Why I Unfollowed You. (Sorry!)

It’s because I like you too much. I find you too funny, too entertaining, too engaging, too comforting on dark days and too uplifting on bright ones. It’s because I always want to know what you’re doing, what your next joke is and what you’re up to. It’s because your cat is cute, your kids are hilarious and your anecdotes about your day are captivating. It’s because, when faced with the difficult work of life, I’d rather spend time hanging out.

On Twitter and Facebook I unfollowed pretty much everyone this past weekend because they’ve become an addiction. This is a problem that I’ve had before, all the way back to when I first joined the Internet in 1991 and discovered Usenet. On newsgroups, forums, mailing lists, RSS readers and more I’ve had periods where I really gained a lot from participating and then others where I was just sinking time into them for no reason. I get addicted to conversation, to the feeling of participation and being in a group to the point that it interferes with regular life.

Maybe the roots of my addiction have something to do with the need for validation or attaboys. Maybe it’s just a convenient filler for unsatisfactory gaps of time. Maybe it’s accentuated by having moved very far from home and the feelings of isolation that result. Regardless of cause, however, its presentation is always the same. Its key symptom is when I find myself tripping back on to sites semi-consciously, getting caught in endless repetitive behaviors like discussions that repeat or jokes that recycle. It’s finding the lure of numbers (likes, favorites, retweets) magnetic for reasons that I know are unhealthy yet I feel their draw anyway.

In the previous similar situations my solution was to go cold turkey. I would block sites, delete accounts and wait for the habitual nag to recede (which usually takes about a month). However in this instance I don’t want to be so drastic. I want to reset for a while, to deliberately become less informed, less obsessed with being up-to-the-minute. To cut down on my input in the hopes of regaining some focus in my output. Like going on a restrictive diet in order to eliminate a source of inflammation, I’m restricting myself to social gruel on purpose.

Will I follow everyone once more? I don’t know. The experience of unhooking from everyone I followed on Twitter felt a lot like cleaning out a garage, with some forgotten gems rediscovered amidst a ton of jetsam. On Facebook it was different. People there tend to be friends and family, and so unfollowing feels more like a betrayal (and folks wonder why Facebook is so engaging). Instead I think of it more like just taking a pause with the intent to reconnect soon.

I’ll still share to both networks during my period of absence but I’m trying to make enough room in my head for projects I either want to finish or begin. There’s a long and ever-growing list of such projects, and increasingly I’ve felt that I’ve been shortchanging them. And that has to stop. I only have a mere 30,000 days from cradle to grave, and I really want my lasting contributions during that time to be more than a catalog of likes.

So if we’re friends and I’ve unfollowed you please don’t take offence. We’re still friends, I promise. I just can’t be hanging out all the time as it’s bad for me. But I’m not too far away.