Changes

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but in between semesters I always take some time to re-evaluate how I’m spending my time, and over the last few weeks I’ve started implementing some fairly significant changes — especially in my online life.

Actually, I got a start on these changes a few months ago, when I said goodbye to Big Twitter. (I do visit from time to time but I don’t live there any more.) And then just in the past few days I set aside my Tumblr, which I had been faithfully updating for almost eight years. (My Gospel of the Trees site and my Book of Common Prayer tumblelog are effectively complete and have been for some time. I still like them, though.)

These two environments, Twitter and Tumblr, have something important in common, which they share with most social media sites: they invite you to measure people’s response to you. For many people this probably means nothing, but on me it has always had an effect. Over the years I developed a sense of how many RTs a tweet was likely to earn, how many reblogs or likes a Tumblr post would receive – and I couldn’t help checking to see if my guesses were right. I never really cared anything about numbers of followers, and for a long time I think I covertly prided myself on that; but eventually I came to understand that I wanted my followers, however many there happened to be, to notice what I was saying and to acknowledge my wit or wisdom in the currency of RTs and faves. And over time I believe that desire shaped what I said, what I thought – what I noticed. I think it dulled my brain. I think it distracted me from the pursuit of more difficult, challenging ideas that don’t readily fit into the molds of social media.

I started thinking seriously about these matters about a year ago, but after what was frankly a terrible 2014, marked by serious illness in my whole family and the death of my beloved father-in-law, I’m just now getting around to implementing what even then I knew I should do.

  • I’ll use Big Twitter (i.e. my public account) primarily for links and announcements.
  • I’ll use private Twitter to talk with my friends and family.
  • Instead of using Tumblr to create a commonplace book of fun images and snappy quotes, I’ll keep track of everything that interests me online on Pinboard, and much of it will be public. (This relieves me of a decision that I have had to make several times a day for the past few years: Does this go on Tumblr or Pinboard?)
  • Instead of using Tumblr to make brief and superficial commentary on whatever is current, I’ll use this space to write less frequently but at greater length on issues that have more lasting significance. I think often of a comment by the great computer scientist Donald Knuth about email: “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” Tumblr and Big Twitter were for me ways of staying on top of things, but while I am no Donald Knuth, I need to get closer to the bottom of things than I have been for the past few years. This here site is where I’ll be doing that online.
  • I’ll be reading some books along with select groups of people and discussing them either in-person or online. (Amazing how that kind of environment tends to produce both accountability and coherent conversations.)
  • I will of course continue to work on my current book project, to write for Books & Culture, possibly to get back to writing for the Atlantic.

I won’t be writing less, nor will I be producing fewer words online, I suspect. But they’ll come in larger chunks, and I’ll either be getting paid for it or working out less coherent and fully-formed thoughts right here on my own turf, where Google Analytics isn’t installed, where comments are not enabled, and where, therefore, I don’t have the first idea how many people are reading this or whether they like it.