A couple of weeks ago I was shamed into cutting my Facebook time down to 10 minutes a day. I experienced mixed success with that, which bothered me a little. So last week I decided on a whim to stop checking Facebook at all for a while–maybe a week. No announcement to my Facebook friends or anything. I looked at the clock and noted that I was quitting at 8:32 a.m. last Tuesday.

I swear, for the first day it was like laying off the hooch or something. Every time I checked my email I felt a visceral pull towards the Facebook icon. When I finished a task, my entire being wanted to check Facebook before I started the next task, like I needed a smoke break. It was that bad.

The next day I only had to fight off the Facebook compulsion a couple of times.

For the remaining five days my mouse/finger drifted towards the Facebook icon unbidden a couple of times, out of residual reflex, but I didn’t really care about it when I caught myself and did something else.

Across the whole week I guess I reclaimed at least four or five hours from my former Facebook habit. I devoted this time to other things like studying, looking for a job, writing, cleaning out my inbox, washing dishes, and reorganizing my wallet. I kept a log.

So, after the first couple of days, I didn’t miss Facebook at all. I quit Facebook and lived.

I’m going to cross-post this to Facebook. I know that sounds stupid, but the only people I know who can appreciate it are my friends still riding the Facebook merry-go-round of death. Or of wasted time, anyway.

I don’t plan to continue my 100% Facebook-free lifestyle choice, but do I think this experiment will go a long way towards helping me keep my Facebook time down to 10 minutes a day. I’m still looking for a job, and my glove compartment needs to be cleaned out in the worst way.

Artist's conception of me after 1 hour of Facebook deprivation.
Artist’s conception of me after 1 hour of Facebook deprivation.

Image: “Despair” by Cyn McCurry

I broke down and dove into Twitter six months ago, on the advice of several strangers. They didn’t have candy, but it turns out they did have good advice about Twitter. Here’s why their advice was good:

First of all, I don’t use Twitter to talk to my friends. Twitter’s a big place where anyone can read whatever they want, and I don’t have anything to say to my friends that I want millions of other people reading. If I just wanted to talk to my friends, I’d never touch Twitter. I’d go to a bar, like we always do.

I use Twitter to connect with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. That’s mainly writers, agents, and publishers. I sometimes look for actors and food service workers, which are pretty much the same thing. I find them and follow what they tweet. Sometimes they follow me, and a-hah! We’ve made a connection.

I don’t tweet that I just ate a sandwich or that I’m waiting for Popeye to show up on Once Upon a Time. Some people like to do that, but I don’t. I try to share things I think will be useful or at least interesting to more than three people.

Unlike Facebook, a Twitter profile reveals little about you. You can share a photo if you want, you can write a 160 character bio, and you can list a website, which frankly can belong to an auto body shop and no one would know or care. That’s all. I don’t worry about creepy strangers following me. All they really know about me is what I choose to tweet. If I tweet my address and where I keep my stash, then I deserve a home invasion.

The 140 character limit isn’t a pain in the ass like people think. If I have something cool to share, I tweet a brief explanation plus a link to the full thing. A lot of people do that. For example, right now someone just tweeted “Like Gargoyles?” plus a link. Ooh, and “I wept blood after talking to my agent” plus a link. Next I’m looking at “A sadist uses trained monkeys to torture his victims” plus a link. You think I’m kidding, right?

If I’m following a thousand people, I don’t have to scan the tweets from all of them all the time. I can make a list of just the independent publishers, or only the agents, and I can follow that list when I want. It takes a tad of effort, but it makes the Facebook list creation process seem like rebuilding a Corvette t-boned by a dump truck.

Hashtags make things easy. A hashtag looks like this: #hashtag. If I tweet about humor, I might stick a #humor hashtag in my tweet. That way, anybody searching for that hashtag would find my tweet. I also like to use #mentalillness, #dumbass, and #vampirecows. If I want to see what people are saying about science fiction, I can search #scifi. It’s a good way to find cool links and to find new people you want to follow, or who might be fooled into following you.

I can manage my electronic space pretty easily in Twitter. I drop in when I have a few minutes, and I check out tweets on topics about which I’m interested. I spend far less time on Twitter than on Facebook, but I get a lot out of Twitter. I can just look at the things I’m interested in rather than wading through my friends’ religious manifestos, pictures of lions hugging bunnies, and notifications that this was the worst morning of their lives. I love them all, but it’s a lot to read through when I only have five minutes.

