Because I’ve been asked why… so here goes.
Ok. So I know it’s pretty much been overdone this whole ragging on Facebook thing. “Blah, blah, blah. We get it. You’re not on Facebook any more, you pompous, pretentious prat! Leave the rest of us alone.”
Yeah? Well… it’s more complicated than that.
Sure, you might see me poking around some of the social networks here and there. Hey… I still enjoy a morning romp through the full-on firehose that is my Google+ stream and I’ll let Twitter grind through a few rounds of ansyncronous refreshes before I get pretty bored of that, too. And sure, I’m off Facebook for the moment, and even I’m not above admitting that might be entirely temporary and the possiblity of a reload not completely out of the question… but I certainly don’t miss it. And by the way — grumpy old man alert! — I can’t even be bothered to sign up for any of the new snapping, pinning, or poking web apps that seem to appear daily. But the fact is, I’ve pretty much finished with the whole social networking thing for a while: though not just because it’s the epic-cool hipster-thing to do at the moment, either.
The thing is that it’s like this: I really do want to focus on my blog… and I really don’t care if you read it or not because I’m in this for a much — MUCH — longer game than you might realize. Mostly that revolves around not needing it as a revenue source, and it being more of a personal historical record and less of a giant digital brain fart. It is what it is. And to that end I’ve got a few good reasons that social networking doesn’t fit into whatever “it” is and whatever that long game happens to be. I’ve finished with social networks for the time because they just don’t sync with my creative and content goals, and here’s why:
4) Renting Versus Owning
First, in this particular long game, the option of me not having a crap-load of control over my content is pretty much a non-starter. I’ve been focusing a lot on long-term data retention lately. I’ve invested significant mental resources into the problem of content preservation: like, how do I take a content collection amounting to nearly three gigabytes of online digital assets and a variety of text-based, databased, complexly-formatted posts and elements and preserve them in perpetuity. Part of this — at least what amounts to “Episode 16: The BackUp Plan” — has resulted in a quadruply-redundant, cross-loading scheduled and automated power-backup. And this particular level of obsessive digital hoarding is largely possible because I own my digital properties (as much as one can, anyhow) and I’m not renting space (as it were) on the social networks. I can add plug-ins and scripts and layers of complex scheduling algorithms that ensure all those years of content I’ve created are scattered into a widely dispersed backup, never to be completely erased because no one single natural disaster nor one random attack could so thoroughly wipe out all those backups simultaneously — at least not easily. Do you know where those photos you took in 2007 and posted on your Facebook Wall are now? Maybe. But I definitely know where all my stuff is.
3) Investment Does Not Beget Payola
The long game question has also got me thinking much more about the idea of incremental efforts. Effort in any shape or form is always a kind of investment. No matter what we happen to be creating, be that from writing one-forty character tweets to full-on writing a life-long series of novels, learning a new word with a page-a-day calendar to getting your PhD in theoretical physics, or even from taking crappy cell-phone video clips all the way up to creating a billion-dollar motion picture… it’s all effort, and it’s all investment of your time into something. But notice? Maybe my rankings are biased, but I’m sure if you started making your own you’d notice too: the fluff of social media is all near the bottom of that ranking. My own personal investment, years of filling scattered social networking sites with dribbles of content might have been fun, but five years after I originally joined Facebook I’ve really got not much at all to show for it. Well, not much more than a kind of lingering resentment at wondering what kind of value really was lost in all that wasted time. On the other hand, I weigh out the back-catalogue of blog posts and a twelve-thousand photo archive I’ve built and, sure… it’s not the eighth wonder of the world or anything, but it’s something. What have I got with my Facebook archives? Oh right… there was this:
2) So Much Vapid Self-Promotion
Ok, so you argue there is a kind of payola that falls out of a social network long game: self-promotion. You pepper the networks with what amounts to years of relationship management and from that work grows web traffic, hits, and popularity. Reads. Eyes. You are entertaining people. Interacting. Whatever. But there it is. You’re build this online character profile: it’s like you are grinding this real-life RPG character from an adventure game, but that character just happens to be you in real life. Well, sort of. I mean, rather than grinding by chopping virtual wood, or killing virtual baddies, how you are grinding your reputation is by sharing clever thoughts and posting funny links and posting pictures of your friends, kids, or friends’ kids. All this builds up into an intangible sort of epic self-promotion and relationship score tracked by really nothing more than (a) the follower or friend count on your profile page and (b) the length of those followers or friends’ memories… which turns out it pretty short. So, the cycle of ever more vapid, ever-more one-upping, and ever more simplified, super-broad-audience-targetted self promotion continues until you find yourself becoming a one-man marketting team where the product is nothing more than this faux personality you’ve fostered for the sake of generating friend requests. That, friends, seems more like a short game to me…. and far too much work for the little bit of payout.
1) Making Content for Someone Else
Now, even if none of the above means anything to you — none of this content-ownership or time-value stuff has any impact on your life — one of the epic fails of social networks that — no matter how convincing I am to myself in trying to go back to a life of happy-tweeting and carefree status updating — always pins me to the wall here is the question of ownership and a kind of forced donation of my stuff to this behemoth social network company. And I get it: it’s a kind of invisible contract. We get to use these services and all of the so-called benefits that fall out of using them. In exchange, we hand over our most trivial of thoughts and our “throw away” bits of creative scribblings or our mobile camera pics… and it all gets uploaded and bumbles around these networks. An exchange has occured. Facebook, Twitter, and all these services are not free to use: we pay for them by posting our brain farts, and the site’s algorithms scrape those farts together, iron out the stink-lines and press them into something pretty and shar-able. We are left with fancy little profiles for our friends to browse, or twit-feeds for our followers to watch stroll by on their devices. And the networks have content to entice those people to come by and visit. And visit. And visit some more. And all those visits translate into the attention that is so valuble to advertisers: your content — great, mediocre or wherever on that quality spectrum it falls — becomes the draw and the reason for these networks to exist. And — here’s the kicker — all of us as users give that value over to them for nothing, we donate it in exchange for one thing given back: the raw joy of participation. The contract is that there is a kind of implicit transfer of value, real or otherwise, to the networks. After all, why would someone come to my personal web site to read what I posted on Facebook, if it’s already in their feed on Facebook. One less click, y’know. But all that work just given away so I can play “like the baby pictures?” Why? And while ultimately I don’t really care who owns my brain farts, why close that gap if it doesn’t flat out benefit me and my long game plan?
At the end of the day it’s all just so much competition for time and attention. None of this matters much anyhow, and is merely just dribbling arguments about how to best spend our free time and creative communications efforts, no?
But if you’re one of those folks who loves their social networking… hey… all the power. Go nuts. I can’t compete with multi-billion dollar empires that are showering users with pretty little interfaces and global connectivity and that illusion of popularity so readily enveloped by hundreds of likes or plusses or re-shares. I just can’t, and I don’t even want to try. I’m just me, blogging away here, and not necessarily against the machine itself: but those are my reasons. That’s why I’ve been scarce around the digital water-cooler lately: I’ve set myself firmly into the blogger camp. I blog therefore I am. My long game is the the blog filled with thousands of posts, tens of thousands of ideas, and hundreds of thousands of words, all owned, managed, and incrementally built into something moumentally invaluble to myself — and maybe others — but mostly just me.