Some of you knew from my previous blog post that two weeks ago I gave up social media cold turkey as a 14-day experiment to see how it affected me as a person highly active on Twitter and Facebook. (Initially I had included texting in my cleanse as well, but gigs and family dictated my hesitant and abbreviated return to this medium in about four days). So at midnight, Sunday, March 17th I logged out of my Facebook and Twitter accounts and did not log in again for the whole duration of my planned absence. For the first few days after I logged out, I kept a brief journal of my thoughts and feelings being away from social networking; however, I soon lost my desire to write about it. In fact, this two-week break practically eradicated my desire to participate in social media in general – at least to the extent I’d been previously using it.
Since my prescribed return yesterday, March 31st, I’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook several times – only to log back out again minutes later out of complete and utter disinterest. I felt no desire to comment, reply, favourite, like, or retweet anything. In fact, my Twitter and FB feeds felt overwhelming to me, as if I had been in a small outport community for two weeks and all of a sudden been dropped right in the heart of Manhattan. It’s like I’ve lost the mental capacity to negotiate the endless scroll of information.
Of course I was a willing and active participant in this pursuit just a few weeks ago, tweeting and posting all the time. But my two-week break caused me to lose the faculties I needed to process the sheer amount of material being presented to me as I made my way down the Twitter and FB feeds with my mouse.
During my time away from social media, I became a voracious reader of conventional news. I replaced the Twitter and FB icons on my iPhone with CBC and The Globe and Mail. So I ended up becoming more interested in politics and current events than ever before. As a result, the only thing I looked for on social media yesterday when I logged back in was information relating to the controversial 2013 Newfoundland provincial budget, which was passed down last week. I found a FB protest page called “Down with Dunderdale” that had funny memes of our provincial leaders along with denouncements of them (in bad grammar, I must add – which removes all credibility from their protests). I clicked on a few of the local journalists’ Twitter feeds to see if anyone was asking the MHAs any tough questions. I didn’t find much, although I didn’t spend too much time looking. I found a link to CBC Television’s On Point with David Cochrane, and he did a good job of making bad news messenger Jerome Kennedy sweat in the hot seat.
The truth is, however, I don’t really need Twitter or FB for this info. I can find on news websites anything I need to know about current events, both regionally and internationally. As far as the armchair quarterback comments that litter the social media landscape concerning current events, I can do without 95% of the uninformed and cringe-worthy snipes. Regarding real-time weather reports, I’m simply indifferent to what’s happening weather-wise every second of the day. Roads are slick this morning? Good to know. I don’t need all this information. It’s overload. And this is just the factual, informational stuff. I won’t even bother to expound upon the animal lover’s obsessive need to splatter feeds with SCPA posters of sad-faced orphan dogs, or the conspiracy theorist’s unending links to articles that are either outdated or have been refuted by Snopes.com.
I can’t say for sure if I will fall back into step with social media. After two weeks away from it, I feel like I’m jinxing myself by tweeting, commenting, or posting now. It’s like when I gave up cigarettes back in 2007. I knew that even one puff would put me right back on them. Something about this dynamic feels strangely similar. I have a newfound sense of freedom and privacy by not commenting and participating in conversations and threads that are there for so many voyeurs to digest, decipher, and judge at will. I’m enjoying real-life conversations these past few weeks, with the electronic versions feeling more and more shallow to me all the time. Many people I know rather well in real life and converse with regularly on tweets and posts did not contact me outside of social networking in the two weeks I was gone. Simply put, a lot of people just do not want to put the effort into stepping outside this quick, instant medium. In fact, I’ve come to believe that some people actually prefer to have an audience when they’re corresponding. They like the knowledge that a third party is following along. After a break from this sort of correspondence, it now seems somewhat shallow to conduct conversations with good friends in this manner. On the other side of the coin, a few old friends did touch base by email and we ended up heading out for lunch. And we didn’t talk about social networking at all. We didn’t need to. We were social networking, right there in person. There was no “you should tweet that” or “that would be a funny FB post,” thankfully.
All in all, what I’ve taken from this break is the following: social media is a tool that’s valuable to businesses, artists, organizations, and other causes that wish to increase or maintain a public profile. It’s also a place for people to unwind and have a few laughs. I’ve used it for both. But I think I was overusing it and spending too much time interacting with it. And most importantly, too much useless information was making its way into my mind from people who simply cannot censor or limit their emotionally-fueled and neurotic contributions.
During my two weeks away, I found myself constantly coming up with little phrases and seemingly “witty” observations and then immediately realizing I had nowhere to “announce” them. And initially it felt hollow to only share it with “me” and not my “friends and followers.” After a while, however, I started to enjoy the notion of analyzing things around me, forming opinions about them, and simply internalizing these thoughts as solely my own. In essence I created my own little FB and Twitter in my mind where I had only one follower and one friend: Me. So by the time I logged back on yesterday I realized I’d replaced the external feeds with my own internal feed that I fill with my own experiences and things I discover. And it’s way more interesting than an external feed that ultimately does not contribute in any meaningful way to who I am as an evolving individual. Sure, some links are informative, and it’s fun to quip sarcastically with friends. But beyond that, what is the true value in it?
As I mentioned in my first piece on this experiment, many people use social media as a place to gather when they can’t gather in person. But are people really meant to gather virtually in this way, and for such prolonged periods? That’s for every individual to decide, perhaps. For me, I have enjoyed two weeks of real contact with a much smaller group of people. It feels more natural. After all, if you’re real friends with someone, you’ll email, call, and eventually see each other in person.
I don’t wish to knock social media. I had a great time on it for a number of years. Heck, I’m using it to post this article. But the spell’s been broken for me. I’ve lost that loving feeling, so to speak. I’m sure I’ll remain friends with FB and Twitter on a casual basis, but the love affair is called off.