Theres been a lot of talk over the last few months about cutting back on the amount of time we spend in online social networks or even disengaging from them completely. Tech blogs like
The argument's a valid one, of course, and a conversation worth having. A lot of us do spend an eyebrow-raising amount of time online, much of it interacting with people we could see face to face within 15 minutes of going outside and getting into the car. (My wife spends so much time on Facebook that, when my buddys parents started their own accounts, they assumed she worked there.)
Weve developed habits.
We told ourselves we were just killing time at work or catching up with friends whod left the area, but along the way we started taking chat breaks every time somebody pinged us, or Liked something we posted. And now weve got apps on our phones that never stop running, so we can stay plugged into our networks and neglect our dinner companions in favor of taking a minute to find out exactly what Roger Ebert thinks about what Eli Roth thinks about the reviews for The Last Exorcism.
So, yeah, we should be aware of how much time were spending with people online, as opposed to how much time were spending with people in the physical world. Unlike some, Im not worried that humans are going to start voluntarily climbing into pods to experience a virtual facsimile of existence in some twisted, ironic Twilight Zone version of The Matrix. For one thing, theres no beer or Refinery hamburger-of-the-week online and the sex, while varied, just doesnt feel as good as the real thing. But its good to stay cognizant of how many experiences we may be passing up in favor of a little more useless information or a few more laughs inspired by the bon mots of our Friends.
Still, I had to wonder why digital-world tastemakers seem so proud of themselves for cutting the social-network cord, why they urge everyone to do the same with the fervor of the newly converted. I mean, its not like they kicked heroin or found God they just stopped telling everyone every time they took a crap, and reading about it every time everyone else took one.
Then, I undertook a brutal two-week contract copywriting job that had me working several 18-hour days and left me no time to find out what provocative filth Warren Ellis happened to be spewing in 140-character increments. No time to see what my pals in Pensacola and New Orleans and Boston were up to in a glance. No time to tell my Followers that the paella at St. Pete Brasserie is awesome. And I missed these things, sure. But I also finally realized why so many Internet opinion leaders are extolling the virtues of removing themselves from their online social circles.
Its because theyre lonely.
Theyre lonely, and theyre not getting any information, and if just one other person removes him- or herself from Facebook and Twitter, then maybe they can sit down in a café together and talk about how they really dont need to know what Patton Oswalt is thinking every minute of every hour of every day. They can talk about how they dont miss it.
Thats the thing about quitting something: Until you can sit in a room with a bunch of other people who quit the same thing and talk about how much happier you are now that you quit, all you can really do is make the people you no longer have that thing in common with miserable.
Image courtesy of Jesus Diaz and Gizmodo.com; originally from this post about quitting Facebook.