Sunday, 31 October 2010

The November Project: No Facebook and Twitter for a month

I've decided to do something unusual for November. For the whole month I'm going to give up Facebook, Twitter and a few associated "short update" type services. But I'll be back on December 1st. Pointless? I don't think so. Allow me to explain my thinking...

I've been on Facebook for five or six years now I guess. And that whole time I've hated Facebook - their lack of respect for personal privacy, their blatant commercialism, the way they abuse you and use your friends against you (I wrote a whole blog post about that). But I've never left. Because, well, my friends are on there. And now I'm living across the pond from most of my friends, those relationships are more important than ever. So I can't leave Facebook altogether, it would leave me too isolated - in fact that's my only contact with many friends.

I realised that this is unhealthy. Facebook encourages a very shallow level of friendship - little ego strokes with Like buttons and comments on each others profiles, lazy status updates to everyone instead of picking up the phone. It's damaging the quality of the relationships I do have, because it makes me feel connected even when I'm not at all really. I can count on two hands the number of phone calls I've had with friends since moving to Canada. And that's really sad (not in the opposite-of-happy sense but in the that-is-desperately-uncool sense).

And it's not just that, it's Twitter too. Twitter is a great form of communication, that has literally changed the world (I've written about that too). But just as I was getting into blogging, I discovered Twitter. And suddenly it was an easy option. I'd send a short tweet instead of actually writing a thoughtful blog post. It killed a lot of my writing. I'd compulsively feel the need to share everything of note that happened to me, because it was as easy as a text message. When you do speak to friends, conversations become a lot less interesting when there are no surprises anymore - they already read it all on Twitter.

And so I find myself torn. I see huge benefits from both services - improving my awareness of what's going on in the world and in my friends' lives. But I wonder what I have lost. I feel like people are becoming more distant from each other. The number of people I know has gone up - but feel like I have very few close friends any more. And I want that back.

So here's the plan. By forcing myself to give up Twitter and Facebook for a month, I will become more aware of which friends I miss, and I'll be more inclined to reach out and talk to them. If I have ideas I want to share, I'll have to take the time to think them through and present them in a blog post. With luck, you should expect to see more blog posts from me this month (shorter posts on and longer/more significant posts on Although, having said that, I'm not making any commitment to blog at all - because part of this is about reducing the compulsion to share everything!

Another aspect of this is that I feel like Twitter and Facebook and all that are great at keeping you aware of everything, but is that really good for you? The more I am aware of, the more I feel I should do something about - whether it's reply, write about, or act in some other way. Greater awareness does not lead to greater piece. I recently read this excellent article about downtime, recommended by a friend. The article, recommending the idea of cottaging (as in staying in a cottage, not the questionable activity endorsed by George Michael), makes the point that time is perceived more slowly when you are less aware of the outside world:

"The cottage offers “down time” which is disconnected from everything other irrelevant thing going on in the world. It is time that is measured in cups of tea, in sinksful of dishes, in conversations. What time is it two time zones away? What time is it two houses away? Who cares? It is not in front of you and therefore, it is irrelevant."

So I think that by reducing the number of inputs in my life, I may actually "get back" some of that precious time I'm always so short of. Fewer alerts, popups and news feeds means I will only learn of the outside world when I seek it out - which will help me figure out exactly what extent of knowing about the outside world is good for me.

In summary, there are a number of things I hope to get out of this experiment:
  1. A greater understanding of the pros and cons of Facebook and Twitter (by seeing what I miss and what I gain)
  2. Reprogramming my social habits to have more phone calls/Skype chats etc with friends and family instead of just Facebook
  3. Some interesting material for future blog posts.
  4. A chance to "slow down" by not having as much awareness of the minutiae of the digital and social worlds. 
  5. Identifying and establishing alternate media for news and for friendships, that are higher quality and less invasive.
  6. Other as-yet-unforeseen benefits...
I'll write a little more in a subsequent post about exactly what I am giving up and how. But for now, this should give you the gist.

One final thing, what does this mean for you as my friends and family?

Well you don't have to do anything differently. But if you find yourself looking at my Facebook or Twitter page and wondering what I'm up to, close the laptop and pick up the phone - give me a call. Or drop me an email or a Skype/ooVoo video chat. You know where I am! (alexbowyer is my username, at gmail, Skype and ooVoo).

And don't forget, you can check back to my blog in the meantime. You never know, there might be something new on there when you next visit!

Thanks for reading - and please, add your comments to this blog post - whether you think I'm crazy or inspired I'd love to hear your thoughts.