I quit Facebook on Thursday and Twitter on Friday.
For some people this would be nothing—they never log in anyway. They forget they even have an account. But I’ve been a daily poster/updater. For a guy with two jobs and a kid, it’s become one of the main ways I socialize. For a guy who moved a lot growing up, it’s also been a great way to reconnect with old friends.
Sometimes social media is magical. I love suddenly seeing a friend I’ve wondered about for twenty-plus years showing up in my friend requests. Or, conversely, connecting to a person I otherwise never would have met, but who shares my interests and sense of humor. Though they are “weak ties,” social media connections are real ties, and must add up to something. I’m not even talking about the shilling my books to strangers, I mean real friendships sustained by new media. I mean the strings of puns and zingers I’ve frequently traded with a goofy YA author who feels like a good friend even though we’ve never met. I mean rounds of sincere congratulations when someone has good fortune, or sympathy when things go awry. These are the kinds of connections that make a man less island-y when he’s got a lot to keep him from real-world meet-ups.
But I have my reasons for unplugging. Though asked genially, I feel embarrassed when asked at readings “How do you find the time to Facebook so much?” And though I say it doesn’t take that much time, it does—even this weekend has been astoundingly productive, less the hours of being “in the loop.”
It’s not just a time thing. One thing that has often gotten between me and social networks (Twitter especially) are the regular waves of unbridled umbrage—even if I agree with the sentiments, I suffer from outrage fatigue. I also suffer from book news fatigue, which can be absolutely soul depleting to a writer. I have political factoid fatigue. I have platitude fatigue. I have linking-to-that-particular-article fatigue.
Which is to say that a lot of it actually makes me less happy. It isn’t terrible, but there’s a cumulative effect of being crabby because I am, voluntarily, wasting so much time on rubbish I don’t even enjoy. Simply put, it’s a noise/signal problem.
I’m not high and mighty. I know I have added my own outrage, my own political blathering, my own book news. One person’s signal is often another person’s noise. For example, I never tire of cat pictures. And I love “Gangnam Style.”
Moreover, I’m quite sure my own barbs, off-the-mark jokes and parental boasting put people off, and I’m throwing it all out to a world of friends and family, sure, but also colleagues, collaborators, my boss, my editor, my agent, and, perhaps most dangerously, people I don’t actually know at all who’ve somehow ended up on my friends list just because we’re in the same industry or went to the same high school.
This evening I finished a good book—one I’ve been slowly reading for over a week, but the second half went quickly because I wasn’t in the loop. In the last hour, a needy housecat came by and settled in my lap. He’s used to be shooed away because the lap is taken by a computer and this particular cat not only takes up a lot of room, he has a hankering to chew on wires. At another point my two-year-old son cuddled up in the chair next to me, looking at the photographs as I turned the pages (it was narrative nonfiction, with quite a lot near the end).
Besides being able to do that since I wasn’t tooling aimlessly around on the computer, I thought: this is what I want B’s earliest memories of me to be—reading a print book, not clattering away on a computer.
Writers, and especially writers for children, have a lot to gain from the large networks they can cultivate of other writers, teachers and librarians, parents and readers. It is a pretty big thing to throw away, but right now I would rather cultivate strong ties.