Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I'm (Sort Of) Quitting Facebook...

So, as a lot of you already know, I decided to kick 2014 off with a social media experiment...namely, to do a lot less of it. Since I've had so many people ask me why I decided to do this...some of them quite angrily, in fact, which kind of shocked me, truthfully...I thought maybe it was time to write a post explaining my reasoning. It kind of hit me that I'd written some variation of the same email like 20 times to different people, and while that was good in some ways, in that it forced me to really articulate how I'd been feeling over the past few months, I think it's time to consolidate all of that into a single, semi-coherent explanation.

So below, I've tried to outline the main reasons I did it, and what I'm hoping to gain from it.

First, I should probably say it's not a decision I came to overnight, but one I'd been kicking around for at least a few months...really, ever since I started noticing the effect a lot of time spent on Facebook and other social media venues was having on me since I returned from Asia.

So, here are my thoughts, in no particular order...

1) I need to be writing more. 

Probably the simplest one, and the one that people seem to have the least trouble understanding. Not a whole lot to say about this, other than the fact that I really like writing full time and would like it to continue...which means I have to make a living. Which means I have to work, and work pretty danged hard, truthfully, for the next few years, like anyone starting up a small business. That also means I need to minimize distractions and procrastination tools of all kinds, and while social media is a tool for my job, it's also a great big fucking distraction, too. 

2) I need to focus more on being a real person with actual (real) people...in real life. 

This one actually ended up being what I could call the "core" issue I wanted to address, even more than the writing one outlined above...although I have to say, the work/writing one is fast outstripping it this month. Even so, the effects of relying too much on FB and other social media venues to provide me with a feeling of human connection ended up being a much bigger deal to me personally than I realized. It's probably something I could write a whole blog post on, in and of itself. 

Unlike what some people are criticized for, I am very aware of social media as a "public" space. Meaning, I'm always "on" when I'm on social media. I'm always putting up a front of some kind, even if I seem blunt and "honest" it's always edited honesty and somewhat scripted bluntness (unless I'm either in a deliriously goofy mood or furiously angry, then my filters tend to slide quite a bit, but often those posts/comments get deleted once I calm down). 

Either way, that "filtered" version of me isn't what I want as my primary way of interacting with those people I consider friends. In fact, I find it kind of problematic (and tiring) to be "on" for so many hours a day, versus letting my hair down with real people in real life situations. This is part of the reason why I struggle in social situations in the first place, to be honest...I have a pretty strong public/private split in my mind already, probably from working corporate for so many years where I always had to play a role, wear a mask, etc., for eight hours of my day. I found it exhausting then, too...it's a pretty big part of the reason why I don't ever want to do that kind of work again. It was never a natural fit for me, to be in those environments, because I don't naturally act like that, truthfully...or even have the kinds of opinions that most people deem socially bland enough to "pass" in public-persona situations.

I find I'm good at toning myself down when I need to...but isn't the fact that I work for myself now an indication that I don't really WANT to do that? 

It feels like it to me. 

Further, that self-censoring and crafting of responses is starting to piss me off. I have shit I want to say, and things I feel passionately about and issues I would like to address in regards to the bettering of our shared world. The online environment is too polarized and incendiary for me to get much satisfaction trying to have those kinds of conversations there. Due to the nature of the medium, people are too busy ranting from their black and white boxes to have any kind of productive discussion, and a lot of it seems to be about ego and hierarchies of various kinds that frankly don't interest me either. The last thing I want to do with my life is get into bickering matches online rather than actually engaging in issues I care about in ways that impact real people. 

So yes, while the gods certainly know, we could use yet ANOTHER person ranting about their pet issues online, I've decided that's not a role I want to inhabit in any way, shape or form.

That includes fights around publishing and writing, too.

I know all of this ties to some of the points Kait Nolan brings up on her blog here, too, and since being more open about who I really am is something I also want to work on this year, in a lot of different ways (in the writing, with friends, with romantic partners, etc.), I don't see FB helping me with this, but actually hurting me in that respect. 

Social media neither lends itself to empathy and honesty nor rewards either of those things. 

Instead, it's either a replay of television pundits shouting emotionally-laden simplifications at one another mixed with personal attacks...or else it devolves into the kind of nonsense, around-the-cooler type talk that I always sucked at, whether at work or at a party where I didn't know the people very well. I never wanted to talk about sports or what I watched on television the night before or gossip about a bunch of people I don't know very well...I generally have the same tastes in conversation that annoy anyone who'd rather stay off the "serious" topics (which is most people, I've found over the years). I want to talk about what's going on in the world, or religion, or the environment, caste systems, scientific studies I'd read or what just happened in China. 

So yeah, I'm one of THOSE people.

Small talk just isn't my thing, (ask anyone who knows me well...it's really not). I suck at it, like I said. I also find it incredibly boring for the most part, and by the time I left corporate, I had trouble not exhibiting my profound boredom in front of people since this is the only level of interaction that's really allowed in those environments.

Facebook's equivalent lives somewhere between looking at another goddamned cat picture with a cliched saying written across the bottom, or sharing one of 200 or so rants about "grammar," 99% of which usually refer to spelling confusions, not grammar at all.

