Unplug Myself: First Update

It has been three and a half weeks since I have unplugged myself from social media and suspended blogging temporarily.

I was rather active on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter before since I had Connected Myself to the Collective last November. Now my Klout score is dwindling again.

This is my first update from the void, about the void. What happened?

I spent a short vacation – hiking in the Austrian Alps. If a mountain isn’t a symbol of eternal solitude, I don’t know what is.

This is me, trying not to stumble. As the saying goes “Not trying is worse than to stumble and fall.” (c) elkement

I have recovered my ability to read and write long-winded, technical, analytical, wooden prose. My anecdotal evidence confirms the hypotheses put forward by Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: Skimming Facebook postings and science news posted on G+ diminished my ability to immerse in books and to dig mind-altering material such as technical standards and laws. The good news is that this deformation can be undone rather quickly due to the plasticity of the brain.

The bad news is that I lost the zest for or the capability of creating social media compatible information snippets. They should be called information-lets or infolets, shouldn’t they?

I believe the reason is very simple: I have always written, blogged and ‘shared’ in bursts, and after a fireworks of bursts I needed to recharge my creative batteries and gather some experiences or fresh knowledge I could write about.

Having set-up the subversive websites 10 years ago I started penning anything I pondered about another 10 years before. Then I had said anything I had to say about things that mattered to me – and it was time again to just live and and work. In particular, in times of change – personal or career-wise – I felt a need for writing. It remains to be analyzed if writing catalyzes change, if I start writing before I know I want to make a change, or if I write about changes in hindsight.

Currently I am inclined to the latter theory: In the last year I have written about the corporate world and my difficult relationship with it, after I had taken a decision to leave it. This is a recurring pattern I find in texts on my proto-blog websites, too – I post-process painful decisions though a reader who does not know me might conclude that I am mulling on a problem that remains to be resolved.

In any case I write in bursts, and each burst is based on years of experience – with the notable exception of spam poems. I even applied the same ‘logic’ to social media infolets: I tend to share only stuff related to some experience of mine – I don’t want to browse the daily science news to share the coolest stories.

But the trickiest part of social media is the social part, in particular what I would like to call reciprocity. You need to decide on a strategy – and you do so, maybe unknowingly:

Are you going to follow back? Do you handle following (back) in a different way on different networks? What does a Like really mean? Are you going to give priority to creating your own new postings / messages / updates, do you process  comments first, or do you read others’ posts first? Do you apply the same twisted way of thinking that got ingrained in your brain after years of corporate e-mail politics (She knows I read her e-mail because I sent a read receipt (accidentally), so now I need to answer her e-mail first before I leave another virtual trace that gives proof of my being online.)  Or do you give up, shout out your message – the same on all channels, that is: using Twitter and Facebook basically for announcing your blog posts?

Believe it or not I had even considered to publish these updates on the void on my non-blog websites only – as I am not sure if I can guarantee reciprocity in terms of reading all your posts during my blogging hiatus.

Social media / online culture sceptics say that on reading online stuff we are overwhelmed by the necessity of taking decisions all the time: Should I click that link? This prevents moving information from the short-term to long-term memory, so Google makes us stupid indeed. Online, decision-loaded reading is very different from the meditative and easy immersion in a single author’s thoughts that you follow over hundreds of pages. On adding the social component (Should I like this?) the load on our decision taking faculties is significantly enhanced, I guess.

Lake in the mountains. Solitude. The most exhausting part of the hike was still ahead of me – luckily I did not know it. (c) elkement

There is no final conclusion yet, I have no long-term plan concerning social media. Probably there is a way to train your versatile brain to switch between deep reading and decision-loaded reading. Who knows. But it seems the ‘issues’ that made me pull the trigger last month were related to reading, rather than to writing, and they are worse the more snippet-like the so-called content is. So I won’t stop WordPress-ing.

Chances are high that this update will remain the only one for July. I am just finalizing a piece of tech prose – a master thesis. As I tweeted yesterday: Life is great.

