I first learned out about Micro.blog when I started poking around after reading @brentsimmons’ account of how NetNewsWire “came home to him.” I read two posts that he wrote about Micro.blog, and I was immediately intrigued. I’ve had my own blog in various and sundry formats since around 2004, I think—though a huge snafu when I migrated my website to a new host last year resulted in my losing a whole lot of my older posts—but I also fell prey pretty quickly to the lure of social media. I am now in the process of divesting myself of all my social media accounts. I’ve deleted my Tumblr, my LinkedIn account, my Goodreads account, and I am in the process of figuring out what to do about Facebook and Twitter. I’d like very much to delete them both, and go back to just having my own blog and, now, Micro.blog, but there are some practical reasons that it might be worth keeping one (probably Twitter). This post is my attempt to make clear what my thinking has been about all of this.
In 2004, as a newly published poet and translator with books and readings to promote, and also with a strong desire to connect to other writers, I found the productive networking potential that seemed to reside in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Tumblr, and other such networks deeply compelling. None of them, however, ever lived up to that potential—something for which I am willing to take my fair share of responsibility, since, in my naïveté, I never gave any serious thought to how I ought to be using those networks. I just sort of assumed, and I’d wager that I’m not the only one, that the network I envisioned would just sort of materialize. Not because of anything magical in the platforms themselves, but because I took for granted that the other writers who were joining, the people I was “friending,” were there for the same reason I was: to expand their network beyond whatever (not necessarily non-virtual) personal and professional circles they already existed in.
It wasn’t long, though, before the convenience Facebook offered—in the various ways it allowed you to let someone know you were paying attention to them (what we used to do when we made a quick phone call just to say hi, or “dropped someone a line”)—not only became its own reward, but also began to seem like a way of connecting to all those strangers who had become my online friends. So I posted articles and images, cartoons and memes; shared those that others had posted; espoused opinions; occasionally had some interesting discussions, both with people I knew personally and with people I didn’t; and, in the process of all that, I also actively sought out others on Facebook with whom I thought I had enough in common that we might make a meaningful connection. Before I knew it, I had around 1,500 Facebook friends. With most of them, I never exchanged anything beyond the initial “friending,” but here’s the thing: I nonetheless allowed all that activity to inflate my own sense of my own online significance.
To put that another way, I suddenly felt like I had an online network that I had to “manage” (not just on Facebook, though I am going to talk now only in terms of Facebook, since that’s where I lived the lion’s share of my online life). This idea of management, of course, implies a certain level of accountability, and so I spent more and more time monitoring Facebook, keeping track of what people were saying, finding things to say myself—which meant I was spending less and less time doing my own blogging, doing my own writing, my own reading…well, you get the idea.
Again, I take some responsibility for this, first because this feeling accountability was likely a result of my own inflated sense of self-importance and, second, because I never bothered to learn to use Facebook’s settings well enough to manage my feed in a way that might have made it more productive, meaningful, and/or fulfilling. Indeed, I found those settings more complicated than it was worth my time to figure out. I was aware that this complexity was likely a feature and not a bug, a way to get people to spend even more time on their Facebook accounts, but I was not at that time thinking very much about the fact that Facebook was monetizing all the time I spent there, not to mention my personal information. I just knew that my presence on the platform had begun to feel more like a burden than anything else. So I suspended my account and, lo and behold, neither my digital world nor the network through which I promoted by books and readings crumbled. The significance of my Facebook presence had been, essentially, an illusion.
I seriously considered deleting my account entirely, except that the page for First Tuesdays, the reading series I run in the neighborhood where I live, is associated with my Facebook account and I knew that there were people who got their information about the series through that page. So, in order not to cut those people off, I reactivated my account, thinking I would also create an author’s page and that I would post to Facebook only on those two pages. Especially since the 2016 elections, however, and the revelations about Facebook that have been made public, it seems, almost monthly, my disillusionment and dissatisfaction with social media networks has grown exponentially. It’s only a matter of time before I am off the social networks for good.
What Micro.blog has given me—through its simplicity and the fact that it’s a blog, not a network—is a way to focus my attention more systematically and systemically on what I want my online presence to be and what I want it to accomplish. So, for example, while Micro.blog allows me easily to claim and define a web presence in short, meaningful posts, both as a writer and, well, as just me, including my work as a college professor, I still need this website and blog to be focused far more exclusively on my writing career. I redesigned the website myself about a year ago, and I am not unhappy with it, but I did so from within a very different, far more public, personality-oriented vision of what I wanted my online presence to be. Being on Micro.blog has made me start thinking that perhaps I want this aspect of my web presence to be much simpler as well, more toned down, more focused on my writing itself. So, I have begun to research WordPress designers who can do the redesign for me. One thing I learned from doing it myself the last time is that I bit off far more than I could chew.
All of this thinking is very much in flux and I do not know where it will end up taking me. I am, however, very much enjoying the chance to be more intentional about my online life than I have ever been in the past.