Starting this month, Tara and I quit social media.
All of it.
Deleted about ten years of followers on Twitter accidentally — that kind of kicked it off. Then I deleted about 25k in Reddit karma. Nothing to brag about, but certainly not an insubstantial amount either. She got rid of Instagram and Facebook. I don’t really use my Instagram or Pinterest anymore, so that’s a bit of a wash. The hardest part for me is not checking /r/spacex , /r/fantasy , /r/politics, the Writer UnBoxed community, and the book club I started. Much of those things I enjoyed are fluff anyway added to the endless stream of fluff. We quit it, though. All of it.
Meanwhile, we collected over 300 snail mail addresses and rented a P.O. BOX to start back up with pen pals (see it in the white column to the right or below on mobile).
It all started on this massive five-week tour we took through the Middle West. We road tripped through eight states in five weeks catching up with patrons and readers and friends and family about writing and the work of our lives. Super productive: the trip more than paid for itself and helped us raise our full 2017 budget from patrons, so that’s wonderful. Also got to meet some lifelong readers whom I’ve never met — great people like Logan and Don and many others.
On that trip, Tara asked me to listen to The Boredom Experiment. It’s a podcast started by two photographer-bloggers named The Parsons. These guys got rid of TV not too long ago and they started to realize how much social media had invaded their world. At one point, their son even broke his leg or something (can’t quite remember) because mom had been distracted long enough to neglect basic housework. That spoke to me: of how many things we’d missed out on in person over the last ten years because we were so caught up in a digital non-space.
The danger, of course, with any drastic change is that people will reverse-judge you for it. They see some of the good brought about by your personally-imposed restrictions and think that you judge them for doing otherwise and to keep your life from having any potential effect on their lives, they judge you first. It’s a funny thing: to judge someone because you fear their judgement, but hypocrisy does strange things to us all. To prevent all of that nonsense, here’s I won’t do. I won’t tell you that you have to do this. But I also won’t excuse you if you have a problem. This is an experiment for us both and I intend to talk about it over the next year and let you see what goods come from it. And then I plan to understand what goods come from your own social media use (you, the reader) in the comments.
And then I’ll digest all of that and make some sort of permanent life change next year.
I can tell you any time we don’t want to think, we pull something up. Coleridge:
If you are not a thinking woman, to what measure are you a woman at all?
Could it be that we’re so anxious as a society not because we’re thinking too much, but because we’re thinking too little?
Could it be that anxiety is actually lowered through sustained reflection? Through actually following a thought out — in your mind — to its natural conclusion?
Could it be that sustained wakefulness without staying present in the company you keep or in the books you read is like turning on a car in a closed garage and letting it idle?
It could be.
It could be that for the last ten years, social media was killing us slowly like carbon monoxide poisoning.
Someone will object of course that it’s just a tool used for good or evil. Look, I get it to some degree. I’m the guy that wrote an ode to a roofing nail in A Defense of Pokémon Go. However, as I said in that article, not all technologies have as broad an application as others. A nail, a rubberband, a paperclip all have very broad applications. A ten-megaton nuclear warhead has just two applications: killing large numbers of human souls or melting the polar ice caps of Mars. And we’re not on Mars yet, so that leaves just one for the time being. One use for more than fifteen-thousand nukes lying around the globe. You can be sure that no one looses sleep over the eleven billion new paperclips made this year.
That said, any given social medium was created for a purpose divergent from any other. Facebook was a way to relive frat parties. Do we want something like that to have a billion users and to be checked every moment of the day? And do we want its owners to make 25¢ for every view? Twitter was a way to have shared conversations at a special event. Do we want something like that to invade our kitchens? Our play time with our kids? Reddit helped the internet vote on the top posts for the day. Should we apply that to cat pictures and Donald Trump memes? Let alone reposts of yesterday’s top posts?
Perhaps life isn’t mostly a party. Perhaps it’s mostly not a special event. Perhaps we don’t really create enough as a human race to have a full “front page” of top posts.
Perhaps we really are that boring.
And perhaps boring things help us get to moments of wonder. I read someone recently, I can’t remember who, that said wonder is the experience of encountering something new, something we did not know before. Well there’s always that posture of learning available to those humble enough to bow, but the older and wiser and richer and more powerful you get, the lower you gotta go to sit at someone else’s feet. It can be tedious, boring even, to posture ourselves that way.
But that’s the prerequisite to wonder. You can’t get there by letting the world hammer you with and endless series of trivial phrases and images. Wonder, whatever it is, is not trivial. It has gravitas. It calls us to a bigger and deeper well.
And we get wells by boring.
The farther we go with this, the more we realize perhaps your business can thrive without acting like a frat party. Perhaps you don’t need to be an event planner all the time: we need teachers and spiritual directors and coaches and producers too. And perhaps the internet can decide for itself which post is the top without my participation. Watching a full, uncensored Reddit conversation is watching the internet grind its sausage. In short, perhaps I can actually be more social by discussing things in person — by using the internet merely as one source among many that enables me (along with film and books and conversations and music and manual arts and culinary arts and engineering and accounting and silence and prayer) to have strong relationships with real friends who meet face-to-face, who have long phone calls, who write one another again.
Tara and I want to be more productive, not consumptive, of media in our lives.
We want the beautiful things in our experience to be memories. Actual memories. Not videos. Not photographs. Especially not photographs for every little thing we do. Not some rehashed post from five years ago that Facebook makes 25¢ per view on every time we reshare it.
We seek reticence. We seek to have experiences that no one shares with us. We seek to create similar experiences with you: experiences between author-and-reader alone that no one else gets to witness and the easiest way to do that is to shoot us a letter or an email. We want experiences of reticence between son and parents, between sister and sisters, between cousins, between man and God. The truth is: we don’t share the most intimate parts of our lives with others. You don’t know my pet names for her or her inside jokes with me. That’s what allows us to have the most intimate relationship in our lives and reticence is the only way to do that. So too with prayer and eating, sex and reading, chess and healing.
We seek, ultimately, to reclaim boring space in our lives.
To bore is to drill a hole in.
The thing about drills is that they’re remarkably effective if they keep going long enough: eventually you’ll strike water or oil or CHINA CHINA CHINA.
Well, hopefully not that. We’re trying to avoid that kind of short-circuiting.
I think the boring space in our lives is actually where the best thoughts fester. We actually use that space to bore down into the deep parts of our brain and work out issues and anxieties and depresssions, assuming we actively reflect and use that space to become better humans.
I did that once as a young man. It was a beautiful year.
It was 2005.
I was a freshman in college.
I wrote my first novel.
I journaled in my first dozen journals.
I wrote letters to my future wife that would eventually make it into a hope chest.
I got a 4.0 that semester. I memorized large swaths of Greek words, read more books than I had in my life — and actually enjoyed them, helped produce short films, painted, took dozens of photos, won photomanipulation contests, wrote about a dozen songs, hundreds of poems, prayed heartfelt prayers, and actually shut up and listened to a black guy for the first time in my life (my roommate was black).
It was 2005.
Near the end of the semester, Facebook came to our college. I’ve yet to have another year like that.
Correlation does not necessarily connote causation.
Except when it does.
Like a bullet in your gas tank.