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What are we doing? What are we building?
On Social Media and Time
I’ve been thinking about social media lately. This round of contemplation has been driven by the slow destruction of Twitter where I have my largest (though still not very large) following. Every day accounts I enjoyed interacting with leave, the site works a little less, and we’re told that we can pay $8 a month to maximize our reach on a crumbling platform.
I don’t use Facebook, but for seeing updates from two couples who are dear friends who don’t use other social media sites. I can see photos of their kids and pets and I like that.
I enjoy Instagram. I understand the issues, but I’ve got a pretty well curated feed of writers I enjoy, friends, some cute dogs, and a couple of photographers whose work I like.
I’ve tried Spoutible (where I still have an unused account), Post.News (ditto), Mastodon (deleted that one), Cohost (also deleted), TikTok (could never get the hang of it), Tumblr (where I have an account I don’t use), and haven’t really enjoyed any of them. I’m enjoying Substack, enjoying writing things that actually mean something to me instead of reacting to the main character of the day.
There are parts of twitter I’ve loved. At its best there were vibrant little creative communities that I adore. I recently learned that the descendants of the Borgia family emigrated to Ireland, where they have a large share of the Dublin fried chicken market. Their chain- Borza- is apparently widespread there, and they still speak Italian in the kitchen. I loved learning that.
I’ve had professional success because of twitter too. It has actually put money in my pocket and eyes on my work.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve met some wonderful people because of twitter, people who are important to me. Would I have met them otherwise? Probably not. Those relationships have changed my life and continue to.
However, every day it feels less fun and more feral. We’re all trying to squeeze the last remaining drops of value out of something that we realize is not what it used to be, if it ever was actually as important as we made it seem.
I log on and see someone who I’ve never heard of has spouted a shitty opinion about something to their two dozen followers, and that tweet somehow escaped containment and now everyone wants to tell them how crappy they are. I don’t know this person. I probably don’t want to know them. My life is in no way enriched by learning that they hold bad opinions. I watch people I like pile on them, letting them know how bad their opinion is and letting everyone else know in contrast how their opinions are better. I get it. It feels good, being part of the righteous mob. I’ve done it before.
Sometimes I recognize the person on the other end, they’re famous and well known and are now being told by everyone that they are bad. Maybe they deserve it and maybe they don’t. I watched that this weekend, about an out-of-context quote from a paywalled interview that 99.9% of the people reacting to hadn’t even read beyond the headline.
Sometimes I know the person on the other end because they want me to know them. You know these people, who have weaponized outrage about the things they say. They know that by saying something inflammatory people who agree with them will respond to it and share it, but people who disagree with them will share it even more, putting it on their platforms while they tell everyone how bad and dumb this person is, and ensuring everyone knows who they are in the process. It’s an actual career path nowadays. I could recite a list of names of people like this, people who I do not find interesting or intellectually stimulating in any way, people whose names I wish I did not know and who have not improved my life in any way by my knowing who they are.
Time is a zero sum game. Every minute I spend tweeting is a minute I don’t spend with people I love. If it actually provides work, if it pushes forward my career in a tangible way, then that tradeoff might be one I make, in the same way that writing and working are tradeoffs I make every day. More and more, however, Twitter feels like time poured out on the ground, absolutely wasted. It’s time spent that I don’t spend with a friend I haven’t seen in too long, or with the woman whose eyes sparkle when she looks at me, or with her daughter who asks me to take her to the playground, or with my old dog who loves being fussed over. It’s time watching people argue about how awful someone else is, or talking about writing in the most general way, or selling things. I don’t begrudge any of that, I’ve done it all at one point or another, but lately it feels like the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
I once saw someone (I believe Stephen Graham Jones but I sadly cannot find the tweet, either because it was deleted or because getting the twitter search function to work is like a game of chance nowadays) say that he didn’t think people who build houses get together after work to talk about how many nails they hammered that day, and that he was always thinking about what he was- and what he was not- building. That one stuck with me, even though I probably read it a few years ago.
So, I’m thinking about what it is I am- and am not- building. I’m going to be allocating my time with that in mind.