I was without web access for about a week. This put me in a introspective mood and I made some observations and realizations. Not the most insightful of realizations I should warn, but maybe this post can help someone out there.
Since a big chunk of my daily routine is dedicated to browsing the web, I had to do other things to entertain myself. I had to is probably the wrong word. It was more I opted to because apart from chores, they were things I actually wanted to do. It wasn’t like I was forced to do them. This isn’t exactly about how the web has made me procrastinate, because it has done that too, but more about how social media makes you unaware of how it’s distracting you.
I didn’t actually accomplish life changing goals either, but what I did was finished doing something. I haven’t felt that sense of completion in a long time. Some were chores, but others we’re just entertaining activities like watching TV, reading books and magazines, and playing Brain Age. (My youngest score is 23 years old.) The difference, in contrast to the web, was that I accomplished the purpose.
Lets not fool ourselves. The web is mostly for entertainment. (Or, The Internet is for Porn) Everyone supposedly knows this, but pinpointing the distraction is actually harder than people are aware of.
When you read a book, watch tv, or consume other type of media, you do it for a purpose. Most of the time the purpose is to entertain yourself. But on the web, specially on so called social media like Twitter, the purpose is constantly being challenged and shifted. It’s a two way, or asynchronous conversation as it has been proselytized, but you still have to manage that expectation. To listen or to talk, to participate or to follow, to write or to read. This is theoretically great, but you will never have that sense of completion I was talking about. It’s an open loop that never closes in your head.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m quitting social media services like Twitter and Tumblr. I just can’t do it anymore. I realized that at best social media is entertainment disguised as “useful” information or crowdsourced “knowledge”, and at worst is distraction disguised as entertainment. The later being most of my experience with social networking sites, specially Twitter. See, when you watch Television to kill time and distract yourself because you’re bored, it is easier to realize it. Most TV junkies are aware that they are TV junkies. But the web is constantly shifting your attention and it makes it harder to realize that you’re distracting yourself.
There’s a relationship between entertainment and distraction, but you don’t have to be bored to be entertained. That makes sense? If you’re bored and watching TV for example, your option is channel surfing and you can only do that for so long. Online, you have a variety of options, but the “catch” is that it seems entertaining. It’s hard to be aware because it’s hard to close the loop of the purpose. Whatever the purpose may be, be it for entertainment reasons, keeping up with news, or whatever, the free for all of social media will keep you in a constant state of neurotic arousal all day.
I’m aware that this is all debatable and there are a million reasons people can point out why I’m wrong and missing out on the “revolution”, but I think the web has many ways to connect with people without using social media. I’m not quitting being social, but I’m cutting out the social from the media. It’s less crazy that way and something I can handle. I’m quitting unclear expectations and relationships and I don’t want to be all day trying to figure out and tolerating the random moods of people.
There are people that I’m sure that have a more clear purpose for using social media and stick to it. But for most of us, social media is either an illusion of an audience or an illusion of friends.