And yes, I've been totally guilty of that stuff, too...but I really don't think it's a good use of my time. More and more lately, I've been feeling how short life is, given everything I'd like to do with it. I really shouldn't be acting like I'm counting down minutes, waiting for it to end.

I'd rather go read a good book, frankly.

The little fluffhead - my equivalent of "another $^@% cat photo"
3) My writing is better when it comes from actual life and real people, not just from books and/or information gleaned from screens.

This may not be true for all writers, but it is for me. 

Also, I really don't really want all of my writing inspiration to come from other writing. I have this "carbon copy" theory about things diminishing in resolution the further they get from the source, and that can happen with books as much as from copying other forms of media. I see that with a lot of young writers who just imitate the voices/techniques/story arcs of writers they like, and while I know to a large degree this is a developmental stage for new writers––that they can overcome this simply by reading and writing enough that their own voice emerges––a lot of them never seem to ever venture out of these secondary sources. I've heard it said that getting it all from books isn't an issue once these sources become varied and complex enough to allow for an individual voice to emerge apart from the composite...and maybe that's true for a lot of people, but I don't really think it is for me. 

I feel like I write about people, at base. I don't want all of my sources to come from books about people. Distance from subject matter matters to me...and I want my characters to be as real as they can be. I want them to feel (almost) as real as the people I encounter in the world.

Again, that means I need to interact with actual people...and to me, Facebook (strangely, perhaps) forms more of a barrier to that than an aid, in that EVERYONE on there is posturing in some sense, and you don't even have the real person there to read the subtleties in their expressions.

4) I need to separate my personal life from my writing life. 

This is sort of related but sort of separate to the above. When I worked corporate, I used to find that if my work life bled too much into my personal life, it stressed me out. By far, the most healthy periods of my life were when there was a (reasonably) solid line between the two, and I didn't start confusing one with the other. I feel like writing, maybe because it's not a 9-5 type of job, made it easy to miss that I was letting those lines blur until they were more or less indistinguishable. 

And truthfully, I DO have tons of personal friends who are writers, so that is going to blur a bit more. Some of those people are my very close friends, in fact. But the thing is, I want to spend more time interacting with THOSE people in person and on the phone, too, and not solely with about a thousand or more other people listening in. Given that Facebook messages aren't even private anymore (if they ever were), even when they aren't selling the content of those private messages to advertisers, I don't really want to do that via social media, either.

5) I need less screen time, period. 

I don't know about others, but if I spent most of my day staring at screens, even if I do it while engaged in an active process like writing, I end up a zombie after about seven hours. Personally, I kind of think too much screen time cuts you off from reality and being in the present moment. If you get to the point where that's the vast majority of your day, it cuts into your ability to live in the present a lot. It also makes other realities feel a little less real, too. 

I've found I'm a lot happier when I have a fair amount of "right now" time, too. If not being on FB gives me a few more minutes out of the day to walk on the street or along the river, I figure that's undoubtedly a good thing.

6) I really want to get healthy this year.

Related to the above, I'm turning 44 next week. I can't afford to just blow off my health anymore, and I don't want to be one of those people who can barely move by the time they're in their mid-70s. Since I've got a fair bit of longevity in my ancestry, I could be around for another sixty years, and I'd like those to be as active as possible. That means more exercise and a lot less sitting. Kind of like number one, this one doesn't need a lot of explanation beyond this, either.

7) I do want to blog a bit more...and maybe do a podcast.

I realized that I do want to write more on here, too, if only because I tend to be a lot more honest about things when I write them on here for whatever reason, versus on social media sites. I might also start doing more podcasting type stuff, as a friend recently suggested, mostly because it actually sounds kind of fun to me. Of course, that won't happen this month either...and I still can't really commit to blogging a LOT (especially this month, sheesh), but I think I'd like to reserve my screen time for this kind of thing over the 140 character type stuff.
Okay, so those are my reasons, more or less. :)
All of that being said, this is still an experiment, and there are things that might be more difficult as a result. There are a number of friends online that hadn't actually made the jump into "real world" friends yet, but who I really enjoy talking to and felt I was slowly getting to know. Those more blurred cases are probably causing me the most stress...although they all seemed to understand my reasoning about why I was doing it, and all promised to try and stay in touch with me, too, either on my author page on FB or via email/phone.
So yes, an experiment...but so far, I have to say, it's been a good one for me. I feel like I've had a very productive week as a result. I'm also walking more, focusing on my health a bit more, and writing more. If I can try to use this as a jumping off point for the year, then at least it will have done that much.
It seems there might be something in the air anyway, around this topic. I've had a number people tell me that I'm one of some % of their friends who are trying for the same goal. I also happened upon this post by Neil Gaiman that indicated he was experimenting with something similar, which made me feel strangely validated, too.
I also can relate to his somewhat twitchy, coming-down-off-an-addiction type descriptions, too.
Of course, I have a whole theory about that, as well, but I won't bore you all with that here, since I've already written more than enough, I think. :)
Either way, I will keep you all posted on the experiment ~ and would love to hear about any of yours, as well as any of your reactions/observations on the impacts of social media on you. I'm curious to know if I'm just overly sensitive to this kind of thing or if everyone experiences some of these effects and already figured out how to minimize their social media time to counter them.
Either way, have a lovely week ~