The curse of the social Internet

I have been social on the Internet ever since I can remember – I’m young enough to have grown up with instant messaging and online communities. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to communicate so easily with people. It has gained me both stronger relationships with existing friends as well as new friends. But as being online has transformed from something people sometimes do into something almost everyone always is it contributes more to me being less social than the other way around.

Here’s the thing. It’s ever easier to get a quick dose of social on the Internet. Share something and get instant feedback from a number of people, or just message any of the number of friends that probably are online some way or another. This makes a situation where, if you want to, you can always “be social” in some way. When this works well enough and go on long enough you develop, as Paul Miller put it, an itch to always be checking to see if someone misses you.

And when you’re increasingly interested in what happens on the Internet your attention on reality slowly fades away. You check Facebook in the middle of a movie and you check Twitter at a party, or even in the middle of conversations. Every one of these quick glances takes focus away from the thing you’re supposedly doing and, essentially, makes that thing less valuable.

Also, with the promise of always being social online there seems never be any time spent alone. You’re always an arms-length away from all the tasty socialness online and suddenly a night alone becomes seemingly not so alone. Enough of this and you start doing a lot less of the precious real things you otherwise would do.

Ultimately, social aspects of the Internet has made me less social. I’ve come to appreciate the things I do less and even do less of the things I like and love to do. The promise of social ubiquity turned out to be a curse for real life.

Going forward, all feeds, contact lists and notifications except for select direct messages will be completely hidden from my devices and I’ll constrain my checking of feeds to when there’s natural breaks in the things I’m actually doing. It’s time to focus on and enjoy one thing at a time for a change.