One side effect I hadn’t actually considered when I took the social media vacation was that I got caught up on my email within a week. When I started my break last week, my Mac’s inbox was around 300 emails. Today, without the constant distraction and without making any sort of heroic attempt, I have my inbox at 20. At the moment the ones I can see without scrolling are April 20 at the top and July 20 at the bottom. The very bottom one in the inbox is June 20, 2008 which is obvious that I’m trying my best to avoid dealing with.
I did not take the social media break in order to get caught up on email, but that’s a nice little side effect.
Ski resorts sometimes use cannon fire to prevent large scale avalanches. They do this by triggering very small avalanches at regular intervals, firing howitzers or air cannons into the higher snow banks to shake loose the chunks that are shake-loosable. The more I think about it, I think regular use of Twitter has done a similar thing to my blogging and podcasting output. Because I have access to a fairly constant ability to broadcast small chunks of whatever is on my mind, I have less urgency to gather my thoughts and write up longer bits.
I’ve discussed elsewhere how I feel like posting to Twitter is sharecropping. You don’t own it, it disappears down a Twitter driven memory hole, and whatever value you build is accruing to the account of Twitter.com, not you. I don’t make a killing on this blog, but whatever trickle of cash I earn from the Google ads and the Amazon affiliate links on here is more than I get from Twitter. When I blog, I make some pin money and I own all my stuff. When I Tweet, nothing much happens for me other than reducing my incentive and motivation to create anything else. That seems like an obviously pretty bad deal in every way you slice it.
This evening I did the data entry for every survey form turned in at CREATE South 2010. A lot of what was discussed this year involved social media. It was an article of faith that the energy put into social media is a necessity and has a positive payoff. I’m not so sure I buy that. I think the graph of involvement to value created has a steep climb from nothing to a small bit, and then caps out quickly. I know that puts me opposite of folks like my friend Tee Morris and Chris Brogan, who believe this is a necessity for anyone that wants to be involved in any form of internet culture. I’ve avoided drinking that Flavor Aid and it seems ever less tasty.
I supported my compatriots at CREATE South that wanted to teach and learn more about social media but less and less do I have any desire to be a part of it. What value it provides to the user comes at a high price, one that practically never gets factored in to the equation. I’m trying hard to account for those terms in my personal calculus.
Update: I forgot to link to Garrick Van Buren’s examination of the same topic as he examines what changed in his life when he dropped Twitter.
Here are some random thoughts from the first week of my social media timeout:
- In the lead up to this, it was suggested that I would have a hard time saying away from Twitter et al. It is not hard, it is very easy. I’m wondering now if I ever really want to come back. I do find that is taking a long time to get rid of the twitchy feeling that comes from frequent checking of new tweets. I often feel like I’m forgetting something. When I realize it is Twitter, I’m always relieved.
- Today at lunch I was reading from Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. I was in the part of Chapter 3 where he discussed Facebook and Twitter and the potential for redefining in a reductive way what social relationships mean to us. I personally find a lot of resonance in this notion. Some of my Twitter and Facebook friends are people I love dearly and some are people I have met once at a party. The fact that this nuance disappears is a weakness of the system and as Lanier points out over and over again, it disappears because it isn’t important to the people who build and design these things.
- I used to dread making phone calls and now I find that I’d much rather call than send a Twitter direct message. I’m thinking my primary use for FB and Twitter might become remaining connected enough to use them to keep up with mailing addresses and phone numbers.
There is more, but I think the other big insight needs its own post.
At CREATE South last week, we had an informal pitch session at which I primed the pump by going public with some of my skunkworks projects, one of which is an independent documentary idea that I’ve been kicking around for years. In it, I mentioned that I thought I could bring the project in for around $5,000 (mainly by NOT PAYING THE CREW!) From the floor, Mur Lafferty asked if I had considered Kickstarter as a fund raising mechanism for the seed money. I admitted that I had not and wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. I did file the idea away for future reference though.
In a bit of coincidence, earlier today I saw this post on the Comics Reporter that references Patrick Farley’s attempt to raise money for his webcomic project via Kickstarter. I have seen Farley’s work before and liked it. It seemed like a webcomic version of what I liked best about the cyberpunk work of George Alec Effinger. I am interested in seeing his nearly successful fundraising campaign succeed (90% there with 6 days to go at this writing) and am considering kicking in a few bucks. I was looking at the particulars of his project and noticed that Brendan McCarthy is one of the contributors. Yes, THE Brendan McCarthy. That part truly rocks the house, that one might be supported in a project by someone cool whose work you admire. That seems like a rare but awesome case.
If I’m going to do this via Kickstarter it makes more sense to do it sooner than later, so I might well set this up in a day or three. If so, I’ll be posting here shortly. Keep watching the skies, radar rangers!
I have purchased a few books on my Kindle recently that I’m going to read during my “social media vacation.” Like almost every Kindle purchase I’ve ever made both of these were impulse buys. I still need to write up my big post about how big publishers are completely missing the impulse buy potential of the ebook platforms but that is for a later time.
It wasn’t intentional but both of these books are consistent with the theme of slowing down social media, stepping back, focusing more on creative output. The first is Jaron Laneir’s book You Are Not a Gadget. I’m a few chapters in to this one and it is exactly what I was already thinking about, an examination of what the effects of adapting humanity to their machines can do to us. Not only am I stepping back but at the same time I am completely and totally perplexed by the iPad fever of people I know. I’m reading this book with an eye to understand what is it we are trying to gain as we search around these technological spaces.
