Like many people who were active bloggers back when blogging was a new thing, I’m somewhat nostalgic for the pre-Facebook internet. It isn’t so much that people actually behaved better back then, but there was a certain optimism about the future of online spaces. It seemed like the fall of walled gardens like CompuServe and AOL was as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an open, decentralized web would emerge to replace it. This optimism meant that we invested ourselves in these spaces because we felt they had the potential to become something better. Something new. But then Facebook happened. Twitter happened. We are living in that future now, and it sucks.
So what to do? Some people I know have completely withdrawn from online spaces, but to be perfectly honest, I still get a lot out of being on Facebook and Twitter. Because everyone is there, a lot of life and work is happening there as well. To leave Facebook would be to cut myself off from much of the world around me. This is doubly true here in Taiwan where Facebook is often the only place I can learn about events, books, films, restaurants, politics, etc. directly related to my interests. But even if social media has become an essential part of my life here, I feel I need to do something to keep it from taking over my life even more completely than it already has.
Social media is like junk food. Fine in small doses, but dangerous if it makes up the bulk of your diet. So how to increase the number of nutritious meals in my social life? Teaching full time leaves little time left over for socializing with anyone other than students and co-workers. And because many of my friends and relatives live in completely different time zones, it is hard to see them in real life. That’s a big reason why I spend so much time on social media in the first place!
Around Thanksgiving time last year it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t call anyone on the phone anymore. Sure, I call my immediate family members, but apart from them most of my other friends would find it weird if I suddenly called them on the phone. And they did. When I started calling people again I had to explain to each one of my friends what I was doing and warn them that they should expect more of the same! To be honest, it really is inconvenient trying to schedule phone calls with people living in different timezones, and people can sometimes be distracted by kids or other stuff when you call. But, since I started calling people a few months ago, I’ve found that I feel more connected to my friends and that I’ve loosened myself just a little bit from the clutches of social media. So, if you have a moment . . . call me!