I've spent a great deal of time over the last six years building a large online social network. I use Facebook, Blogger, Google+, Instagram, and Twitter all with some regularity. I've not got a huge following on any one network, but my Klout score hovered around a respectable 60 points last time I checked (I also use Klout sometimes). Twitter is the one network I'm most invested in, spend the most time on, and am most addicted to.
Last week, I decided to take an extended break from Twitter. I do this every so often, whenever I catch myself spending too much time and energy on it. Rather than just signing out on my phone and my laptop (as I would normally do), I took the extra step to deactivate my account.
Now, when you deactivate your Twitter account, it means that you disappear from Twitter. Your information is still there if you log back in before 30 days is up, but if not then your tweets, your followers, the people you're following--all of it--is lost forever:
When I first clicked the button, I panicked and logged back in right away to make sure that it was all still there. I did this late at night, before I went to bed, and I had a really hard time getting to sleep that night. A little bit of my insomnia could be attributed to my fear of losing my Twitter contacts, but mostly I felt ashamed and sad that it all meant so much to me. It's just an application. Sure, there are a few people on Twitter whom I know and would count as true friends, but most of them probably wouldn't even notice that I was gone (so far, they haven't). I laid in bed that night, fantasizing about a world where I didn't have to have my phone with me at all times; I imagined what it would be like to give my full attention to the friends and family around me. They deserved that, and I couldn't believe that this had been going on for so long. The next day, things would change.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple. In the coming days, I realized that by me not using Twitter at all (and all other social media platforms much less), I solved nothing. Husband still browsed Instagram during a family game of LIFE. My mom still looked at her Facebook page as we sat and watched a movie together. My kid still wanted to play a game on his tablet more than he wanted to play a game with me. Curbing my addiction did nothing to curb the addictions of those around me. In fact, since I wasn't distracted myself, it magnified them in my mind.
It's been really sad, but eye-opening.
Last night, Husband and I went to see the Spike Jonze movie, Her. If you're not familiar with the premise, it's about a man living sometime in the future who falls in love with his Siri-like voice-activated operating system. In the future portrayed in this film, everyone is always talking to "themselves" and it's not uncommon to have a relationship with a computer. As I watched the cyber relationship play out on the screen, I saw parallels to my own life. While I'm talking to actual people who are controlling their Twitter profiles, I'll never meet many of them. So...how is that different?
Social networking would have us believe that we each have hundreds of friends who love and care for us, but in reality, that number is probably closer to ten. Or five. Or one. Or fifteen--but you get what I mean.
I don't know if I'll reactivate my Twitter account, but this whole experience has been an eye-opener. Most of the people who follow me there don't actually care about me. I think my last tweet was even about falling down the stairs--nobody responded. They wouldn't help me if I was in trouble; they wouldn't even cry if I died--but they would tweet about it, for sure, and make sure to let everyone know that they "knew" me. All this time, I thought I was making connections, but all I was doing was spreading information. What's the point?
I'd rather spend my time with someone who's looking at a screen and loves me than with someone who's on a screen and doesn't care about me at all.
So, that's what I'm going to do.