The other book is Jeff VanderMeer’s book Booklife. It was recommended by Mur Lafferty at last week’s CREATE South and so I impulse bought it and will check it out. I met Jeff 15 years ago when he was riding along to the WREK studios on a day when I interviewed his now wife Ann for Reality Break. He’s a great guy and a great writer so I have no doubt reading this book will be a mystically introspective experience. More about it later after I’ve read it. Dobbs help me, I hope it straightens me out a little in my creative life.
PS – before those who want to hoist me on the irony petard about reading You are Not a Gadget on the Kindle, the thing I like best about the Kindle is that it is the anti-gadget piece of consumer electronics. I keep reading reviews saying the iPad will take over as the book reader because it is so much sexier than the Kindle. I like the Kindle because it is not sexy! I use it to read books, and nothing much besides. That is a selling point. I want less distraction, less flashiness. It’s a boring little thing that does one job well and that’s why I use it.
A month or so ago, I saw Annie Leonard get interviewed on The Colbert Report about her book The Story of Stuff. I was interested and went to buy it for my Kindle. Hey, guess what? This book about how Americans buy more physical goods than they need and fill their houses up with it is not available as an ebook, only as a physical good. Nice job completely undermining your own message by the way you do business, Annie Leonard and Free Press (Simon and Schuster). I’m trying to wean myself off of filling my house up with more stuff and am receptive to your message of less stuff, yet that’s the only way I can get your book.
Update: After digging a little more, I see the book is available for the Nook as DRM ePub, not available for Kindle. That’s a little better, but still out of sync with the message of the work itself.
Last night when I went to bed, I shut down Twitter (HootSuite, really) and Facebook and FriendFeed. I’m not going to look at or log in to any of those things for the next 30 days. There might be slight exceptions if I get a Facebook invite to something timely I want to accept but even if I have to sneak back in, I’m not reading and digging through status updates.
This is a mental health strategy for me. I have found that the always-on constant update of social media has worn on me more and more over the last year. When I turned it off for a weekend or to go do things around my town, it actually felt like a relief to me to be able to step back from that. Bear in mind, without any sort of smart phone I’m only a fraction as connected as most of my friends and still it wore on me over time. I understand the ways it can be useful but we need to think about what it does to us long term to be connected so much of our lives to these fast twitch update systems. You ignore the long term consequences of your productivity tools at your own peril. Even crystal meth is an effective productivity tool if you only consider the short term.
I still need to do my writeup on this year’s CREATE South conference (now one week in the past.) The only reason I didn’t start this vacation earlier was because of that conference. A certain bit of coordination and promotion was aided by Twitter and Facebook so I bit the bullet and stayed connected until the mopping up was mostly done. It made me feel like a bit of a fraud during the conference itself because a number of our sessions were about strategies for using social media to add value to your life or business while I was just counting the days until I could get social media out of my life for a month. This year the official CREATE South Twitter account was completely run by Tee Morris and that was a fabulous success. Not only did he do a job wildly better than I could have, it meant I didn’t have to stay locked in on that account. The result was better and I was happier.
I have a goal (not a death pact, just a goal) to blog at least once per day over this period. As I put more energy into the ephemera of social media, I put less into the more durable work on this blog and podcast. As I’ve said before, blogging for yourself in your own domain is like farming, posting your witticism into Twitter is like sharecropping. The work is the same, it’s just someone else cashing out most of the value. I hope to move my mix into things of lasting value to myself.
On top of that, my goal is to spend less time in front of the computer altogether. If there is one take-away lesson from CREATE South, it is that you get a lot of bang for your buck engaging with the people and the world around you and we geeks do too little of that. I want to attend the next Rivertown Social in downtown Conway. I want to start kayaking up the Waccamaw River. I can walk to the river landing, for pete’s sake. As I put it yesterday, “I want to spend less time with Facebook and more time with faces and books.” It’s shut down until May 23rd. We’ll see where it goes after that, but for now I am taking a well deserved break and it feels great.
This blog has been mostly quiet as I’ve been neck deep in preparation for this year’s CREATE South. It will be tomorrow, at the Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s conference center (the campus by the beach, NOT the one on Highway 501 in Conway.) There is so much good stuff happening in the sessions tomorrow that we all will have hard decisions to make (of the best kind.)
Thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors how made this year both the easiest and on track to be the best one yet. If you can, come out and join us. As I’ve been talking about my new media malaise, CREATE South is what I’m hoping is the shot in my metaphorical arm to rekindle all the things I loved about the medium in the first place. I will see you there.
My struggles with the online world continue. I am blogging ever less, podcasting ever less. However I remember the introduction to Ted Sturgeon’s short story collection Sturgeon Is Alive and Well . . .. In it he posited that there is no such thing as “writer’s block” only changes in writing styles that require entering a chrysalis-like state for a while before emerging as a different thing. He thought that what seemed like an inability to write was the conscious writer requiring a quiet time to catch up with the subconscious one.
I hope that is what is happening to me and social media. The positive side about my online life doldrums is that is being matched with a ramping up of activity in my offline life. Just this morning, I rode my bike down to the Conway riverfront and around downtown for the first time in a long time. I plan after next weekend’s CREATE South to take one month off from social media – for sure Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and other presence type services and possibly the blog and everything. I know Larry Lessig does one month a year entirely away from the internet and that might turn out to be a long term healthy way to live.
For now, I remain trying to adjust the needle to the sweet spot of the online/offline balance mix. Time to shut down the computer and go play some beach volleyball with friends. It seems like a better thing to do on a beautiful April day in Myrtle Beach than blogging. I’m just saying …