Essays on Technology and Culture

Social Media Sabbatical II: Electric Boogaloo

This past January, I took a few weeks off from social media: Facebook, Twitter, App.Net, Instagram, Tumblr—all the various streams that dominate my online time. The goal then was to free my mind and my time for more constructive things—writing, reading, making my own moments. Instead, I blew most of the freed up time playing SimCity and finding other diversions. While it did set me off on a goal of being more judicious in what I opt to consume online, the entire endeavor must be rated a failure.

Even though I failed in my first attempt to sublimate a Facebook and Twitter addiction, the idea of breaking up and finding some distance between myself and the firehose of streams has remained an ideal in the romantic sense. To free my mind and my ego from the petty concerns of the stream—not just the empty sharing of thoughts and ideas, but checking to see who’s “Liked” my statuses, who’s fav’d and RT’d me on Twitter. Enough.

It was a Twitter conversation back in June, I think with S. V. Macias, that had me thinking of trying a new social media sabbatical. The ideals were the same, but I’m thinking about my approach in a different way. Instead of sublimating my social media time with other time spent on the computer, this is time I could spend doing things I need and want to do. I’m putting hard limits on my options, and even opting to just plain disconnect from time to time as necessary to live my life, and live it away from the streams.

I am going to miss the streams, though. In the last few weeks, I’ve had some great Twitter conversations, especially with Sid O’Neill. We’ve chatted about the role of technology in our lives, the business of tech (and how little we care for it), diversity, and even the third rail of faith and religion. I’ve loved every minute of it, though I don’t know if Sid has. (I kid because I love.) I also worry, as a number of my friends are musicians, and use Facebook to announce events and shows. Even if I’m trying to avoid the Fear of Missing Out, I don’t want to miss a chance to support my friends for some curious notion of re-finding a balance in my digital life.

But this is the risk we take. We had ways of keeping in touch before Twitter and Facebook, and those ways haven’t gone around. If I take a picture of my lunch, and don’t post it to Instagram, it still exists. I’m taking an extreme measure, because I feel it’s the best way to figure out just how much I need these things in my life. I already know they need me to feed the machine. I just need to know if what I’m giving up to them is worth what I’m getting back.

There’s all this time. Time to listen to music, take walks through my neighborhood, time to read books and time to make words. I want to do all those things, and be present. There’s also time to cook the dinner, wash the dishes, run on the treadmill, do the laundry, and hug and kiss my partner. I want to do all those things, and be present too. I want to be in touch with the smart, funny, and interesting people of the Internet. I want to do that, and be present. Only that last one requires a screen, and an Internet connection, as well as time. I’m using too much of that time on the being in touch, and not enough of it elsewhere. It’s time to rethink that.