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!