The Web Was A Better Place Before Social Media

I’m done with social media.

I’m using Twitter and Facebook way too much. There are days when I keep clicking the “New Tweets” button 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. I check Facebook 30 times a day to see who has Liked something I’ve posted or who has sent me a friend request or who has written a post I just HAVE to comment on. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve posted something only to edit it or delete it because it wasn’t “good” enough. I don’t know how any of this can be healthy. 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.

How did it come to this?

This is probably a failing on my part. A person can always “just say no” to social media when they have to get work done, but these things are so seductive and needed and they’re only a click away that they grab hold of you. You go to check Facebook for just five minutes and before you know it an hour has gone by. 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 post so people know my opinions! I have to congratulate this person on their promotion/birth/great post! Let’s get into an argument in bursts of 140 characters, that’s a great use of our time! Let’s take a tweet out of context and freak out about it! I think I’ll retweet this insult someone tweeted me! I have to make sure I don’t miss anything! I have to plug my stuff again! Ooo, maybe this celebrity will interact with me! I need to take this quiz to find out what kind of doughnut I am! Here’s video of a cat dancing! I have to RT this praise someone gave me! Hey, look, 9 ways you’re eating salad wrong! What’s happening now? How about now?

Sometimes it seems like people on social media can’t go a day without posting something. They can’t let a thought go by, and they have to get it up as quick as possible. They don’t just visit Facebook or Twitter, they live there. Hey, I love posting and reading things on social media, but there has to be a common sense limit. If I’m to be honest – and if a lot of people were to be honest – a lot of our posts have an agenda behind them. If we’re not plugging and promoting our stuff (which is fine, I do it too), we’re commenting on something that someone else has posted, which is really just another way of promoting ourselves. I see so many people on social media who will congratulate someone on a new job or a new baby, or offer condolences when there’s a death/other bad news, 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?

You know why. Besides being a convenience thing, they want to show others that they’re interacting with this person. You’ll notice that people will often put a period before their reply to someone – that way everyone that follows them will also see it too. If they really wanted to simply reply to them they’d reply or send a DM, but they want to show it to everyone. And it’s funny how some people will only RT/interact with certain people. I see too many people on Twitter who seem to be trying to impress others. Say what you want about Facebook (and I do), it’s not as much of a clique as Twitter is (at least on Facebook you’re more likely to find real friends and family).

For a writer, social media (and the web in general) can be an amazing distraction. I envy the writers who can tweet or post on Facebook 10 times a day and still get work done. I’m not one of them. The great thing about social media – that there’s always something new and interesting to see – also happens to be what’s bad about it. I can feel my attention span draining away, and it started to affect my reading. I was used to reading tweets and Facebook posts and other short posts and actually had to struggle to read anything long form. It does something to your brain.

Some people say that we’ve always had to deal with distractions. No way. Not at this level, everywhere, all the time.

The weird thing about social media is that everyone on it complains about it (usually while they’re on social media). It irritates them, it depresses them, they know it’s bad for them mentally and career-wise, yet they won’t leave! They’ll quit for two days or maybe they’ll delete the app from their phone for a while, but they never, ever leave.

Joining social media today is like starting to smoke today. Why would you do that? All the evidence is in. It’s bad for you.

I know a lot of great writers on social media 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, clever tweets are a gas, but stopping the longer writing on your site so you can post on Twitter and Facebook more? I can’t imagine doing that. I still go directly to web sites and blogs to read what people have to say (if you still have a site or blog, that is). And I hope that if there’s a writer you follow on Twitter or Facebook that you also go to their site too.

Also as a writer I feel like I’m using a lot of ideas and lines that I should use in a story or an article. Sometimes I’ll think of something and say to myself, “I should post that on Twitter and Facebook.” But shouldn’t my thought be “I should write about that?” There’s nothing wrong with posting something on social media, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting something that should go some place more permanent (and social media gives writers the illusion that we’re actually writing something). Let’s face it, our tweets and Facebook posts are here today and pretty much vanish into the ether a day later. I want to be prolific, but as a writer, not prolific on social media.

It’s all so exhausting. Remember the days when we didn’t know everything, when we had some separation between the news and our own lives, and we didn’t have a machine in our hands where we could know everything instantly? I actually miss that. There’s no mental breathing room anymore.

