Saturday, March 13, 2010

A little quiet, please? (What I gained from shutting off Twitter and Facebook for a few days.)

This afternoon was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, and thanks to the good graces of my wife I got to spend it in my favorite way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon anywhere: By myself in a coffee shop, with a good book in hand and frequent pauses to stare out the window.

The glory of it all was enhanced by a rash decision, made earlier this week in a fit of pique about something or other: I'd deactivated my Twitter and Facebook accounts. The decision alarmed a few of my friends, some of whom immediately contacted my wife through her Facebook account to ensure that I was OK. I was. I am.

But it has been an adjustment. Somewhere in the last couple of years, I've become accustomed to sharing any short, stray thought that crossed my mind with hundreds of friends and acquaintances. In the last few days, I've caught myself ready to share some joke about my 18-month-old son's activities -- only to catch and remind myself that, no, that's not something that's going to be shared right now.

Also in the last few years, I've become accustomed to compulsively checking up on what my friends and acquaintances have to say about their own lives. At times, my life on Facebook has resembled one long, never-ending class reunion with everybody I have ever known ever. Often it's been pleasant -- Whatever happened to that woman I used to have the crush on, anyway? -- but sometimes it has been burdensome: Thanks to Facebook, it's near-impossible to run away from home and completely reinvent yourself. You carry all your past relationships forward with you into your present, a steady accumulation of now that used to be once was. Sometimes it's good to unmoor yourself.

It also creates a lot of noise. Accumulate enough "friends" on Facebook and Twitter and barely 15 minutes goes by during waking hours that somebody, somewhere, isn't sharing something about themselves. In recent years, my normally sedate coffee shop habits had become increasingly frantic: Rather than read a page from a book, then sit and stare out a window -- or watch people in the shop do their own things -- I'd read a half-page, check my phone for social media updates, and repeat the process ad nauseum. The flow of data wasn't just interrupting my ability to read; it was devastating my chances to contemplate, to sit back and let my mind work around what it had just consumed.

Most of us, I think, have had the experience of working for hours on some insoluble problem -- only to arrive a solution 15 minutes after walking away from it. Our brains need time for repose, but the constant  stream of stuff makes those moments rarer and rarer.

So I shut off the stream.

This is probably not permanent. I'm unemployed right now, and Twitter and Facebook provide networking opportunities -- as well as promotion for projects like this blog -- that are difficult to duplicate with such ease in "meatspace." For an afternoon, though, I got to sit in a coffee shop and stare out the window to watch the rain fall down into the streets of Philadelphia. It was kind of glorious.


Kelly said...

Try Constantine's Sword for something to read and ponder.


Captcha: iness

how fitting to explore i-ness on a Saturday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I started wondering where you were within a day if not less, but what you're saying really resonates with me. I've contemplated turning off technology for a couple of days over our spring break just to decompress. Not quite ready yet but trying to cut down time-wasting technology. Keep posting, hoping for great things in you and your family's future!

Anonymous said...

Hi Joel!
Just realized I haven't read anything from you in a few days and want to make sure you are OK! Ha! Sounds like I read that somewhere before! ;-) Enjoy the quiet! And hope that some past friends will remain friends in the future!