Notes on my social media fast

I turned on StayFocused last Thursday and set it for a week. I locked myself out of Twitter and Facebook.

Because so many people now message via Twitter and Facebook I did check via Chrome on my phone once a day. But I didn’t check the stream of messages at all.

Obviously a lot has happened in the news over the past week. Being off Twitter meant I found out about thinks a bit more slowly. But that’s OK.

I’m back on Twitter. But I am not going to reinstall it on my phone. I try and be accessible to people and respond to them…but over the years it has gotten too much. I get tagged in so many conversations. From now on I’m much more likely to ignore them.

There are still things Twitter is useful for. Things I want to say that are easier to say there. But most of the “conversations” are not worth it. Many of them are circle-jerks. In other cases a sincere person like Nicholas Christakis has to show almost Job-like patience with others who don’t play by rules of fairness and charity.

Facebook is a different case. I don’t use it to chatter with people. Rather, I post about my children or what I’m eating. I like baby pictures and see what’s happening in peoples’ lives who I know in some way. I missed it, but not that much. But I also now think it is far less toxic (in part because I’ve “trained” Facebook not to show me all the political arguments and such). I think this week has given me insight into why Facebook is so much more popular and valuable than Twitter.

On the balance when it comes to intellectual discourse, I think Twitter has made things worse.

Planning for a post-Twitter world

I’ve made it clear that I think we may be headed for a post-Twitter world sooner rather than later. It’s user base has been plateauing for a while. Perhaps Twitter will go into a slow decline, and eventually be relegated to a niche utility, rather like MySpace. In Twitter’s case its utility for breaking news and journalists seems clear.

Recently a friend of mine who is a professor who studies evolution mentioned offhand that he was seeing a decline in the corner of Twitter where we’re active…let’s say the genetics/genomics/evolutionary genetics network. Thinking about it I think he is correct.

When I first got on Twitter I used it 90% to auto-tweet posts from my blog. But eventually I got sucked into a conversation on topics of professional interest, primarily relating to genomics technologies and applications. As genomicists are already usually on a computer, they took to Twitter very early. This is still evident on the Life Sciences Top 100 list.

Many of those vibrant and nuanced conversations don’t happen anymore. Why? I notice many people who not only don’t tweet much, but have protected their account. Twitter is an open medium and tsunamis of mob action occasionally percolate into the science chatter. Social justice¬†commissars on the Left and alt-right Nazis on the Right are always waiting and watching in the wings, ready to pounce and saturate your timeline. Why would any normal person subject themselves to this? Better to keep a low profile.

So what’s the future? Some, such as myself, have always had a blog presence. Over time I may use my blog in different ways. Imagine, for example, a personal Twitter-like sidebar where quick notes and observations could be posted to complement the primary content. Additionally, I’m trying to diversify. I’ve always had the Feedburner Feed, but not everyone uses RSS anymore, and who knows how long Google will support Feedburner? That’s one reason I’ve been trying to grow my e-list, as e-mail looks likely to stick around for a while.

Finally, I’m pretty focused on continuing this blog where I have control of the platform and the technical details. That means more work for me, and probably less traffic. But as the future proceeds I’m pretty certain that there’s going to be disruption of the normal channels of media distribution, as conventional media’s prestige declines. Best to control the means of your production.