Earlier tonight I had a brief moment of panic when I realised I’d deleted 2,500 I follow on Google+. The thing about Google+ (as with Twitter) is that it’s not essential to actually know someone for you to follow them. I really enjoy both platforms because they allow you to tap into the thoughts, ideas, and shares of people from all around the world. The key issue is not connections, but shared interests. For me, the shared interests have included radio, genealogy, photography and so on. Incrementally on both platforms, I’ve acquired quite a few people.
Recently, I decided there was too much “noise” in my Twitter feed, and so I reduced the number of people I follow from around 600 to around 200. I’d reached a point where I’d realised there were so many people posting so many things (about largely trivial issues) that it was near impossible to sort the wheat from the chaf. So I embarked on a process of weeding out those people who didn’t post at all, those who posted too much, and by setting my settings to private. To be honest, I still included friends and a bunch of people I work with, simply because it would have been awkward to have deleted them. Nonetheless, the result is a far more interesting, far more satisfying experience. Sure, I miss out on the second by second posts from a bunch of people about breaking news, but I get that through my work anyway, and there’s still enough people to keep me up to date there. I genuinely read most tweets now, rather than scroll endlessly through the screen.
The situation with Google+ was, in contrast, without intention. I began using an extension which allowed you to go through your circles and, again, delete those who were posting too little, and those who were posting too much. In a frenzy of deletions, I ended up deleting absolutely everyone. Yes, everyone. All 2,500. Even though there’s an “undo” function in the extension, I sat down and thought carefully about the experience, and still only added back people back to my circles in a very selective manner. As with Twitter, I looked really closely at each individual and decided if I thought they genuinely added value to the experience. Once again, I concluded there was a lot of “noise” in my life that I didn’t need to experience.
I’ve also recently re-joined Facebook. I have major philosophical problems with Facebook, as I’ve described previously, and in particular about the commodification of friendship. I was also starting to actually dislike friends because of the way they overshared their lives. I was also beginning to find groups of friends were spending large amounts of group conversations about what they had shared on Facebook, as opposed to actually enjoying the moment. It’s both isolating and frustrating to be with a group of people who spend all the time talking about each other’s Facebook posts. In leaving Facebook, a friend noted “it’s great you’re not on Facebook, because we have stuff to talk about when we catch up”. But a colleague’s overseas travel plans has made me re-assess my connection with Facebook. I want to keep up with her travels, and she’s an avid Facebook user. I was also missing the connection with friends living in distant locations. I still strongly feel friendships are better maintained in person, so I’ve come up with some rules around Facebook this time: no friends in Sydney, no colleagues, and no family. These are the friendships, relationships we should be able to maintain in person.
I guess I’m beginning to sound like an old fogey. I’m not. I’m definitely very tech-savvy, very involved in all of this stuff. An early adopter of most of these platforms, actually. I just worry that real relationships and friendships are being undermined by technology. It’s like all the internet dating stuff, where you go to a gay bar and half the people sitting around are face down looking at Grindr on their mobile phones. It’s also about “noise” in our lives. The constant flow of meaningless information, becoming “white noise” means you can miss out on the most important stuff. Any technology misused can be problematic, of course. But at the same time, it’s kinda like the frog in the boiling water vs the frog in the water slowly heated to boiling. As the water gets warmer slowly, you go from being in a bath to a sauna, and then finally to boiling. It all happens so slowly and incrementally that you don’t notice you’re slowly being cooked.
The secret to all this stuff is moderation, I guess, and regular reappraisal.