I’ve been on the internet for something like twenty years now. It started in the computer labs between classes as a commuter student in college. It evolved to blogging some time in late 2001. There was an internet radio show in there somewhere, and a stint designing websites, and then social media.
I am grateful for the internet (thanks, Al Gore, I guess, but not really). I’ve connected with people – with strangers who became acquaintances, then friends, and sometimes then just a memory of a friendship. I’ve emailed and tweeted with people in the public eye. I’ve watched bloggers raise families.
(I feel like I’ve written all of this before, and I have. That’s another effect of twenty years on the internet: redundancy).
I don’t know why, but with the current state of the world and the ability to see the thoughts of so many people in real time, I’m feeling dejected. I’m feeling exhausted. I’m feeling like I don’t need to know that you hate Hillary, or that you believe in Trump’s message, or that you’re bothered by an all-girl group of Ghostbusters. I’m feeling like the more I find out about you, the less I want to know you.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe seeing people’s true colors – or, at least, the colors they choose to present to the world – allows us all to be more discerning about who we spend our time with.
But then, I find myself promising that I won’t watch a convention of conservatives spouting borderline racist comments and suddenly it’s two hours later, and my own Twitter feed is full of sarcastic barbs about Donald Trump and Chachi. And where does that leave any of us?
Kelly Carlin is in the middle of a Social Media Summer Sabbatical, and when I saw that she was planning on shutting down her feeds back in June, hell if it didn’t sound delightful. In addition to the “Silent Sundays” I’ve been enjoying this year – shutting down the internet (mostly) in favor of books and music and movies – I’m kind of taking my own break from Facebook right now. This break will probably last until we have a new president elected in November, but I often wonder why I don’t just turn off my Twitter feed, my Google+, my Instagram, my Pinterest, my – wait, tell me why we have to have all of these accounts again?
I would miss my community of pop culture junkies, of vegans, of people I’ve been following since college. I’d miss contributing to silly hashtags. I’d miss looking at picture feeds and sharing my writing (as infrequent as it’s been of late).
Is building a brand and retaining followers and worrying about likes and stars and hearts and retweets and shares a productive use of time, or is it distracting from the heart of the matter (cue Don Henley song)? I don’t have to follow people who offend me, so I don’t. But I also don’t have to read every tweet in a hashtag, or every comment on a blog (but I do).
Twenty years on the internet. I’m part of a machine and what I need to start doing is taking back my autonomy. I don’t have to be plugged in to this matrix, at least, not any more than I want to be.
What about you? Are you plugged in? Do you want to be? Did you get out? How?
Thanks for reading this early morning stream of thought. And if you’ve hung around for years, months, days, or just the past hour or so, thanks for spending your time. I hope you don’t regret it.
Photo: Alice Bartlett