. I have to plug my stuff! I have to retweet this! I have to comment on this other tweet so people know my opinions! I have to make sure I don’t miss anything! I have to plug my stuff again! What’s happening now? And right now?

The great thing about Twitter – that there’s always something new and interesting to see – also happens to be what’s bad about it.

Twitter has always been my social networking platform of choice because, well, it’s not really social networking. Not in that Facebook way. It’s news, information and entertainment from various people, my place for breaking news and links to interesting things. It has become something I need, like e-mail or a phone number. But if I’m to be honest – and if a lot of the people on Twitter were to be honest – most of the tweets we send are not only unneccesary, there’s an agenda behind them. If we’re not plugging our stuff, we’re commenting on something that someone else has tweeted, which is really just another way of promoting ourselves.

That’s my theory, anyway: everything we do on Twitter – every link to a story we find interesting, every joke, every favorite, every reply, every favorite, every RT, every CONGRATS! to someone on a birthday or a new job or birth of a baby – is really just a form of self-promotion.

I see so many people on Twitter who will congratulate someone on a new job they got or a new baby, and at first I thought it was nice but then I got to thinking: why not just contact that person directly for something like that, via a DM or an e-mail? Because then the writer wouldn’t be publicly connected to that other person. You wouldn’t get to say, “hey, I mentioned this person’s @ address and we’re corresponding!” It’s a kind of performance, really, and you want your other followers to know that you “know” this person. You ever notice that people will retweet things from certain people and not others, even if it’s the same thing and you did it first? (Say what you will about Facebook, but it’s not as clique-heavy as Twitter is, and people don’t try to impress each other as much as they do on Twitter.)

For a writer, Twitter can be an amazing distraction. I envy the writers who can tweet 10, 20 times a day and still get work done. I’m not one of them. And too many times the past few years I’ve thought, “hey, I should post that on Twitter!” But shouldn’t my first thought be, “hey, I should write about that!?”

Tweeting is not writing. Posting on Facebook isn’t writing either. But they create the powerful illusion that it is. Isn’t it a problem when you are promoting your writing more than actually writing?

I know a lot of great writers on Twitter and they seem to get a lot of writing done while still tweeting. Some writers use it perfectly. That’s great for them. But I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend: writers who have actually given up on their web sites and their blogs because they now use social media exclusively. This strikes me as odd. Sure, reading clever tweets is a gas, but stopping the longform writing on your site so you can post on Twitter and Facebook more? I can’t imagine doing that. I may not read your tweets anymore but rest assured I’m going to keep going to your sites/blogs, if you still have one.

I want people to visit this site and read what I write. Of course, I’m sure that a lot of people won’t come to my site now that I’m gone from Twitter – out of sight, out of mind and all that – and I guess I’ll have to live with that. But it makes me wonder why they were following me in the first place. It’s so easy to “follow” or “Like” someone. Real interest in someone takes a little more work.

A lot of people have told me that I don’t have to quit Twitter, I can just set up my site so that an update will go to Twitter instantly and seamlessly when I post something new. That’s true, I could do that. But one, I don’t want the temptation. I’d still keep tracking it. And two, I don’t want to use my Twitter account to just promote, promote, promote. If I was going to use Twitter, I’d actually want to use it to interact with followers and friends and coworkers (it is called social media, after all) and not just send out automatic tweets asking people to READ THIS! or BUY THIS! (Note: I know several writers who do this and I understand it and there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m just saying it’s not for me.)

I’m sure I’m going to miss it. In fact, I know I will because I quit last fall and rejoined earlier this month because I had severe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). One thing I’ll miss is seeing all the tweets that pop up during an awards show or big sporting event or a terrible movie. Then again, there’s something to be said about NOT watching TV with one eye on the TV and one eye on your computer. Can’t we just experience things anymore without talking about that experience? (People who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves.)

