As part of my recovery and reconnection I headed back to RSS (using NetNewsWire on the Mac) and resubscribed to a few podcasts including Internet Friends by my internet friend Jon Mitchell and his, Drew Coffman.
I'm not sure if it was truly serendipitous or subconsciously influenced by my recent reflections, bit I started with the episode "#GoodFaithTwitter" which ties in to thoughts I've had for quite a while and that I mentioned in passing in Recovery.
One overriding theme from the episode is that of the conflict associated with social media, not just the toxic back and forth between participants but the internal conflict experienced by those who want to love it but are also appalled in equal measure. For me, the latter won out and I deleted my accounts.
As well as the conflict between the good and bad there exists a struggle in using it in such a way as to meaningfully contribute rather than just for passive consumption.
"time spent on timelines amounts to time spent not living your life."
James Shelley's statement is still just as powerful and just as relevant. Indeed, in the episode Jon mentions the "obsessive, passive grazing on the status indicators" of others for which he has no place in his life.
Jon and Drew both stepped away from Twitter; Jon, like myself, deleted his account whereas Drew went dormant. Both, however, are now active again. It is on this premise that the episode is built.
I have, on occasion, considered returning myself - wondering if the self-exclusion was more damaging than the exposure - but refrained due to various issues also explored in the podcast.
From a personal perspective, the struggle with social is wider and deeper than good versus bad.
Why, what, who, how
Something I realised early on is that the different social networks have different cultures, purposes, and that simply cross-posting is not a viable strategy. What works for one doesn't necessarily work on another, shouldn't work on another if you're doing it properly. There is a segregation of duties between them often not realised or ignored.
It was restricting himself to just Instagram that made Drew realise this segregation. Now, despite returning, Drew states that he needs to figure out what Twitter is for him in order to stay on the service.
That is something I battled with while still there and is possibly the biggest reason why I've never gone back.
The old adage says "everyone's on Facebook because everyone's on Facebook" leaving many feeling obliged to be there due to no other reason than that's where friends and family are. That is no basis for a healthy and constructive experience on a social network.
Instead, I feel it's a case of the why and what and who before the how.
Why are you doing it? What do you hope to achieve? Who are you and who are you going to be on the service? There can be a difference. Only when these have been cemented and internalised can you start on the how? The how without the others will only serve to take you down a false path.
What's so poignant about all of this is that the struggle to find an identity and purpose online mirrors that of the same struggle offline. Answering the "why, what, who" for a social network requires those answers to already be in place away from it.
I see the two as intrinsically linked.
It may sound a touch existential but I don't believe you can effectively position yourself on a social network if you are unable to do so in life. To go even further, I don't believe you should even try thanks to the potentially harmful effects that getting it wrong might have.
With the best will in the world, and despite our best efforts to be authentic, we all play a roll online - just as we have to offline depending upon the circumstances we find ourselves in. Offline, however, we are more able to gauge the situation on the fly and make adjustments, push the boundaries and allow the different parts of ourselves to overlap.
Online, we often get sandboxed seeking to appear as one thing or another and that false path can become a dangerous one.
Although I may have toyed with the idea of returning to Twitter for a while, depression, uncertainty, a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem argued firmly against it. With all of this how can you expect to navigate an online world fraught with problems and expect to emerge unscathed?
If there are issues in your offline life then social networks, with their mixture of toxicity and carefully curated glimpses of "perfect" lives, are not the places to seek answers or, even worse, to hide from the problems.