Best Regards from the Marginal World

It has now been at least a week since I severely reduced my participation in Twitter and Facebook, and limited my email checking to three times a day. Short-hand for this is that I’m trying to live using mostly 90s technology, or modern methods that only accomplish those tasks 90s technology can handle.

Twitter remains my most-loved and therefore least used resource. After announcing my reduction of participation, I fully planned on coming back to use it at least once a day. I found that I could not. Having struggled with addictions before, I know their wily whispers. I could feel the tiny steps towards relapse playing in my mind.

“I have friends that I only speak to on Twitter,” was one. “They will have no way to contact me and it would be a disservice to them to cut off all communication.”

This is very true, but I also know that were I to log on with the best of intentions to write personal farewells that it would take hours to get through all of them. Counterproductive had no better definition than staying on the service to leave it. Should news of this blog post filter onto Twitter, I assure you that not a day goes by when I long to go back.

Twitter was, for me, the best crowd. In a way, I feel very lucky that I got out before I rose in popularity. At the time I decided to step down from minute-to-minute participation everyone was there because they wanted to be. They were there because we had a mutual respect for each other’s ideas, and a genuine appreciation of each other’s humor.

The first inkling I had that it may, however, be bad for me personally was not actually a Twitter experience. It was, instead, Draw Something.

Draw Something was, to my recollection, a wonderful game. To my recollection it was a word scramble where players could use the touch screens of their smart phones to draw hints that would help the guesser decipher the puzzle. When I started playing, it was great fun. I added many of my friends from Twitter and a few from Facebook, and we would play across great distances. It was a charming pastime.

Eventually, however, I was playing too many games. There was absolutely no way to finish them all, even if I spent hours at it. Additionally, more games kept being added. Not knowing what else to do, I simply stopped playing.

Eventually, I realized that the Draw Something effect was happening with Twitter, just so slowly that I hadn’t noticed it. I was in contact with so many great people that it had become too many great people. I had established so many great connections that Twitter had become relatively unusable for me.

At the time I left Twitter, I was following almost a thousand people, a little over a third of how many followers I had. There was no way to read everything everyone posted by that time, so I resolved to read and attempt to answer every @ reply. I would then begin at the start of my feed and read backwards in time to the last hour. That was all I could manage. Even then, I would find myself being put on lists such as “Does Not Follow Back,” by people who were following a fraction of the people I did.

I took this in stride, however. I kept moving forward and enjoyed great interaction with great people.

What ultimately changed was my relationship with my physical life.

Without going into too much detail, I had the occasion to work with my hands in an area with no Internet access. I was stunned to realize how difficult it was to not be online. I had brilliant thoughts and no one to tell. There were people around me who didn’t agree with what I had to say. To make matters worse, everything was boring. I couldn’t listen to music, or podcasts. I had nothing to take my mind away from the tedious labor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in rehab. It just didn’t last long enough.

When my physical labors were over, I would check my email, Facebook, and Twitter immediately. I would vaguely realize that I was in the car with my wife and daughter. I knew they were asking me questions. I would respond to them while checking out what everyone had to say about events in places I do not live. Sometimes I would get the answers right. I would then sleepwalk through my day, go to bed early, and wake up to check into Twitter, Facebook, and my email again.

This happened for about a week. Each day, however, the moments of clarity when I hadn’t checked my phone for a while would hit me. I started reading “This Book Is Full of Spiders” in the morning so that my battery life would last on the ride home. I found it so enjoyable that I started reading it instead of using Twitter. I thought to myself that it would be great if someone became a Luddite on purpose. I’m sure people had. This wasn’t a new idea. I just couldn’t admit that the “someone” I was thinking of was me. I needed a trigger.

It finally came in the form of this:

Simple enough, a statement that eventually access would be throttled if people were suspected of copyright infringement. I’m in favor in many types of copyright protection. It was the “suspected” part that got me thinking the following thoughts:

1) Wow. That sucks.

2) Well, I guess we’ll have to put up with it.

3) What’s the alternative? Not use the Internet?

4) I sure couldn’t do that.

5) Holy, crap! I’m addicted to the Internet.

6) I’m going to quit the Internet.

Just like that, I had made my decision. The question was, how much of the Internet to quit?

I hit upon the rules pretty quickly.

1) Do not carry a smartphone.

I currently use a $20 phone with no camera. It makes calls and texts. This has eliminated most of my problems.

2) No Facebook, Twitter, or Web Surfing unless it’s work-related.

I have to use these things in context of my job. Refusing to use them entirely is something I hope to do once I’m financially secure enough where people will put up with that kind of self-indulgent bullshit. I’m supposed to live-Tweet some things in the future, and I don’t want to go back on that obligation. In the same way, I met my book agent over Facebook and therefore feel obligated to check it at least once a week lest I completely miss an opportunity.

3) Check email no more than three times a day.

To be honest, I would love to check email even less. Still, it’s the primary mode of communication at the moment and I have business and personal connections who simply will not pick up a phone any more.

4) Netflix gets a pass.

This one was tough, but it’s something I do socially with my wife. If I’m watching a movie I don’t care if it’s streaming from Netflix or on a VHS cassette. That said, solo time is for books.

5) Online shopping is only used to buy specific things, not browsing for something to buy out of boredom.

If I need something and I know what it is, I can look it up and buy it. Just because I’m a self-imposed Luddite doesn’t mean I’ll pay full retail price for something if I can help it.

6) Only look up a fact online if I’ve exhausted all other resources on my bookshelves.

It’s funny how little I absolutely MUST know something if I make myself do research first. In the same way, my recall seems to be improving.

I’ve determined that as we become more technologically advanced, a few of us must retain the ability to read things that are way too long. If one such person has continued this far, I commend them. I also have decided to become this sort of person. I view it as a sacrifice, though acknowledge there is some benefit.

So far, I’ve stuck with this rather well. There are many bonuses. My phone can last two days without recharging. I’ve read a lot, and listened to most of a biography of James K. Polk.

I have noticed that I’ve been playing Dishonored a lot, so I’m still not a complete Luddite. That said, I did mail a letter today, so who knows?

Again, I recognize it is odd that someone who makes their living doing things on the Internet to swear off using it in their personal life. I’m a weird guy. By reducing the borders of my world, I hope to appreciate those to whom I am close a bit more. And who knows? Perhaps you are among them.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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