31 January 2010

A Month Without Sharing

Self Portrait in Birmingham bus.
Photo: Looking at myself.

A quick note before getting into this post. It has been written bit by bit during January 2010 - my Social Medialess January.


Six days in, my New Year’s resolutions is doing great. By that I mean that I haven’t broken it, or, in all honesty, even felt particularly tempted to. The resolution is that I am staying away from Twitter and Facebook for the month of January. I have been spending fair amount of time in Twitter and less and less in Facebook. The whole motivation of the experiment isn’t so much that I am addicted, although I must admit that I felt horrible when I was reading about Blackberry orphans; children who have lost their parents, or parents’ attention to mobile devices. The fact that I haven’t got a Blackberry helped very little. I am, however, doing this whole experiment to realise what role do these thing play in my life. To really understand one’s addictions from coffee to crack it helps to try and erase the addiction even for a bit and see how it feels. What’s left. And it may not be very easy – that’s the whole set up with an addiction.

Fast forward, month is in halfway mark and we’re back in Cape Town. It has become to me clear immediately that the main challenge of the month is while here. In Finland it was easy to stay away from my phone as I had no routine that was built around it. I wish that went for Cape Town as well. I am feeling a lot more left out here. It’s very sad to feel withdrawals for something that one never would like to admit – without any comedic undertones or sarcasm – to be addicted to.

To think what am I missing out on. Well, I am not really aware of what others would have written about, but I assume Haiti would be high on the list. For myself the missed topics for the month would have been something like this

· It’s cold in Finland, but beautiful winter weather.
· It’s a ridiculously long wait we are having in Frankfurt airport.
· It’s hot in Cape Town. In a few days from –24 degrees to +37.

Sure, there would have been many other things to say as well, but nothing much with great significance. Makes me think why must I even keep on posting such things to begin with. Really, is it this that I feel withdrawals from? Maybe holiday season has just put me on a slow mode. Maybe I would have made a few mentions on how racist Cape Town is again after having had a small break from it. That is a depressing topic that one can’t avoid (although, most people in Cape Town somehow manage to do so). Writing 140 symbols worth is hardly going to change that though, but it has been on my mind. That and that I went for a run yesterday and intend to very much continue running now that I am back here.

And what is it that I have learned about my relationship with status updates? They create a sense of validation for a thought, idea or a feeling. Negative things like anger and frustration are a lot easier to share than anything good and the good that gets shared often, although not always, is kind of hopeful optimism – it’ll all be well, I can feel it. That explains why in South Africa I feel more like updating.

In Twitter, I had a bit of a slow period already around October and November. I was in a middle of a job application process to a position I really wanted and felt I realistically could get. I thought that let me not write anything over-dramatic on public sphere in case they would read it and not like it. Not that I cherish the idea to work for, or with, any racists or other awkward customers, but one’s got to pay the rent as well. So I toned it down. Self-censorship. Well, then as if by magic after a longish process of them providing me with a steady supply of false hope they just told me what they could have told me two months earlier without keeping me in suspense. After that I just wanted to curse the way they disrespected my time, effort and qualifications with what seemed like a poor excuse to me (without an interview they had decided that someone who is as good as me is also more South African. Later on I found out that this person in all probability had been ear marked from the very beginning). Well, now I am digressing a bit, but since this was part of my experiments and vague self-ethnography of social media addiction I thought I’d share it. It’s all about sharing, isn’t it.

In Twitter especially an update for me has a twofold function: like said it validates an idea or feeling, and let’s face it not everything needs validation but also, it helps to get things out of my system. So I am yet to decide whether it’s a good thing. Also the aspect of sharing is something to think about; is it about actual sharing or just the sense of it? A bit like my blog really, I mean I have been writing this blog soon for five years as an experiment and my posts appear so sporadically that unless you’ve subscribed to the feed you may not read them. And are they that crucial information that you should read them? Do I write them for you to read or for me to get out of my system? These are the questions with Twitter as well. I estimate to have a handful of actual human followers in Twitter who read and occasionally @reply or ReTweet my updates, which is nice, but still, I think instead of global dialogue, for me, it is about inner monologue. Having said that, that concerns only the updates which is the way I contribute (a bit pompous to call it that, but you know what I mean) to it, not the way I consume it. I enjoy reading what other people I know or look up to are thinking and click the links they send.

In Facebook, I have been spring cleaning for the last year or so. I have around 50-60 so called friends there and I try too keep it at that. For me to delete a friend is no act of hostility. It’s just part of the natural cycle of social relationships. My wife when she wasn’t my wife yet told me something that I thought was very true: people enter your life and they exit your life, some stay, and it’s all okay. I agree with that and there’s no beef with people not being part of your life now – maybe one day again they will, but I don’t have to hate anyone to not to have them as “friends” in Facebook. Maybe it is my cultural conditioning which makes me feel uneasy around certain words such as friend if a person in question is more of an acquaintance. It just feels wrong. I think the Facebook discourse is awkward for a Finn. I rather
follow someone’s updates than declare myself as their friend or a fan. Twitter is also easier for me as it can be one-way so you can check someone’s updates without then having to know or care about your existence. That’s why it’s better tool to keep in touch with my favourite musicians, comedians and such. Actually, since I place very little value to camera phone images of drunken night out, the only positive about Facebook really is that everyone is there. I don’t worry about most people, but some people are only there and the zeitgeist is such that if you can’t send someone a message in Facebook, you are out of their reach. Even if they had your email address, but in email one is not as comfortable to write two line message in text speak. I suppose writing an email still has its roots in writing letters where as Social Media is a part of SMS era. At least I think so with the amount of LOLling that is going on there.

This is the last fast forward; it’s now an hour to February and this are the last thoughts before I am back in the public sphere. I have realised during the month that I am not really addicted to any service such as Twitter or Facebook, but in the context of South Africa I tend to get a bit trigger happy with my mobile phone. Maybe it’s been escapism (it’s not as easy to just go out here) or something else. Regardless of what it is, this experiment proved my theory wrong. That’s refreshing, although of course the very reason why one experiments. It also serves as a minor metaphor for life as I often find myself trying to fix the problems by fixing something that won’t fix the actual problem, but I won’t get into that more now.

I have been missing knowing about some people in all honesty although I may have had happier times not knowing. Maybe what these tools of Social Media do, is that they erase the feeling of missing someone or something (unless they are very close people). Sometimes it’s healthy to miss something to remember that it also means something. That’s pub psychology, but I think as far as I go, pretty much on the money. I’m glad I’ve done this.


Arjan said...

Hey Mikko, are you the one who founded the Velvet Forum way back when?

Best wishes from The Netherlands, Arjan

Mikko Kapanen said...

Hi Arjan.. I am afraid I am not.