STFU

I’ll admit it was a real struggle when I first began to write this blog over ten years ago. I’d spent over a decade working as a journalist and broadcaster where the standard introduction to a news story or interview was never more than three or four sentences. “If you couldn’t say it in a few sentences or a few words, don’t say it all”, was the motto I’d become accustomed to.

As a journalist, I’d become used to writing in the short-form, in stark contrast to my days at university where I was required to “pump out” essays of at least 1,500, but mostly 2000-3000 words. That kind of long-form writing I adapted to at university was also a “struggle” compared to my high school days where the standard essay was never more than 500 words in senior years.

But when I started this blog, my writing skills were very much informed by my time as a journalist. A few paragraphs here, a few paragraphs there. I don’t think it was until about 2008 (when I went travelling) that I truly learned to write in the longer-form again. Suddenly, released from the constrictions of a day to day work environment, the words flowed effortlessly. While I had struggled with university assignments which had sometimes taken me weeks to complete, the journalistic discipline of day to day writing combined with the freedom of travel, meant I could write thousands of words (creative words and interesting words) each day, without too much effort.

But then about a year or so ago, I found it difficult again. In part, it may have been because I had travelled overseas and had returned to my “regular life”. There were no “adventures” to write about. My life had become a little “boring”. In the last year I’ve also become increasingly insular and shy, preferring to stay at home rather than go out. But I also think it may have been because of my use of Social Media. On Twitter and Facebook, brevity is really important. The longer-form post isn’t favoured over the well-crafted, but brief bon mot.

I stopped using Facebook again recently. Famously, I gave it up a couple of years ago, only to return lastt year under a false name because I missed the daily contact with some interstate friends. I stopped again recently because I became sick of the “fire-hose” of useless information. As a colleague recently observed with an internet thingy, I’d suddenly begun to dislike the friends I knew in real life. As they “overshared” the unimportant things in their lives, I began to wish they would just “shut the fuck up”. There were often ten or fifteen posts per day from individuals I knew and liked, but who just became too overly familiar. As such, I began to see them in a different light. I actually began to dislike them. Yes, I know I could filter their posts and all that kind of stuff, but you shouldn’t have to do that, should you? With people you like? Significantly, I caught up with a friend the other week who said, “It’s so good that you’re not in Facebook now, because we have things we can talk about that we don’t already know about each other”. That’s a good thing, I think.

Yes I know there’s an argument it’s not about the people you meet in day to day life, it’s the ones you never see any more, the old school friends, the former colleagues, distant family and so on. But I have to say, when someone recently suggested a school reunion for our 30th anniversary since finishing high school, I had absolutely no interest at all. It was because I already knew about the day to day lives of these people I went to school with, thanks to Facebook. What would be the point, since I already knew everything about them? There are some close friends from school I want to see, but the others…?

Since leaving Facebook for the second time, I’ve certainly recognised there’s a a downside. I’ve started to miss hearing about some of the trivial bits of the lives of friends and colleagues – who has a cold, who has a new dress and so on. But at the heart of things I’m hoping when I interact with these people the connections will be more meaningful. It will be more than, “I’ve got a cold” followed by “Yes, I saw that on Facebook”.

I’m on the verge of leaving Twitter also, for similar reasons. “Will you just shut up”? I often say out loud when I read the tweets of people I follow who have tweeted 30, 40, 100,000 times. How can that possibly be that someone has tweeted that many times when Twitter has only been around since 2006? How many times a day does that mean they’ve tweeted? Seriously, STFU! I’ll stay only because it’s a reasonably valuable work tool. I never quite understood Pinterest, even though I have an account and I gave up Linked In, because I was sick of people asking me for a job. In contrast I’ve found Google+ quite good to use because it’s much quieter there, and people only tend to share interesting things they’ve discovered, rather than what they had for breakfast.

I think social media is important and valuable, but I think one of the downsides has been the tendency towards brevity it has engendered. When your online presence becomes all about the share or the bon mot, you tend to lose the ability to both think and write in the longer-form. Blogging tends to force you to think and write in a more sophisticated way. I think you also tend to think with an audience in mind, whereas Facebook and Twitter often seem like you’re the person who walks into a room and then shouts out what you’ve had for breakfast. Although I think, on the surface, there’s room for both (all?) types of communication, I think use of Twitter/ Facebook etc can tend to “short wire” your brain somewhat.

I say it’s time for something lengthier in format than Facebook and Twitter. I say it’s time to start writing letters and emails again to the people you care about. I say it’s time to start writing blogs. I say it’s time for something more than the witty bon mot or a picture of your evening meal. Most of all, it’s time to STFU!

4 thoughts on “STFU

  1. Amen!

    I totally approve of this sentiment and have recently expressed it myself. I’d much rather read longform posts and I adore the reading of the minutiae, substance and even tedium of people’s lives.

    Really, the only reason I stay on twitter is because some of my favourite imaginary internet friends have abandoned blogging entirely in favour of it – which makes me Very Sad.

    I do very much miss old school blogging #getoffmylawn

  2. I gave up on Facebook after only a few weeks under a deluge of messages I found to be irritating.

    I thought Twitter was bit useless to start off with but now recognise that amongst all manner of opinionated minutiae which I can mostly ignore there are useful moments of genuine information and news.

  3. Interestingly/ironically, I’ve had quite a lot of engagement on the issue on Google+

    * A good summary of my own misgivings.

    * Agreed James, social media can become parasitic without real concern.
    Keep it real, try and get to talking about the heart of matters, what’s really valuable and important to you – if this is a motive, deeper thinking, discussion and helpful constructive sharing should happen – you will want to phone and chat with these real friends with similar ideals.

    * I actually think long form messages or writing is making something of a come-back, but to enjoy it you need to rationalise how you deal with social media. I rarely go on Facebook myself, and have pruned my friends list back to family and friends – no stars, no companies, no work colleagues – purely personal. On twitter i have no regular habit of reading tweets – mostly I read the latest stuff on my phone while having my morning coffee. That scroller on the phone means I can start it scrolling and only really stop to read something that catches my eye. My favourite long form reading device is my Kindle. I have the Readability plug in on my browser, and its ability to reformat the text of an article and send it to my Kindle is a god-send.

    * i’ve completely lost interest in social media for much the same reasons James. I’m only on facebook to stay in touch with my kids who are overseas. so just two facebook friends for me…

    * I am fascinated in the way longer form material has appeared on G+ – is it a combination of the contributors willing to write longer, and consumers willing to read (and comment) on it?

    * It’s interesting how it worked out, i wonder if google planned it that way or if it’s just evolved 

    * Great post James. I like to blog and write long form emails for similar reasons. The only problem I’ve found with doing that is that with so many distractions, and so many low attention spans out there, not as many people seem willing to engage with those formats. I have fewer than five friends who are genuinely great at email correspondence. Likewise I could spend all day writing a blog post read by 15 people, or post a photo with a pithy comment on facebook and get an overwhelming response. Sometimes blogging feels a bit like the lonely end of internet communications. 

  4. I totally agree with you, I hope the wind changes and all those Facebookers look like that forever. With the exception of my lovely old 95 year old uncle who loves to catch up on Facey as he calls it. Cheers Sue

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