My online life

For some time I’ve been pondering the changes that have crept into the time I spend online. Once, my blog was my home page. Whatever I was doing, whether I had an RSS reader open in another tab or I was watching an anime episode or I was chatting with someone, I’d go straight to my blog to put down my reactions.

These days I rarely post to my blog. Most of my reactions to what I read or watch or talk about go to the social media dumping ground, where they disappear forever.

My process of content discovery has changed, too. Where once I had many news and politics websites, blogs, and other interesting feeds ready and waiting for me in Bloglines, now I rarely read anything that isn’t linked on social media.

I’m starting to feel like I’m part of a neverending content churn…that I skim, retweet or share with a blurb, and then move on without truly connecting to issues or to the people I am supposedly sharing with. There are exceptions; if I write a longer post about a link I’m sharing on Facebook, I will often receive replies, and sometimes even get into a good discussion. But this is not the norm. I spend so much time just keeping up with social media that I don’t typically write detailed blurbs these days.

I feel like something in me is atrophying.

A good friend of mine deactivated his Facebook account quite some time ago, telling me it was too much of a distraction. This is a person I’ve long admired for his self-motivation and achievements. On Facebook he would often post thought-provoking articles and discussions. When he first left, I wondered, “What will he do to fill all that time?” And then I realized how silly of a question that was. Of course, he would read and do real writing, not to mention be fully present in the moments of his life.

I would like to get back to a point where I read more thoughtfully and write more frequently. I’d like to feel more well-informed on news and political issues. I’d like to have my thoughts archived here, in my space, rather than on a third-party service that cares more about quantity than quality.

"I WANT TO BELIEVE" RSS shirt from Diesel Sweeties (not currently available)
“I WANT TO BELIEVE” RSS shirt from Diesel Sweeties (not currently available)

I’m not sure how to go about effecting the change, though. Despite my “I WANT TO BELIEVE” RSS t-shirt, it seems like the format is dying, at least in terms of reading web content. I’ve looked for a good Bloglines replacement a few times and never quite found what I wanted. It’s important to me that I be able to get to my feeds from multiple devices, since these days I do a lot of reading on my phone. I would want a reader that doesn’t show me content I’ve already read on another device. The last time I looked for a good iPhone app for RSS feeds, I was disappointed at the interface. My Windows 8 tablet/laptop hybrid, a Lenovo Yoga I call Tampopo, doesn’t have much in the way of reading and saving options. Its native news reader doesn’t export to Instapaper, which is what I’ve been using on my computer and phone to save articles to read later, and of course that news reader doesn’t let me choose RSS feeds. For that matter, I don’t know if the websites I want to read are even still publishing RSS feeds.

I’m also not sure about how to stop spending so much time on social media. I’ve taken social media hiatuses before. While the time away is refreshing, I always seem to get sucked back in. In the case of Facebook, it’s because that’s where the people I’ve been close to in my life are, and it’s a convenient way of keeping up with them and letting them know how I’m doing. I worry about losing touch with those people, and with people who don’t use Facebook. I rarely talk with the aforementioned friend who left. Were I to stop using Facebook, I would need to come up with some sort of system of staying in touch. Those of you who are naturally social probably find this amusing, but I am extraordinarily bad at maintaining relationships. I want to be a good friend, but it takes actively thinking about. Facebook has made it much easier. (Though perhaps that in and of itself is a problem: relationships by nature aren’t “easy”, so maybe there should be more of an effort on my part.)

With Twitter, it’s a little weirder. Despite having minimal followers, I feel like one of the cool kids there, and I am somehow afraid that if I stop using Twitter, I won’t be a real geek anymore. And to be fair, I have met several great people through Twitter, and I get a lot of interesting content about social issues, politics, and the web there. Even if I manage to find a good RSS reader and plenty of feeds, the people I follow on Twitter could still surprise me with content I wouldn’t normally see. It’s important to me not to live in a cultural bubble; I want to be challenged. Twitter and Facebook both expose me to ideas and opinions that don’t just go merrily along with my current world paradigm.

One time, I tried going through every single person in my Facebook friends list and hiding them all from my news feed. That way, when I logged in, there was nothing to read; I had to go to individual profile pages to see updates. After awhile I started adding a few people back, and then that felt unfair, so I re-added everyone.

I sort of wish that instead of a news feed, I had a dashboard of friends, and I could see previews of their last few posts beneath their profile pictures. I’d get more of a general overview of how a person is doing, and I could easily drill down from there. With a news feed, I really only see stuff from people who post a lot.

On Twitter, I’ve gone through mass unfollowings and followings to try and maximize my time there. I haven’t used any of the various follower tools and apps, though; I just use the web interface at my computer, Tweetbot on my phone, and the Twitter app on Tampopo. Due to app limitations, I do the bulk of my account maintenance–followings, unfollowings, etc.–at my computer. Maybe if I used a tool, I could make my Twitter usage more efficient; I don’t know.

Here are some thoughts, ideas, and goals based on what I’ve discussed above.

  1. I want to spend less time content-churning and more time learning.
  2. I want to stay in touch with friends and family, but maybe not bombard them with random links all the time. To that end, I need a place for link sharing and discussion.
  3. Perhaps I could use blog posts to share and discuss links. I could do roundups for short blurbs and long posts for detailed analysis, just like I used to.
  4. To maximize my input, I need to rework my current system of reading. I need to find a solution that lets me pull in content from provider feeds as well as content I save to read later. An export to Evernote function would be ideal for pieces I have read and want to keep for reference.
  5. I need to evaluate ways of spending less time on Facebook. Maybe cold turkey is the way to go. Maybe there’s a way I can just cut down on it, like limiting it to a certain time of day. Maybe I can filter my friends’ posts so that only certain types show (although I’m not sure this would be best).
  6. I also need to come up with a way of keeping in touch with people who are important to me, so that I’m not favoring people who post on Facebook.
  7. I need to figure out why I’m using Twitter, and whether those reasons are good enough to keep using it.

Looks like I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.

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