As some of you will know, I took a week week long sabbatical from social media last week. I’ve done this four times this year, each time for one to three weeks. For reasons I’ll come to, I find it essential.
I love social media. Twitter is my favourite platform, it connects me with hundreds of wonderful people whose friendship I value hugely. I also use Facebook, Google+, Instagram and a number of others. I also, for reasons I will come to, hate social media.
Like any professional writer, I have to be on social media. My work as a journalist means I need to keep in touch with developing stories, for which social media is essential. Much of my freelance consultancy work revolves around helping businesses use social media, so I need to stay in touch with these platforms as they evolve. In short, I am on social media a lot because it’s immensely useful to me in many ways. But for reasons I will come to, I hate that I have to be on social media.
Why do I hate social media?
Creativity requires focus. Social media, as we’re all fully aware, breaks that focus. It does that in obvious ways, with constant notifications that we train ourselves to constantly be checking. But it’s the less obvious ways that are more pervasive. For every positive debate on social media, there are ten futile conflicts. Like it or not, the kind of continuous presence writers have on social media makes not being drawn into those conflicts extremely problematic. And those conflicts are symptomatic of something worse. It’s what I’ve started thinking of as the social media Crab Barrel effect, wherein social media tends to drag all its participants towards a median level of wisdom or understanding on any topic.
As a creative of any kind the crab barrel is, of course, exactly the thing you have struggled to escape.
We need social media as writers, but we also need to protect ourselves from social media. Your thoughts on how are most welcome.