inspired by love, kept awake by coffee
It’s not that I haven’t read articles before about how the internet rots our brains, destroys social fabric, encourages bad behaviour inter alia, but I was able to separate myself from these threats by imagining I was somehow immune. The root of my denial possibly stems from a sense of myself as an objective observer, able to immerse myself in a culture without being affected by it; a kind of internet cultural anthropologist.
I was an early adopter of the internet, using it to connect via newsgroups before the GUI interface made its appearance. I found the material world endlessly fascinating and people in particular a fascinating source of wonder and mystery. I’ve always been a ‘people watcher’ rather than an enthusiastic participant. I have a strong social conscience and I’m an idealist at heart. I want everyone to be happy. I want the world to be a kind, compassionate background for people to flourish and grow. I want the human endeavour to be about love, cooperation, collaboration and joint initiatives for world peace, fair distribution of resources and taking care of our incredibly precious planet. As you can imagine I am frequently disappointed, angered, puzzled and saddened as reality constantly messes up my grand aspirations. So when the internet blossomed into the World Wide Web I took my persona on to it and began to participate in this brave new world. That was about 17 years ago now.
Newsgroups to forums to blogs to Facebook to Twitter and similar. All of these modes of engagement drew me in as a participant with far more ease than had happened in the material world. Somehow being released from the flesh and immersed in the world of words enabled me to feel uncharacteristically confident. I’ve written an awful lot of words on the Web in different places. Many no longer accessible to me. I visited webpages, used Google and blogged fairly regularly for a while and apart from a brief obsession with chatrooms when I was becoming estranged from my ex-husband, it did not dominate my life. I still read books, watched occasional TV and made things.
Somewhere, some time about 2 or 3 years ago that started to change and I suspect it had something to do with Facebook and social media in general. At first it wasn’t so obvious because most of my friends updated their status with events from their lives and so did I. Then the sharing culture started. At first it was a few funnies, the occasional photo but then that aspect grew until Facebook has become not so much a social network of sharing lives, but a social network of sharing other people’s thoughts and ideas which one finds interesting. And then I started noticing that the majority of my posts on Facebook were items about politics, culture or items which didn’t necessarily interest me but I knew interested other people. I became a hub for information rather than generating anything worthwhile of my own. “Here, this person is saying what I think but can’t be bothered to put into words”. ‘Liking’ community pages of groups I sympathise with or support added to the desire to disseminate as their posts scrolled by in the newsfeed. The cumulative effect of both the sharing culture and my information hunger means that I cannot scroll through my Facebook homepage without clicking on links and sharing. To be fair many of the links I click on lead to very interesting and erudite writing but many are simply scanned quickly and reshared with only the most cursory nod to critical appraisal.
And then I joined Twitter.
Oh. My. God.
It’s like sharing, linking, reading and sharing on overdrive. I acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be that way but that is the way that I have engaged with it. There is just so much interesting stuff going on and so many people to follow whom I genuinely find stimulating and worth following. And the temptation to leap in and share, respond and retweet is overwhelming. It really is like a drug now for me. I don’t like it. It feels out of control. I feel out of control.
I was wondering why I am vulnerable to this drug-like quality of the social media network and I think it is something to do with being a bookworm (which is probably why YouTube has never really grabbed me). I love reading with a passion. I love words. I read very easily. When I was a child I read almost constantly, fairly indiscriminately because of the facility with which I could do it. Nothing I read seem particularly difficult or boring. Apart from Dickens. But nobody’s perfect. Words suck me in with their promise of … what? That nugget of information? The particular turn of phrase? The killer idea? The solution to the world’s problems? Something that makes me laugh or cry? A fact which vindicates my argument? If I am completely honest I really don’t know. Every now and then I come across a truly great piece of writing like on The Junket for example, but a lot of the time it’s mediocre news, opinions or facts.
I found myself reading the article in Modern Wisdom with an increasingly unavoidable sense that it was time to admit my addiction to social media information gathering and sharing. In addition, I recognised the lack of genuine processing of the massive amounts of information I have been reading. I do process fast, but I’m kidding myself if I think I am really remembering much of what I’m reading. I find myself stammering about the most recent ‘amazingly interesting’ item I’ve read about but unable to retrieve anything of genuine worth to my listener.
I don’t exactly know why, but I have decided that the antidote to this dilemma I find myself facing is to write rather than read. I think that by forcing myself to at least be productive rather than reactive it may tone down the constant scanning for information which is using up so much of my precious time. I am also going to stop reposting, sharing or retweeting other people’s work for a while. A month. Yes – till the end of August. And see what happens.