Yesterday I read Paul Miller’s piece on The Verge, I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet.
Having decided not nearly as long ago (4 days) to take a break from Twitter and Facebook, I found the piece timely.
I recently decided to take a bit of a timeout from Twitter – and even more from Facebook – because I felt that the energy I put into them, and the negative energy I received from them was more expensive than any reward I received from them. Paul obviously did better than I at staying away.
For me, the value of most social networks is <meh>. LinkedIn serves as little for me other than as an on-line resume for people who want to know who I am. Facebook has turned into a drivel-fest; where it once served as a photo sharing hub for me to friends, but I recently realized I’m not that interested in a lot of the stuff people I follow post on Facebook “<LIKE> if you think this is a funny meme!” and political opinions that collide with my own. So even in just taking a few days off of actively posting to Facebook, I’ve realized that I don’t miss it that much. My plan for Facebook is as LinkedIn is to me now. I won’t destroy my profile, but I’m effectively done contributing to the network.
Twitter, however? Twitter is a different beast. I’m going to open up a bit here… For much of my life, even though I’m a pretty extroverted, gregarious, chatterbox of a person, I’ve been kind of lonely. I don’t have a ton of people I’d describe as true friends, but I do enjoy talking to people – in person, on the phone, or over the Internet. It provides me with a sense of connectedness, and of belonging. I really enjoy the connections I make, and conversations I have, on Twitter.
Many of us seek connectedness throughout our world. It helps us to feel that we belong, and helps us build our own community structure around ourselves that can help us feel stronger about our own emotional well-being. I feel, though, that many of the things we hear from others can make us feel that these connections are either unhealthy, or may portray us as “weak” in their eyes. I think this perception is more dangerous than the desire most of us have to find connections over the Internet.
The world today is comprised of fractured communities. Few families stay in one place for generations any longer. People move when and where their school, career, and professional opportunities require them to, and as a result, we often feel disconnected from the world immediately around us. As a result, many of us (myself included) reach out to the Internet to make us feel like we belong; LinkedIn to stay connected to former co-workers, Facebook to stay connected to friends and family we may no longer be geographically close to. Twitter has become my primary community building and knowledge-sharing tool. I have met so many interesting people who have taught me so much, and often inspired me so much over the last nearly 5 years (I joined Twitter on May 31, 2008), and have met several people who I would consider friends, at least as we define “digital friends” that know you pretty well, even without having met you in person. I do grow tired of Twitter becoming an echo chamber for news, politics, and technology rumors (especially incorrect information in all three categories); for this reason, I’m looking to change how I use Twitter a bit again, as I don’t want to let it consume more time than it really warrants – but I have yet to decide how that plays out. We shall see.
Twitter and other social networks are really just digital communities – networks of like-minded people looking to connect with each other – an Internet of people. As the Internet started by connecting together multiple private networks of computers to create a giant public network for the benefit of all connected to it, the Internet is changing how we communicate, collaborate, and build and maintain communities. Relationships that we would have felt 10 years ago required you to have worked closely with someone for years can exist solely in the digital realm now. As the Internet interconnected disparate systems around the world for their mutual benefit, it does the same for individuals. I believe it is important to not diminish the role that digital networks can play in our own well-being, and not allow ourselves to feel shamed about the fact that social networks can help us feel that we belong, and make us feel connected. The importance in balancing it lies in finding, building, and nurturing our offline relationships with family and friends as well as online. The risk to well-being comes when you aren’t keeping up the offline relationships – or fail to deal with things that are going awry – by burying yourself in online communities, games, etc. Like many things in life, moderation is the key.