Facebook & Twitter

Today I was out for a bit, and when I got back to my desk, I found myself thinking, It’s gonna take forever to catch up with my Twitter feed now.

And then I had to ask myself: what difference does it make?

It would be one thing if I received major information from Twitter. And while I do follow a lot of people in my industry and a few news sites, it’s mostly people I don’t know and have never met. Or friends who, if it were something really important, would send an actual e-mail or call me. (Except my closest friends wouldn’t really call me because they know I hate telephones and mostly refuse to use them. So they’d text instead.)

So what, then, was I so in a hurry to catch up on? I really don’t know.

The same seems to be true of Facebook, though the dynamics are different. On Twitter, one collects a rag-tag group of people, usually based on shared interests or occupation. You may or may not know the majority of the people on your feed. (You have to love that they call it a “feed,” as if you’re being spooned it, or even having it shoved down your throat. Or maybe it’s more of an intravenous thing.) Facebook, however, is for people you know. Or used to know. Or had a passing acquaintance with a decade ago. Or that friend of a friend you met at a party and, because you weren’t sure whether you’d ever run into them again, you accepted their friend request to keep them from feeling rejected and talking bad about you to mutual buddies.

Of course, I have a personal Facebook account and then my professional page. That’s something else again.

Anyway, regardless of whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or some other social media site, the bottom line seems to be that the founders of these sites have created a “fear of missing out” in society at large. And so people check in repeatedly, partly to avoid falling behind or getting buried under a few million updates, but in large part to feel like they’re participating in something. A broad conversation of some kind perhaps. Except there’s precious little back-and-forth. It’s like having a bunch of people standing in a room, each shouting something different. A “retweet” is the equivalent of someone actually having heard what you said and sparing a second to shout it, too, before going back to whatever they were yelling about before. Some people are louder—celebrities, you know—but it more or less amounts to the same regardless.

I was thinking about what I used to do before I had Twitter and Facebook to check every hour or so, and I’m guessing I was probably more productive. Or focused, rather. I think I produce the same quantity of work as ever (maybe even more), but it takes me longer because of my frequent social media breaks.

I’m not saying Twitter or Facebook or these other sites are bad. If I thought that, I wouldn’t use them. (Well, no, I probably would; they’ve shown in studies these things are addictive.) But it helps to take a step back and really think about what we give and get from them. From Twitter I get the sense that I’m not alone in my work and endeavors. But I also sometimes get the feeling others are doing so much better than I am that I can get depressed for a couple days at a time, thinking I’m a failure. That’s not helpful; I must guard against it. From Facebook I have the satisfaction of finding out what happened to that guy I went to high school with. It’s sort of a reunion without the awkward dancing and bad punch. And you can decide who attends. It’s also a way to keep in touch with family members who live far away and/or those you wouldn’t normally bother to write a letter to (distant cousins, great-aunts). In that case, it’s a reunion without them getting drunk and fighting before they pass out on the lawn. Not at all a bad thing, though it removes some of the human touch. No number of posts reading “((hug))” can stand in for actual contact.

I resolve, then, seeing as we are coming toward the end of the year and resolutions are on the horizon (and I have a whole other discussion about the arbitrariness of calendar years as “new starts” but that’s something else again), to be less worried about what I might miss when I’m away from my MacBook or iPhone. If it’s something I really need to know, the information will find its way to me one way or another. If I’m not first to know, well, a decade ago or so I wouldn’t have been, either, and so what? Ignorance really is sometimes bliss. And some things I can go my whole life without knowing . . . It’s not as if I’d be the wiser.

Now you must excuse me because @big_ben_clock is about to tell me the time . . .

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