Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Maybe there's no there there

Last year I read The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up by Marie Kondo and it did just that. I tidied my bedroom and the common areas of my home and in the process had to tune into what it was that made me happy and what I wanted more of in my life.

I won’t bore you with those answers—shockingly, it includes more time with my family—but one thing that did not make the list was social media. I had already been worn out by Facebook, but I finally decided that I was going to quietly delete my account and slip away as opposed to making a big deal about it. (Yes, I do still have what I call a shadow account so I can maintain my Facebook page, but I post nothing as a “person” there.) You’re not going to be surprised when I tell you that it felt like a weight off my shoulders, in large part because so many other people have reported the same thing.

My problem with Facebook, in a nutshell, was that it became a hyper-filtered environment that had a limited view of what I wanted to see. I liked that Twitter allowed me to create lists so I could, essentially, create my own filters, and again, this isn’t an original insight. Sadly, Twitter decided that if it was going to take Facebook on, it needed to become Facebook. They turned on filtering and started recommending people that, really, I didn’t want to deal with. Add that to the extremely contentious presidential primary season, and by April I was happy to walk away from that too (and did).

I started looking at everything else, and they seemed even less useful. Pinterest, which used to be a fun place to curate images, is now a billboard filled with ads that also doesn’t trust my judgment about what I want to see; Tumblr, which does seem to have a lot of potential, was impossible for me to figure out and the fact that almost no one I knew was there sucked my motivation to try; and LinkedIn, which I joined before anything else, looks like a bunch of graphics with platitudes—one of the other things I hated about Facebookand they’re admonishments to reconnect with former colleagues seems unattractively desperate.
It's not fair to call the internet a black hole; black holes aren't hollow

Without social media, what’s left? Blogs! So I spent some time on my list of blogs to follow, researching what I should add and then happily deleting content that wasn’t working for me. It was a little thin, but it reflected my interests more than any social media scroll ever did.

Too bad one of my favorite bloggers, so disgusted by the political circus, quit blogging. And it’s really, genuinely awful that one of the first bloggers I followed (stalked?) needed to be treated for a life-threatening illness and therefore stopped blogging for more than a year. And then there was the blogger who had all kinds of great information about self-publishing and was openly using her posts to build a network but then decided that blogging wasn’t as much of a priority once she landed a traditional publishing contract.

People are allowed to change and I wish all of them well, but those people have been hard to replace. While one of them is, arguably, irreplaceable because of his resume, the others, in theory, aren’t. So why has it been so hard to fill those holes?

Perhaps because I’m not as motivated to look. Sometimes it is just painful to surf the world wide web that Google presents to us. So. Many. Ads. And so many sites trying to lure you into signing up for their newsletter (guys, I want the same thing, but my link is on the left, and I promise I will not use a pop-up to peddle it). It’s enough to make you want to hide in your email...until you get the spam. If I don't get fifteen review requests every day, I don't get any.

There are two tools that have been somewhat useful. The first is, er, those newsletters. There are maybe three or four people or companies I enjoy getting regular updates from, and—for the most part—I feel like I’m getting useful information. But oh how I burn when they try to upsell me! Yes, I might want your next DVD or book—this is how we got to “know” each other in the first place—but why do you think I want to go away on a retreat with you—all I did was buy your DVD!—and why do you think I want to be...A TIDYING CONSULTANT?! Et tu, Marie Kondo?

So the tool that has disappointed me the least might be, of all things, Google Alerts. It’s very nice to find something in my inbox pointing me to the latest article about Kondo or Christina Tosi (have you made her cakes yet? Mmm…), and the worst I have to get through is an occasional library book list or restaurant opening announcement.

I like filters as long as I can create them.

I have a feeling I’m not alone. I’ve been amusing myself with Korean movies on Netflix (but for the love of all things holy, can they please improve their search engine and stop trying to get me to watch things I’ve already seenon their site?!) and spending time in the gorgeously renovated Boston Public Library. Am I still stressing that I’m not churning out stories quickly enough? Surebut at least I don’t have to be irritated by the weirdness of the internet at the same time.

If you’re also spending less time online, what are you doing with those hours?