A lot of people have been reassessing their relationships with social media at this time of annual resolution making.
One of the rallying cries has been Cheri's No Social Media Club which makes a lot of interesting points, chief among them those who claim to be quitting social are the first to share it as though their followers require an explanation.
Cheri, however, doesn't dive into the usual 'Ive quit so you must too or you're a bad person' hyperbole that such posts normally devolve into. Instead, she takes a far more philosophical look.
She ponders her blogging and whether that is just the same attention seeking quitters despise dressed up in fancy clothing:
"Might it be emotionally healthier to disappear entirely, to take up full residence in the flesh-and-blood world, to keep my damn thoughts to myself?"
I quit social media in stages years ago, today is the fourth anniversary of finally deactivating my Twitter and Facebook accounts, 1 but the same questions still hound me. Why do I blog? Why do I share? What is the point?
Bloggers will tell you it's because they must, they feel compelled to do so. Cheri writes:
"Writing is how I think. These essays turn a vague swirl of emotions and opinions into something I can work with."
I can relate to that but, the question remains, why share? Where does the need to post such thoughts to the public web come from when those thoughts could so easily be contained in a private journal? As she says, writers wish to be read; sharing under the guise of 'being useful' is a way to get the words out without feeling or seeming desperate.
It's something asked a lot of themselves by many I'm sure.
I'm old enough to know a time before the prevalence of personal computers, before the web, before social networks, before blogging. I can remember what life was like without resorting to a slab of glass and metal in my pocket for entertainment. Considering Cheri's post, Jan-Lukas writes:
"I wonder what it would be like if I don’t share so much on my blog, what it would be like if I had never started sharing anything on the internet in the first place?"
How the mind boggles!
I have stepped away from online life more times than I care to remember, usually due to mental health reasons. Not only did I stop any activity on social media but also stopped blogging. The real kicker, however, was that I stopped writing, entirely, not even in private; crashing from overshare to nothing — not even exploring my thoughts with myself.
During my most recent hiatus, I removed my RSS feed from micro.blog meaning that, even if I did post, I was cutting off my primary avenue for response — the majority of replies to posts come from there.
Micro.blog is a strange, hybrid beast: a blogging platform, yes, but also a quasi-social network. When anyone posts to their hosted blog that they are quitting social media they are invariably met with the question "Isn't micro.blog social media?" The reply is equally invariably "Yes, but ..."
Personally, I use micro.blog primarily as a distribution tool and extension to onsite comments. It is increasingly rare that I visit the site itself and look at the timeline. As a blogging network it is a wonderful resource but it is inescapable that the social element plays at least an equal role which is sometimes hard to reconcile when you have sworn off such things elsewhere.
I often wonder what would happen were I to remove my RSS feed from the service, what impact would it have on my blogging. The amount of engagement would drop. Significantly. No question about it. Does this worry me? If so then it demonstrates that I write for, and appreciate, an audience even when claiming to write for self.
"Writers wish to be read ... "
Is that wish so compelling, the need for peer review and input so strong, that we, I, cannot dispel it? The oft repeated refrain is that we are social animals and crave human contact, even when virtual. But does this need to come from such sources as timelines? Of course not but, despite protestations, convenience usually wins.
Online life has been irrevocably altered, it's fabric unpicked and sewn anew into forms that no longer fit and styles we might no longer desire. As much as we may pine for the old ways and gather in corners of the web, clutching at the past, we can never go back. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
So what to do?
Dive in and to hell with the consequences? Drop out entirely and live in a constant state of FOMO?
The decision is different for all. We each have our tolerances and thresholds. We all have limits on how far we are willing to go, what compromises we are willing to make. We need to be comfortable with our own position — that is all we can control, to think otherwise is foolish and only misleading ourselves.
To echo Cheri, I write to think and this, in turn, influences deed. I write to understand myself, my opinions, my faults and flaws. I write to document and to decide. I write in public and in private but the line between is not always so clear, the reasons for falling one side or the other are not always obvious.
I don't know why I will share some thoughts but not others, why I feel the need to reveal something intensely private, something so deep, but not more mundane affairs. Perhaps I seek answers or reassurances that I cannot find within my own thoughts, independent corroboration or validation.
Yesterday's entry in The Daily Stoic was profoundly relevant to these thoughts and I was immediately struck by it:
"The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent. What then can pollute and clog the mind's proper functioning? Nothing but its own corrupt decisions." — Epictetus
It befalls each of us to identify and eliminate those decisions we see as corrupt. For some that might be using social networks, for others it might be participating in any online life and the only way to remove the mind's pollution is to drop out entirely.
I knew there was a lot to unpack here and if you have made it this far then I thank you and commiserate in equal measure. These thoughts went in directions I wasn't entirely anticipating — a perfect demonstration of using the written word to explore how I feel.
For all the pretence, blogging is a performative endeavour and some kind of audience is likely required for it to flourish and thrive, the size of that audience and means of engaging with it, however, are open to question.
I feel drawn to removing my RSS feed from micro.blog (at least for the time being) not to cut myself off from the people there but to better define that audience, to channel efforts where they are needed most and better identify why I do any of this, why I persist with throwing words into the ether (and I will, there is no thought of stopping) and seeing where they land.
I stopped using Twitter at the end of 2016 and had never really used Facebook. I wiped my accounts a year earlier but left them dormant — especially in the case of Twitter I was too attached to my username to give it up straight away. I rejoined Facebook later (as my family uses Messenger for chatting) but never view the timeline. ↩