A little bit ago I decided to bail on the Podcast Community Facebook group. I have actually tried to leave it more than once and either I was re-added by someone or Facebook glitched and left me in. It’s not a rage quit, more of a “meh quit.” Probably 80% of the posts are questions about how to market, promote, manipulate iTunes, etc. In other words, topics I couldn’t care less about. I made the mistake of replying to a post last night and decided that the best it can offer is to waste my time. The information shared is largely irrelevant to me and it isn’t much fun otherwise. If engaging always feel like a mistake, why be there?
Any community picks up a group feeling, and it either resonates with you or it doesn’t. The feeling of this group doesn’t match how I feel about the medium. I don’t blame the community for this, I have my own little bubble that sits outside the larger sentiment of podcasting to this day. I try to avoid full on curmudgeon mode about it, but I feel like a member of an ever shrinking minority that cares most about indie podcasts (or at least doesn’t feel a need to dump on them.) I’m not a booster of the Darlings of the Machine, almost all of which either bore me or annoy me. I’m just guy trying to keep my ears full of the niche topics I care about. Luckily, there is plenty of stuff to keep that going if my 28-day-deep queue is any indicator.
Theoretically, if I hold to my original setup today would be the last day of my social media vacation. This is the 28th day since I queued up a bunch of “send later” tweets and Facebook status and then shut all that crap down. I did violate the embargo last week to announce the news about CREATE South becoming sponsored by the Horry County Arts and Cultural Council, and then shut it all down again.
Here’s the deal. While I acknowledge that Twitter has upsides, I believe they come at too high a price for it to be a tool to draw my attention all day every day. I don’t anticipate ever returning to my previous levels of usage. A lot of the Twitter critics from big media, the same people that criticized bloggers 5 years ago, focus on the unseemliness of the hoi polloi enjoying the same ability to communicate as them. Screw those people, they can bite my ass. My criticism is the opposite. I see value in ordinary people having the channel to communicate, however I find the act of following it closely all day every day to be detrimental to peace of mind. Operative word: peace.
To use Twitter anywhere like the intended pattern involves a twitchiness and jangliness, like the shakes you get after your 7th cup of coffee. Either you are scanning it over and over manually, or you have something that notifies and interrupts you when messages occur. Either way involves Twitter taking your attention at frequent intervals, and usually for ephemera.
I stand by my original statement that there are only really three use cases for when I need information from Twitter right now: 1) when traffic is backed up between where I am and where I am going; 2) when I’m looking for someone with whom to have lunch; and 3) when I’m at a science fiction convention and I’m trying to find the room party that my friends are at. Everything else can wait, and it is detrimental to my life to be notified frequently. The act of getting notified reduces my life enjoyment more than the information increases it.
So, even though I’m coming off of Twitter/Facebook prohibition, I’m retreating from ongoing usage. I’m not sure if that means I only look at them at certain relatively infrequent times, only on specific days, or if I just say screw it and shut it down most of the time until I just feel like participating in them. For years I’ve been arguing with Steve Gillmor (I’d link to him, but links are dead) about the value of real time data streams. He finds them amongst the most important and salient bits of digital life. I’m finding them amongst the worst aspects of my modern life. Most people, myself at the head of the list, flatter themselves by feeling the need to be this connected. Most things in the world don’t need you, you don’t need most things in the world. I now choose to sacrifice connection for peace of mind and the satisfaction of being present in my daily life.
I’m choosing to live at a slower pace. I haven’t looked at a 24 hour news channel in 6 years. I’m clamping down my social media usage. Somewhere between Cory Doctorow and Ted Kaczynski is a happy medium, and for better or worse I’m falling on the latter end of that compromise.
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.
Yesterday the news broke that Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. It’s way early in the process of figuring out what this means going forward, but until it is proven otherwise to me, I’m assuming that there is nothing good in this for me. I like FriendFeed as it is and have been touting it for over a year as the antidote to the things that suck about Twitter. Shades of the buyout of I Want Sandy which shortly led to that very useful service getting shut down. My expectation that is the fate that is in store for FriendFeed. If it still around this time next year, I’ll admit that my gut feeling is wrong but that is where my gut compass currently points.
The reaction to this buyout shows the true polarization of the insiders and outsiders in the online world. There were basically two reactions to this news: 1) “Oh boy, it is doubtful that this is good for me as a user of FriendFeed” and 2) “I’m happy for the founders and investor who got to cash out.” The second reaction is common in these kinds of buyouts and it drives me crazy.
I don’t have any emotions for the founders of FriendFeed or their personal lives and bank accounts. They built something that is useful in my life, I used it daily and by my use, I was one of the many who byte by byte built the value that they later realized in a cash payout. The “this is great for the founders” view is something useless to me. If you are one of those couple of hundred or thousand Silicon Valley types who hang out in these social circles then good for you. One of your own made good. For the tens or hundreds of thousands of users of FriendFeed not in that circle, things aren’t looking so good. How about you insiders try to make the next one of these work without the broader online public and see how that works for you? If y’all are so happy, try being the only users of these things from now on. For myself, I am looking for good stewards of my online life yet over and over again, finding those I entrust lacking.
I’ve gotten tired of feeling milked by these things. I’m tired of integrating these things into my life and then having them pulled out from under me. I repeat, we don’t know that is happening here. If it does, this is a cut that won’t heal soon. I’ve built up enough Web 2.0 antibodies to become resistant to their idea viruses. The burden of proof that I should spend my time on any new whizzy thing will have been raised and my skepticism will become that much more solidified.
FriendFeed, Facebook, don’t screw me on this. If you pull an I Want Sandy style shutdown, you are closing the door on an era.