So, the new year is a few weeks underway, and I’ve already made what I hope will be one of the best choices I’ll make all year long: I plan on scaling back my involvement in social media and the Internet in general a lot. As in, maybe a weekly post or two on Facebook, a few tweets, maybe a blog post every week (inner voice says hah, that’s generous). As a replacement for this online time, I plan on writing and reading a whole lot more, with the end result of being more well-read this year than I was last year, and also placing more fiction and nonfiction pieces in various places, hopefully. If you want to call it a resolution, then call it a resolution. Either way, this feels like the logical end result of a lot of my observations and feelings from being online last year, so it’s a no-brainer to me.
The truth is, I don’t really think social media is all that good for me, and I don’t see the personal function it serves for me, not as it is at this time anyway. I really sat back and thought about this at the end of last year, once I reached the winter break from school. There were long stretches of time where I didn’t post anything on Facebook: personal updates, links, shares, whatever you like. It didn’t upset me at all. In fact, it felt pretty awesome, not having to worry about it.
Previously, I worried a lot about posting things regularly and trying to get likes and comments because… because that’s good, right? Getting lots of likes is good, because that means lots of people liked something I said, and I can point to that when talking to other people and say, “See? People like what I say. They think I’m funny/smart/heartfelt/etc.” I suppose retweets and favorites and follows on Twitter work the same way. You say things and share things in a certain way to get people to follow you and share what you say, which you probably got from someone else anyway, and so on so forth. At the end of the day, you get a bunch of followers so you can say you have a bunch of followers.
Now, this is good when you have something to sell. When you’ve got a novel, or a movie, or something significant to show people as a commodity for them to buy, it’s fantastic. I, however, don’t have anything like that, which is why I realized my previously established pattern of online engagement and social media use didn’t make sense. I was marketing a nonexistent product. Some people are awesome at using social media while working on their own original stuff, but I am definitely not one of those people.
Furthermore, I found myself getting sucked into ongoing conversations and (more accurately) arguments going on in the social mediasphere. Granted, there was a lot to talk about last year: global warming, Ebola, Ferguson, politics, feminism, #GamerGate, police brutality, and so much more that it hurts to think about it. Some of the discussion online was thoughtful and smart, but much more of it was stupid. Just, stupid. It was so stupid that it made me think that social media really was making people dumber, like alarmists say it is. I can’t begin to count all the time I spent last year writing hypothetical responses to things online, only to delete it all because I realized I spent all that time writing something in response to something else that was fundamentally, horribly stupid.
This gets into a much more problematic reason why I’m scaling back my social media engagement for at least most of or the rest of this year, and possibly further in the future: I think it’s constructed in such a way that it oversimplifies discourse and prevents people from taking actual, appropriate action in the non-Internet world. Simplistic, extremist viewpoints are far easier to express in the space of a tweet or a Facebook post than complex, considered ones. The former are also what get shared, retweeted, etc. more often. More familiar statements then get privileged over newer ones. The construction of social media sites actually makes it easier to share what someone else has said, rather than finding your own way of saying it. This turns social media into a colossal echo chamber of opinions bouncing back and forth with little change, because people by and large are less concerned with changing the minds of those who disagree with them and more concerned with simply being louder. And, in social media, the loudest get the bragging rights. I also think that social media just allows people to let off steam and then move on with their lives like normal, when in fact that might be the last thing they should do. That’s not even getting into the people I meet online who present themselves one way on Facebook and then act totally different (and not in a good way) in real life.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of struggling against this noise every time I want to figure out what’s happening anywhere, and I’m sick of getting upset over what people say and do online. That energy would be better invested on my end in reading, for instance. Two hours spent reading a book – like The Kills by Richard House, for instance, or a hundred other books I really want to tackle – would be more valuable to me than two hours spent over the course of a day thinking about something I want to post on Facebook to get the maximum amount of social media leverage. Two hours spent writing things that could then get published elsewhere, and then shared and commented on by others (including myself), is even better spent.
And that’s the thing too: I want to publish stuff in venues other than my blog, for instance. I want to publish in magazines and presses, and websites on the literary or geek culture side of things, and every essay I write for this blog to initially publish here is something I’ve potentially missed out on placing elsewhere. I have to seriously consider the personal economy I’m creating for myself as a writer, and social media makes it way too easy to give things away for free. I want to get paid.
So, for the most part, I’m not really using social media this year. I still plan on using it to stay in touch with people, but no more overt attempts to say pithy things for the sake of it, and no more sharing of links that I think will make people form a conception of my identity that I want them to have. I want to do most of my work outside social media, writing stories and novels and essays that can be published elsewhere on the Internet, perhaps, and maybe then I’ll be able to use social media more often, because I’ll have something to sell. And, ultimately, I want to figure out a model of engagement that works for me. If it takes the whole year, so be it.