25 Comments Add yours

  1. M. R. says:

    I wish I could be convinced by ANYONE that Twitter/Facebook are actually necessary to ANYTHING. I have no idea how long you remained separated from them; but I can only think it cleaned you out like a colon flush. Sorta. :-)

    1. elkement says:

      It was about two months – I need to write up my “empirical research results” someday. It seems I solved my issue with being overwhelmed but I don’t have a consistent theory yet. Twitter and Facebook are definitely not necessary :-) Currently I like Twitter more, my priorities are (counting WordPress.com as a social network, too):
      1) WordPress.com – discussions with people interested in reading and writing pieces with several 100 words.
      2) Twitter and Google+ – discussion with people with similar interests. Google+ – mainly science, Twitter – mainly philosophy (sort of…). Actually I admit I even enjoy the challenge of the discussing in 140 char junks somewhat.
      3) LinkedIn (and its German equivalent XING): Keep track of ex-colleagues, not used much for active discussions.
      4) Facebook: Keep track of colleagues, friends, ex high school mates etc. whom I never meet in person. Comes with the same downsides as doing that in person :-) a fellow-blogger called it the always-on equivalent of your typical “Christmas bragging letter”. It’s not a replacement of meeting with people in person, but it’s fostering communications with people I would never have otherwise.
      Thanks for asking!

  2. Phil Alban says:

    Great to see this post. I realize that since I saw you “+” one of my posts recently (anathema to your unplugging experiment) that you may not read this comment for some time. It’s great to see that what drives you to write, the environment of writing for you is much like my own, although we usually write about vastly different subjects. Enjoy your time off and come back energized, if you do come back, ready to put out even more fascinating writing. Thanks for sharing with us, even if our appreciation cannot be easily qualified.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Phil! I am not 100% offline – actually I am playing a bit and testing “scientifically” how browsing social media would affect my way thinking and reading.
      Currently it feels like time-travelling back 20 years to the era without e-mail, when holidays were real offline holidays, when there were no cell phones and you emptied the physical mailbox once a day. And we were able to communicate and survive back then … but probably only because everybody lived and worked that way.

  3. M. Hatzel says:

    Hi Elke, my first day on-line since the 14th. You have beautiful photographs; I feel I am breathing the cool air as I look at them.

    I also have patterns in my writing which are similar to yours. I have sometimes felt a bit strange on social media when I am writing on decisions as a post-process evaluation. I benefit from the process of looking back; writing has a way of uncovering insights that no other evaluative process can do as well. I’m not really looking for advice from anyone but mostly telling the story. Sometimes I don’t know what to say to kindly advice givers, and I sometimes fret, wondering if I have prompted others to problem-solve on my behalf. Social media is a different creature than a printed text, and (for me) it is an evolving experiment to discover the best way to communicate on a blog. However, even with this said, the reciprocity can bring forth some interesting explorations of ideas and connections.

    We made our move over the week, which deserves a post in the future as there were stories that arose. :)

    Best of luck writing your thesis.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Michelle for visiting – despite your busy schedule! Your post on the new house and serendipity is still triggering all kinds of ideas for new blog posts!
      I should bookmark your comment – to remember that I am not the only one indulging in post-processing by writing. It would be interesting to know if this is uncommon … or probably the main driver of many authors. As for the uncalled for advice: Probably a disclaimer should be added to blog posts or to the About page, or posts should be declared literary fiction. I have not got “advice” on this blog, but in earlier times I got “e-mail comments” by readers of my proto-blog websites.
      Good luck with the move and settling down!

  4. bert0001 says:

    It’s holidays …summertime, and the living is easy. I have slowed down a lot and I’m having great times with spouse and kids. 2 posts a week is manageable. I do not read many blogs, but when I do I go backwards 3 or 4 posts, so I’m keeping up with most.

    I don’t bother with FB or G+, even closed the automatic account on the latter, and I only see twitter as an announce box. I was thinking to restart my old blog on linux and networking related issues, but that will not take off before october.
    In the mean time, we are enjoying life, and I think you are too … :-) … and that is very important.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Bert! I believe your FB / G+ / Twitter strategy is the right thing to do. In the Moment I think I will not return to intense usage of those networks. However, I am still thinking about G+ as I found an interesting science community there – in contrast to Facebook People sometimes started discussions on my blog posts on G+ …
      But anyway – it is good to realize your are not dependent on social media… neither as a professional nor as an individual.

