Time to wave the white flag

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The short version of this post:
I'm cutting back on a lot of online activity. If you want to stay in touch you're welcome to add me on Google+ and/or follow me on Twitter. I'm going to be cutting my Twitter follow list way, way back, and my Livejournal and Facebook accounts will be going away entirely. If I stop following you somewhere it's not because I don't love you dearly, it's just because whatever you're writing isn't something I feel I need to follow right now. I just don't have the time to do everything I want to do.

Right. Now that's out of the way, here's the longer version.

I first got onto the Internet in about 1989 or thereabouts. It's hard to put a precise date on that as being "on the Internet" was a far vaguer concept back then. Anyway, that's a long time ago. Social activity on the Internet back then was more leisurely and generally happened through the medium of mailing lists and Usenet posts. Things like talkers and IRC existed but were mostly the reserve of computer science students. The net was still largely a tool.

Fast-forward 20 years. I now have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and a Livejournal account and a Google+ account and a whole bunch of other accounts I'd forget I even have if they didn't occasionally send me email to tell me someone's followed me there (Foursquare, anyone?). I have hundreds of followers on Twitter and follow hundreds myself. Every time someone tweets something Growl pops up in the corner of my Mac's desktop to tell me about it. Every time I'm mentioned in a Facebook post Facebook emails me. Everything is social and someone is always telling me something. Most of it's stuff I don't need to know, but which I feel bizarrely compelled to read anyway, just because it's there in front of me.

This is all manageable and fine even if it gets a bit confusing and distracting at times. After all, who doesn't want to know what all their friends are up to?

Well, it was all manageable and fine, but now I have a daughter. She's seven months old and very cute. And all of a sudden I have a lot less spare time to play with. I realised recently that it now feels like forever since I read anything of real substance longer than a news story. I feel constantly frustrated that I don't have time to get all the thoughts in my head out of there and into blog posts and other places where they belong. My mind is getting stuffed with stupid trivia and constant interruptions. Anything longer than 140 characters seems to be turning into "Too long; didn't read".

Screw it. Enough. I want to spend time with my own thoughts rather than just being constantly bombarded with other people's. I want to talk and have discussions that exist beyond facile 140-character snarks. I want to hear what people think about important stuff, not what minor social infraction has just made them slightly annoyed. Life, in short, is bigger than all this.

Which means it's time to declare social media bankruptcy. I can't follow it all and I don't want to any more. That doesn't mean I don't want to stay in touch with people, but it does mean I want to stay in touch with people in a genuine way, rather than substituting human relationships for a single sentence outlining what someone had for breakfast. I value my friendships too much for them to be reduced to the kind of Friendship Lite they get turned into by this stuff. This isn't intended to be preachy - I know this works just fine for many people and they wouldn't want it to change, but I'm just not one of those people.

I'm therefore going to hold a bonfire of the socials. I'll keep my Twitter account as, well, it's actually a great place to get breaking news stories and updates on what's going on in the Tour de France. I'm going to cut back the personal follows there a lot, though. This isn't because I don't love y'all, it's just because I've got to cut back somewhere. Don't take it personally. I'm keeping my Google+ account as well. This isn't just because I work for Google, though - I genuinely do like the way it works and makes it easy to manage what you want to read and share with people. Anything which wasn't mentioned above will go away, including Facebook, Livejournal and friends.

But what's the positive here? What do I intend to do in return? Well, I've got a political blog I've hardly had a chance to get started yet. There's a lot of thoughts I want to get down both there and here. You might not like them. Indeed, you might not even want to read them anyway. But I really do feel strongly that the prevalance of status updates and tweet-sized soundbites suffocates longer, more considered discussions, so I want to have a go at starting a few of those.

Do keep in touch, though. You've got my email address, Internet.

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