The plan is to get so used to not doing it anymore that I won’t miss it (though my first thought after I decided to deactivate my account was, “I should tweet that I’m deactivating my account,” which says a lot). Everyone has their own way of navigating the web, of living a life online, and mine will now go back to how I used to do it: bookmarks and RSS and actually going to sites and blogs.

The web was a better place before social media. I’m going to see if you can exist on the web without using Twitter or Facebook. That’s right, I’m not on Facebook either. I borrowed a friend’s password so I could do some research on Facebook recently, and when I logged out the screen had a notice about their mobile app that said, “Heading Out? Stay Connected.” No Facebook, I don’t want to stay connected, BECAUSE I’M HEADING OUT. Why do we have to be “connected” all the time? I’m sure a lot of younger people don’t remember the days when we didn’t carry around our phones, our mail, our televisions 24/7/365. I do, and it was glorious. There’s something to be said about having that separation. I don’t have to know about a celebrity’s death this very second, 99% of all e-mails can wait, and I don’t have to reply to a tweet instantly (if ever). I’m going to enjoy a movie/dinner at a restaurant/play without having to take a pic or post a tweet about it (and don’t get me started on Foursquare…). The web will still be there when I get home, and if you need to get in touch with me, leave a message at the beep (on my landline – I rarely use my cell).

It’s going to be good to get back to not doing things on social media time.

Yes, I still need a landline

Over at Jim Romenesko’s media blog, Jim has a post titled “You Still Need A Landline? Really!?” Note the exclamation point and question mark combo that signifies utter confusion and surprise. It’s on a story about a new Pew Research Center poll conducted about what technology people would miss the most if they had to give it up (you can see the chart at the link above). Most people will miss the Internet, cell phones, and television, which seems reasonable. But there are many who would miss their landlines too.

Yes, I still need a landline, and I bet you do too, even if you don’t realize it.

The reasons are all the reasons that people are giving in Jim’s comment section and on his Facebook page: a lot of rural communities don’t have cell towers, your cell loses battery power, there isn’t a strong signal, towers going out during storms, long conversations aren’t comfortable. And to that list I would add you don’t have to worry about minutes or various other charges, you don’t get charged for certain incoming calls or texts, there’s more privacy, and local 911 works better.

I have never, ever, not once, had a cell phone conversation that was 100% glitch-free. The call was either interrupted, filled with static, or at the very least an odd one second delay in our responses. As for landlines, I can’t remember the last time I had any problem with them.

The funny thing is, I see a lot of people using their cell phones but many of them aren’t even using them as phones anymore. It’s all texting and posting on Facebook/Twitter (which means the comfort reason above won’t make sense to people who don’t actually, you know, talk on the phone). In 50 years we’re going to be a race of people with giant thumbs but the inability to speak complete sentences.

I remember the first phone we had when I was a kid, a classic black rotary phone that must have weighed about 5 pounds (if we had thrown it against the wall it would have put a hole in it – try that will your cell). We had to rent it from the phone company. We had one phone in the house, and it was on top of one of the tables in the corner of the kitchen, next to the fridge and the spice rack. If we wanted to talk on the phone we had to actually come downstairs, sit in the chair and talk right there in the kitchen. No roaming around the house or taking the call in our bedrooms or in the living room.

Teens and twentysomethings are reading that last paragraph and shaking their heads at how barbaric those times must have been. Yes, it was a sad time when we couldn’t play with birds that were angry or even snap pics of our food and post them for all the world to see.

I’ve told this story before: a friend of mine was going to be interviewed on the air by NPR over the phone. Because they’re so unreliable, NPR (and others) don’t allow people to use their cell phones. So he had to go on Facebook and actually ask people who lived in New York City if anyone had a landline he could use for the interview.

Will cell phones be as solid/reliable as landlines one day? Maybe. Probably. But who knows. You’d think they’d have the technology down by now. (It seems most people will happily give up quality for convenience.) I want to live in a world where we have both landlines and cells.