  5. Digital breaks do this to me as well. Blogging, writing, websites, techy docs, marketing crap – it all takes space and balance and a digital void messes that up ever so nicely. As it should. But remains constant is the urge to express. Enjoy :)

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, geneticfractals! I am still trying to find out which kinds of documents or websites are “compatible”. Currently I feel that “marketing crap” – such as my business website – is compatible with blogging, probably even beneficial. However, technical documents seem to be a class of its own – but this might be related to the fact that they depend more on my ability of reading and processing other long-winded technical documents… which I find hard to concentrate on when I spend too much time on social media.

  6. Mike Howe says:

    Funnily enough Elke this is my first day back looking at blogs for a few weeks, I’ve been away from it for exactly the reasons you talk about. It’s not easy, or even desirable, to keep on top of social media all the time because it is just so relentless, and actually, like you, I realized that when I’m away from it my mind changes back to how it used to be, utterly care free about gathering interesting stories and images to blog about. I think we ebb and flow. Sometimes we enjoy blogging, and other times we need a break from it, and when that happens you just hope that nobody gets offended. Your hike up into the mountains looked lovely by the way, so it’s good that you continue to blog from time to time to share such a lovely experience with us, although obviously if some of us are taking a break from the internet we may not see your post, so don’t be upset if that happens!

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Mike – it is good to hear that other bloggers feel the same way. I got encouraging responses by (hard-core) G+ users as well. I did not expect so many comments on this update post! Many fellow bloggers have announced to take a summer break.

      If I would need to create a list of “personal values” – i would add “independence” to the top of the list. Independence – of anything… oil companies and fossil fuel, but also telcos and social media companies. It would be absurd if I work that hard on renewable energies, but on the other hand I upload my mind and persona to the web so to speak… so that e.g. a technical glitch blocking my Facebook account would mean the world comes to an end. (I have read too many Jaron Lanier, I admit…. he calls Facebook et al. Siren Servers).

  7. Sounds like the tail was wagging the dog, Elke. Your various web responsibilities were taking you for a ride … it’s good you stepped back to take time for reflection. You need to remember that writing should be for you and never done for the approbation of others. I too have come to understand that there is an inertia generated by participation itself … that is unfortunate. I must admit that I find myself pressing the LIKE button even when I don’t especially like something, simply to return the favor to those who have liked my stuff. It’s a slippery slope? Perhaps you can answer this one for me … why do we blog? Why do we bother? What do we get from it? How? Sorry to have dumped these questions on you but perhaps you can consider answers as you continue to work away on your thesis. D

    1. elkement says:

      You are asking very good questions, Dave! I have been thinking about this as well and I will try to give some answers in my next update. You are right: One reason for the break among others was to escape those feedback loops of reciprocity which seem to accelerate and turn you into that predictable social media automaton. This liking and following etc. (and decisions to be made) was one of the reasons I did not use interactive social media for a long time, but dumped my texts to my old-fashioned web sites.

      I am blogging for fun here really (though I had a single commercially interesting request to write a subversive text for hire recently, no kidding) and I hope my blog is not too disturbing in case my customers find it accidentally.
      It would be interesting to know if people who blog in order to support their business have a different opinion – Andra’s comment (first on this post) seems to imply that professional writers e.g. feel the same pain.

      I also write a German “company blog” together with my husband though it can’t be recognized as “business” at first glance. The German WordPress community seems to be much smaller or less interactive – anyway we hardly get comments.
      But we get requests (over traditional communication channels) by potential clients reading that blog silently. So I am not sure if all that strategic back-liking and following is worth the effort. This is in line with the opinions of tech critic Jaron Lanier (whose books I read to confirm my bias ;-)). He believes e.g. that musicians may have 1000s of “followers” on social media, but nonetheless hardly any musician can live off his music – but all the real profits go to the operators of the “siren servers” such as Facebook or Google.