I remember being at the mall with my mother and sister 40 years ago, Christmas shopping. When we got home there was a note from my brother on the kitchen table that said “Bobby Darin died.” We didn’t know about it because we were at the mall and it was 1973 and no one could get that information until they got home. And we didn’t know what killed him or what people thought of him until we watched the evening news that night, or read about it the next day in the paper. I’m not saying I necessarily want to go back to those days, but there’s something to be said about not having this constant bombardment of news, information, and entertainment coming at you.

We don’t have to be connected all day, every day, just because we can be. It begins to affect our minds, the actual way we think and what we expect from each other. When I logged out of Facebook recently 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. I’m sure a lot of younger people can’t understand that. They don’t remember the days when we didn’t carry around our phones, our mail, our encyclopedias, our music, our photo albums, our televisions and our office 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 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 without having to take a pic or post a tweet about it. 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.

I have a web site, e-mail, a comments section, two phones, snail mail, a web magazine, several magazines and sites that I write for (and they each have their own Facebook/Twitter pages), and I still send handwritten letters. Isn’t that enough contact/interaction? Do we  – even if we’re writers or editors or media people or tech people – have to do everything that comes along online?

I love the web and gadgets and it’s amazing we can do what we do. I’ve used computers since the mid-80s and I’ve been online since 1996. But there is such a thing as too much. I think we all have ADD now, our minds getting trained to be able to handle Facebook posts and tweets and tumblr pics but not much longform. Everything is faster, faster, now, now, now. We all have to be connected all the time, everywhere. There’s no downtime anymore, and it’s weird. Hey, I’m eating dinner! Here’s a picture of that dinner! I feel happy! I feel sad! I went to the movies! Like me, share me, comment on my post! Viral! Selfie! Hashtag!

It’s so easy to “friend” someone online. To hit “Like” or “Follow” instead of talking to someone in person or over the phone. Social media has made is soooo easy to “keep in touch” with people, but it’s a bit of an illusion. Real friendship takes a little more work, a little more time. Social media (and texting) has not only affected how we communicate with each other, but what we expect from each other.

It’s weird we know what all of our friends are doing without even ever talking to them. I know what they had for breakfast. I know how the traffic was on the way to work, I know where they’re going for lunch, I know where they vacation, I know what movies they’re watching, and I know what time they go to bed because they’ll say “goodnight, tweeps” or something similar. What the hell do people talk about now when they actually get together?

(Oh, and your political posts? I completely agree about ________! You make some great points about ________ and ________! I’m 100% behind you!)

And while I can tell you that I didn’t like other people on social media, I also didn’t like myself.

I don’t particularly like Facebook’s attitude toward the web – from the ads to the crazy friend recommendations to their algorithm that chooses what we see and certainly the massive privacy issues (that could be a whole separate rant). I used to like Twitter more, especially in the early days, but it has become a stupid, useless toilet, and I’ve realized nothing good can come from it. I don’t know why I spent so much time there. Adding my opinion to the endless stream? Getting more followers? Fear Of Missing Out? I’ve decided to fight against all of this in my own small way.

I’ve gone back and forth the past few years but I’ve finally deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The web was a better place before social media, and I’m going to try using the web the way we used to: by going directly to sites that I’ve bookmarked, using RSS (and print newspapers and magazines of course, which I’ve never given up) to keep track of what’s new, contacting people via e-mail and snail mail, subscribing to newsletters. I don’t know if a writer can get by these days without using social media, but I’m going to give it a shot.

People weren’t made to live at the speed of Facebook and Twitter, and it’s going to be good to get back to not doing things on social media time.

Related: Five Years Later: How I’ve been doing without social media.

4 thoughts on “The Web Was A Better Place Before Social Media

  1. Bob I have read you for years – love your writing but your thoughts are not about social media – they are about you which I respect – I look, I check but have no obsession and don’t care – don’t even know numbers – I check to see, to wonder if anyone cares – that’s all. Big fan. Emily Rooney

    1. That’s very true Emily. I know a lot of people who use it just fine, and I envy them! I’m just not one of them, and I think the negatives outweigh the positives.

      Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment. Much appreciated.

  2. It was indeed! But is it possible to work in some sectors, like Politics, without using it and mainly Twitter?
    I don’t think so, unfortunately.
    You have to find a method so as to be the most efficient and not fall into the rabbit hole…

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