Saturday, 3 December 2011

Slimming down the social: unfollow me

Life is short and then you die.

Brutal, but true. It also means that the period of contentment you can have is limited, as you, me, and everyone else is a complex biochemical system that will one day, irreversibly, break down for good.

As Simon writes: "As finite beings, we bestow meaning through selection." That's very true of socialising, and social media. We choose which individuals and groups we socialise with.

These choices aren't, unfortunately, always based on enjoyment reasons. Sometimes we have to socialise with people connected with work, for income continuity reasons. Sometimes, with people for political reasons. And sometimes with relatives who we don't like, to "keep the peace" in the family.

Bored

The two questions perhaps to ask, after spending time with someone or people who you don't enjoy, is why did you spend that time with them? And what happens if you don't in the future i.e. what's the trade-off for the free time - your time - that you've gained back? When you try your hand at writing, you really realise how valuable swathes of uninterrupted time is; large amounts of it. Without it - there's no concentration, writing, rewriting.

Time, to a writer, is (nearly) as valuable as oxygen and water.

Social media is just the same. Yes, it's real; there are real people behind accounts. And, as in the physical, non-digital world (the one where you can smell someone), you are communicating with them; it's just the media between you and the other people is a little different. And getting hung up on the media is like getting hung up on whether a book is in paper or digital form, while ignoring the really important question of whether the book is worth spending the time reading or not.

One of the great pluses of social media over the physical world is that it's easier to control who you spend time communicating with, or reading, or following. It's the main reason I prefer Twitter to most other forms of physical or digital media. When I lived in the Outer Hebrides, on an island of 130 people, it was difficult to avoid those specific people who irritated, or bored me. They were encountered in the local shop. Or at meetings (usually the ones who had an opinion on everything, whether sensible or not). Or at funerals, playing the "get the pew with the highest apparent status" game. Or at island social events.

Bored

Twitter is different, because it gives control to the individual. I can build my perfect island twitter community of 130 people. These are still people, just instead of being able to smell or (appropriately) touch them, I sometimes see what they tweet and retweet, and the pictures and videos they put up. If someone is boring, or irritating, or endlessly critical, irrelevant, or offensive (all subjective, but from my perspective) then I just don't "follow" them in the first place, or unfollow them if I am currently following them.

Think how different the "real world" would be if everyone walked around with an "unfollow" button on their chest, that you could press to make them disappear and/or shut up.

It. Would. Be. Truly. Awesome. The hours that would suddenly be freed up each day.

Remember that, if you are stuck in a room this Christmas with people that you don't like, but for reasons of "keeping the family together" or wanting to spend time with people you do like, you are enduring specific people. There is no "unfollow" button. You perhaps need to ask yourself if it is truly worth repeating that real world experience; the sad truth being that most people don't change, and see again the first sentence of this post.

Bored

Over the last few days, I've had one of my periodic social network slim downs, where I go through Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and unfollow people who regularly annoy or disappoint me. Nothing deeply personal; at any time, anyone can unfollow me; it's totally their choice. Meh. Slimming down the social network doesn't take long to do; there's no need to agonise over each person, and the initial gut feeling when their avatar appears is usually the right one. My twitter stream, the tweets of the people I'm left following, is better for it now.

Some people feel awkward or anxious about unfollowing people in social media, and would rather not "cause offense" or "risk" some kind of social retribution. This is wrong, similar to e.g. people enduring a deeply annoying relative or neighbour ("only me") pestering them. If you are anxious about unfollowing anyone, here's a little exercise you can try:

Unfollow me across all media; Twitter, Facebook, whatever else you follow me on. Go on, do it. If you can't: what's stopping you? Why can't you press a button? Honestly?

Do it, and wait an hour, a day, a week, whatever, to see what kind of social retribution from me there'll be.

I'z still bored

Here's a clue: none. Anyone who did kick up a fuss, because you unfollowed them on some social media - you'd have to consider whether they were a sensible, stable or healthy choice to follow in the first place.

The time that you allocate to people, in the "real world" or through digital media, is finite. Use it wisely, or forever lose little bits of that finite lifetime allocation. You're only 29, 43 or (hopefully) 83 once. Social media has an "unfollow" button. Real life does not have a "reset" or "play again" button.

I wish you a good time over this festive period, hopefully in the company of enjoyable people.

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