  8. Maybe that is exactly what Google wants: Us to remain (or become) thtoopid… well, I ain’t gonna do them that favor!

    1. elkement says:

      I had enjoyed Google+ (much more than FB) as it fosters thoughtful discussions – but the most recent changes to the user Interface show that Google wants to turn its users into the same “liking and scrolling machines” that FB needs (to please the Investors).
      I am of course biased and I have read just books confirming my bias in my blogging break – such as Jaron Lanier’ books. He is a geek, but nonetheless a critic and he calls Google, Facebook etc. “Siren Servers”.

  9. Hello there, Elkement! It’s good to hear that life is great. :-)
    I’ve been thinking about what you wrote on the subject of reading and blogging. I don’t think my (serious) reading is hindered by my scanning blogposts on a daily basis, but one thing I have noticed is that I can only read blogs fast.
    I’m not happy about this. Some of the stuff I read has been written with care and deserves attention!
    Sometimes it leads to me speedreading the blog, musing about it and writing a comment much later. When I read a book I can take my time with it and that makes me enjoy it more.
    I’ve put this down to blogging inexperience, but after reading you I’m not so sure….

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks for the interesting comment!
      I am doing the same often – reading a post fast, mulling about it and returning again later in order to probably comment on it. That’s why I prefer blogs to Facebook and Twitter as nobody cares about FB messages or tweets older than one or two days.
      Sometimes I feel that “versatile” commenters have optimized their reading and commenting behaviour: they skim the post quickly and comment on something specifc, something that was easy to spot – just in order to leave a comment (which is what the experts recommend – comment in order to get more followers). I am grateful that people commenting on my blog are “real” commenters, not those hyper-efficient comment optimizers.
      It is very interesting that you say you need to read blogs fast – I agree! I hypothesize: I think I would read blogs slowlier if I could display them in a simple uncluttered, hyperlink-free layout… so that the text looks like a page on a Kindle device.

  10. I figured I’d better comment right away–no telling when you might be online again! Those two pictures you posted are amazing. No wonder your thoughts are soaring to loftier heights! The view is nothing short of amazingly inspiring!
    I haven’t taken much of a break from the social media just yet but was thinking about it while reading your findings. I believe I’m very much in agreement with what you are finding too. I’m finding twitter especially annoying :-)
    Now, blogging: much better. The people I follow tend to have interesting things; things that can’t be summarized in a tweet.
    So, all the best with the thesis and keep on enjoying your summer!

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks a lot, Maurice!
      I also prefer the WordPress community – I think the ‘secret’ is that everybody here is a contributor who is capable of writing lengthy posts, and who are willing to read such posts. This guarantees a reasonable and natural level of reciprocity. On Facebook, Twitter and G+ are many ‘sharers-only’ (though I prefer to G+… I found an interesting science community on G+)

      1. I believe you are right. Much of what is on twitter and facebook, in particular, is really just, “hey look what I’m doing!” I’d rather engage with, “Hey–here’s what I think right now.” and “Would you like to offer your opinion?” What a pleasant difference!

        I have publicize turned on for my posts to whenever I hit publish it goes to twitter, linkedin, facebook and, of course, wordpress. I find that 2-3 of my twitter ‘followers’ go to the post, 2 linkedin connections go and 10-30 (depending on whether the topic is light or heavy) facebook friends visit.

        Despite having around 570 “blog followers” only around 100 or so visit the blog; less this time of the year. One thing I am pleased about, though: around 6-10 regular visitors comment on the stuff. THAT, to me, is better than ‘awards’ :-) Not surprisingly, I tend to visit their blogs BUT not to reciprocate; I find their stuff interesting too. I think it’s a new form of friendship; a new form of ‘pen pals’ maybe but much enhanced.

  11. I struggle with this so much as a writer, Elke. It is hard to go between these things and do anything well.

    1. elkement says:

      But you are a social media champion, Andra! .. concluding from your dazzling activity on WordPress and G+ :-)

      1. But, like you said so eloquently, certain tasks require intense focus and dogged concentration to be their best. Writing a book is such an activity. The requirement to build relationships on social media eats into the quality of my writing.

        1. elkement says:

          I understand – probably I thought you professional writers have super-powers to deal with this more easily :-)

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