Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, January 16, 2014

less rolling, less tumbling, more mindfulness

In my last post I explained that I’m thinking of moving away from my Tumblr because its frictionlessness, its ease of posting and re-posting, has become somewhat problematic for me. And I said there was another reason for moving away from it, but in fact I have at least two.

In my view, the number one thing that all the major social media do wrong is this: metrics. Follower and friend counts. I would greatly prefer not to know how many Twitter or Tumblr followers I have, and were I on Facebook I wouldn't want to know how many “friends.” But the world of social media is a world of counting. The whole business reminds me of what Auden called “Infernal Science”:

One of our greatest spiritual dangers is our fancy that the Evil One takes a personal interest in our perdition. He doesn’t care a button about my soul, any more than Don Giovanni cared a button about Donna Elvira’s body. I am his “one-thousand-and-third-in-Spain.”

One can conceive of Heaven having a Telephone Directory, but it would have to be gigantic, for it would include the Proper name and address of every electron in the Universe. But Hell could not have one, for in Hell, as in prison and the army, its inhabitants are identified not by name but by number. They do not have numbers, they are numbers.

And once you start conceiving of your online social world as countable, it’s hard, as many, many people have noted, not to make decisions based on what will boost those numbers. Since the major social media platforms don't even allow the possibility of hiding the numbers — it has probably never occurred to any of the people who work for such sites that a person might not want that data — you either have to find a way to ignore the numbers or stop using the service.

Which leads me to my second reason for moving away from Tumblr: the value of owning your turf — your turf also, not incidentally, being a place where you can take no notice of metrics. Thus Frank Chimero on changes he’s making in his online presence, based on, among other things, his realization that his being spread so thin online is making him grumpy:

While this callousness and irritability might be caused by the traits of certain environments online, it’s also just an attitude, so it can be modified. I can adjust how I look at the newness, change how I interact with these venues, and try to make a quieter, warmer, and slower place for my things. That’s good for the audience (I think), and good for my work and the things I share. You need to build a safe place so people don’t need to be on guard and stingy with their attention. If you can do that, we all get a breather.

It seems the best way for me to do this is to step out of the stream and “build my own house,” just like those architects. I don’t have to simplify or crop or be pulled out of context (unless I want that), which hopefully produces a fuller picture of who I am, what I like, and what I value. I’m returning to a personal site, which flips everything on its head. Rather than teasing things apart into silos, I can fuse together different kinds of content. Instead of having fewer sections to attend to distracted and busy individuals, I’ll add more (and hopefully introduce some friction, complexity, and depth) to reward those who want to invest their time. I won’t use analytics — actually, I won’t measure at all. What would I do with that data anyway? In this case, it’s just more noise. The singular thread that runs through everything is only “because I like it.”

So, I’m doubling down on my personal site in 2014. In light of the noisy, fragmented internet, I want a unified place for myself — the internet version of a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country.

This sounds great to me. So all I have to do is to figure out how to do this in my own life. I know I’ll be here; I know I’ll keep my Gospel of the Trees site up and running; but everything else is now negotiable. I will almost certainly do any personal blogging and posting of images, quotes, and the like to my own turf. Maybe I’ll even move my research notes from Pinboard to there, or move them offline entirely. Maybe I’ll make my Twitter account private, or create a new private one and leave the public one just for announcements and links.

It’s time for more mindfulness. And mindfulness can’t be done quickly.