I know several people who have completely ditched their landlines and rely only on their cells now (a story I read said that over 50% of people don’t have a landline or have one and never use it). Which means they’re always reachable now. How is this a good thing? They’re no separation anymore between the “connected” part of our lives and the “unreachable” part of our lives. And I wonder how many of those people have lost their phone, had it stolen, or dropped it in the toilet or on the floor?

Hey, cell phones are great. Great for emergencies, convenient, and from the conversations I overhear as I’m shopping at the supermarket, they’re especially great for when husbands have to call their wives and ask “What was the name of that thing you wanted again? Hello? I can’t hear you. What?

So it’s good that some people still use their landlines. I am worried though about the number of people who say they’d miss social media, though I guess there’s some comfort in the fact that it was last on the list at 10%. I thought it would be a lot more. Hashtag relieved.

Monday

If you checked the site over the weekend you may have noticed that I changed the template drastically. If you’re just checking the site again after several days away you don’t notice any change at all. And if you’re reading this in the archives a year from now when the design has probably changed yet again you have absolutely no idea what this current design is anyway so forget I mentioned anything.

I changed it back to what I had before. The new design was too…something. Solid but dull. I usually choose traditional over funky, personal over a business look, the classic over the colorful. Translation: I like a lot of black and white, so it almost looks like print.

Good weekend. Ordinary weekend. Went to the supermarket, which isn’t a surprise because I seem to go to the supermarket at least 4 or 5 days a week. I still don’t know how this is possible. I don’t have four kids, I’m not buying enough supplies to put in my bomb shelter for the apocalypse, and I don’t even forget to buy something the first trip, forcing me to go back. I just need to go to the supermarket four or five times a week, every single week.

Other than that, the weekend was spent working on Letter #5 (it will be in your mailboxes at the end of the week). Oh, and also dealing with the thing I hinted at last time. I don’t mean to be coy (he said, coyly), it’s just something that I’m writing about in that Letter and I don’t want to repeat it here (trying not to repeat anything in both places). I talk about things in the Letter that you won’t even know about here.

Solution? Subscribe!

Oh, one more thing from this weekend: the Olympics ended. I think I watched maybe 4 minutes total. Just no interest in skiing or figure skating or bobsledding (though I probably should since you don’t see many sporting events with your name in them). It also knocked The Blacklist off the schedule for a couple of weeks, which took work away from me (I’m reviewing it every week for Vulture.com). Review of tonight’s episode will be up tomorrow morning here.

I’d write more, but I have to go to the store again.

Completely Random

1. As I’ve mentioned on this site approximately 744 times, I love winter. I love the cold. I love snow. But enough is enough. I usually get sick of it around the beginning of March, but this year it has gotten to me a couple weeks earlier. Snow is beautiful until it stays on the side of the road for weeks on end, getting all black from dirt and street grime, filled with candy wrappers and soda cans. Last week there was a giant icicle hanging from the roof, ready to fall off and impale someone a la the metal pole getting the priest in The Omen.

2. Things we no longer need to see on local news: stories about how sitting at your desk could kill you, photos of snow-covered patio furniture, viral videos, commercials for what the same exact channel is going to have on the news the very next morning (the same stories you’re watching now), what Justin Bieber is up to, the newest Apple product release, movie box office results.

3. People in cottage cheese commercials seem so happy, like they don’t even realize what they’re eating is disgusting.

Even in the 50s it wasn’t that appetizing. In a sandwich? With maple syrup?? I guess anything that covers up the actual cottage cheese is better than eating it plain.

4. I like writing with paper and pen, drinking tea, staying in on Friday nights, reading cooking magazines, and watching black and white movies on TCM. Apparently I’m a 71 year-old grandmother who likes to knit. All that’s missing is a cat.

5. The February Letter is coming next week. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you should! Get two! Send one to a friend!

6. “Reality television” is usually neither.