Thoughts on social media

(A shorter version of this appeared on this site in October 2011.)

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” link 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. Everyone’s a standup comic now. 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 speed/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.

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

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 think, “I should post that on Twitter.” But shouldn’t my thought be “I should write about that?” There’s nothing wrong with posting something on Twitter or Facebook, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting something that should go some place more permanent. 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.

Everything gets diluted on Twitter and Facebook. The same news and pictures and links and quizzes and jokes and snarky comebacks (in standard Internet lingo and abbreviations) repeated again and again and again. It’s exhausting.

Social media is especially bad when there’s a huge news event, like the death of a celebrity or a political story. Your feeds become overwhelming. Hundreds of people posting the same thing. 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 and our lives. 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 (on my landlineI rarely use my cell).

I have a web site, e-mail, a comments section, a phone, snail mail, a web magazine, several magazines and sites that I write for (and they each have their own Facebook/Twitter pages), and a quarterly print Letter. 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 for almost 19 years. 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?

I don’t particularly like Facebook’s attitude toward the web – from the design to the ads to the crazy friend recommendations to their algorithm that chooses what we see and certainly the privacy issues (I’m also not thrilled with sites where you can’t leave a comment without having a Facebook account). I used to like Twitter more but it has become too much, and I’ve realized you really can’t get into any kind of meaningful discussion about anything in a series of tweets. I don’t know why I spend 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, subscribing to newsletters, and making sure the web is a destination, not where I live. I don’t know if a writer can get by these days without using Facebook or Twitter, but I’m going to give it a shot.

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

(Here’s more on why I’m not on social media.)

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