A week ago I put my Facebook account on hiatus. I sent an e-mail to those with whom I interacted most frequently explaining that Facebook had become a means of staying in random contact with a lot of people, but I felt I needed something less mediated as a means of communication, and besides I was not sure that I was saying anything of particular import anyway. I invited them to write a letter, as a compromise proffered a possible e-mail sent to me at work, or invited them to join me on a Saturday morning at my favorite coffee house for a face to face chat. This latter selection is my personal favorite, even if it greatly reduces the number of contacts. I also reset the timing for updates on my e-mail accounts from every minute to once an hour, which has proved to be far more humane and much less distracting. I also discontinued several RSS feeds, and disconnected from a few seldom consulted e-mail updates. So far, at least, my strategic retreat from complete accessibility has gone pretty much unnoticed, not quite on a par with the reaction to the British decision to withdraw from points east of Suez!
I am not dunning one application for some broken promise or undelivered guarantee. There seem to be millions of Internet users who find their expectations fulfilled, and the level of discourse satisfactory on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Initially, I found social media to be a convenient means of staying in touch with my son during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. After his departure the pages languished, but over time an aggregation of old friends, new acquaintances, folks with shared interests and political causes all took up residence as “Friends” as defined by Facebook.
The principal factors involved in my decision rested largely on a sense, well articulated by Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains that the relentless connectivity of the Internet, social media and alleged “smart phones” scattered my thoughts and words, and provided too frequent and unnecessary distractions from what I should focus on at work and home. There was also that inchoate feeling that what was happening was less frequently communicating and more often announcing or launching a comment into cyberspace. There is a passage in The Heart of Darkness in which the protagonist encounters a French warship off the African coast lobbing explosive shells into the interior, so far into the interior that there is no visible impact. A lot of my Facebook use felt like that.
There are other less easily articulated reasons for cutting back on the several categories of connectivity. I have yet to develop full descriptions of them all, but as I do I will offer them here for comment and consideration. For the moment at least the withdrawal has been relatively smooth and pain free. I am also keeping a seat open at the coffee house.