Twitter doesn’t try to sell me shit. Sometimes people send tweets that try to sell me shit, but I can just stop following them.

To sum up, if I just wanted to hang with my friends, I’d never use Twitter. For finding people and information that interest me, it’s been the WD-40 of social media. Well, maybe not that good—let’s say it’s been the crescent wrench of social media.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s a lot harder to flame someone or write an insane rant if you’re limited to 140 characters, because you have to write with discipline. That alone is worth its weight in kittens.

Visit me on Twitter at @BillMcCurry.

“Is it ok to wear red shoes with a green shirt on a #bicycle after #laborday? #fashion #roadkill

Photo by Mo Riza.

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

My father gave me a singular fact that shows how he felt when I was born. Our family was scattered all around town in about 20 homes. He could have called his mother and asked her to pass the news to the rest of the family, but he didn’t. Calling every home himself was far more personal. But he didn’t do that either. He drove to each home and told them face to face that his son had been born.

Sometimes the way you say something is as important as what you say. Today we can say things to thousands of people with almost no effort. Social media lets us tell our friends and their friends that we had a hard day, or we’re at lunch, or our heart’s been broken. We can share jokes, pictures, opinions, and insults. It’s fun and satisfying. But some messages are truly meaningful, maybe more meaningful to other people than to us. Hearing those messages almost by chance, through a largely frivolous medium, can hurt them in ways no one intends.

The birth or death of someone you love is probably the most meaningful event in a life. Bringing someone this kind of message deserves more intent and effort than it takes to comment on the weather. That’s why the names of the dead are withheld until the family is told. Learning about this kind of thing though a casual word, even if well-meant, is like finding out your brother is dead through a television commercial. It’s like finding out your child has been killed by seeing it on a billboard on the side of the road. It’s an effortless, throw-away message that capriciously tells someone they’ve received the only thing in life that’s irreplaceable, or that they’ve had the only irreplaceable thing in life taken away.

I like the friends I have on Facebook. I’ve culled my friends list ruthlessly, like a dog breeder drowning puppies while trying for a new type of canine, maybe a Saint Berdoodle. So now my friends list contains real friends, or at least acquaintances I like. This has led me to do far stupider things than I did when my Facebook friends included my dentist’s uncle and the guy I met at the gas station.

The Wise Folk advise us to avoid certain subjects in polite company. We should not discuss sex, religion, or politics. I think this is usually great advice. But now on Facebook I’m not in polite company, I’m among my friends. So I say to the wise folk, “Screw you, you god damn commies!” I feel comfortable talking to my friends about delicate subjects. They’re my friends.

Allow me to show you the stupidity of my ways. Say I’m scanning posts and see that a friend linked an article. It reveals that last Christmas Eve the Republican National Committee held a cross-dressing orgy and sacrificed goats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. My friend has commented: “This is outrageous! These guys are traitors to the nation!”

Back when my friends list included the guy I met at the gas station, I would no more have responded to this than I would have inhaled Drano. But now I’m among friends. I may freely read this article and offer friendly insights.

I admit that the image of the RNC writhing in ecstasy under Abraham Lincoln’s gaze is amusing. Yet I try to be honest, and I comment: “I read the article and am not sure it’s accurate. The article was written by a plumber in Little Rock who said he’s never been east of the Mississippi, and he relied on his nephew’s field trip to DC for his source material. I couldn’t locate anyone else who saw this event, and unless the RNC has a Romulan cloaking device then someone should have seen them and said something. And while the article appears on a website named www.window.on.truth.com, it’s in fact owned by the non-profit ‘Kill Republican Maggots Who Kick Orphans.’ I’d say exercise some skepticism.”

Half an hour later my friend responds: “Maybe, maybe not. There’s no proof that they DIDN’T have this orgy, is there?”

I suppress my knowledge that it’s impossible to prove a negative. My friend knows how she feels, and I’m not determined to change her opinion. She likes her opinion. We had a friendly conversation, polite on both sides, and I’m happy. So I comment: “I see what you’re saying, and you’re right—I can’t prove the orgy didn’t happen. If some of these guys have their penises fall off later, that could be evidence that an orgy might have happened. But overall, go you!”

Fourteen seconds later a comment appears from one of my friend’s friends. I’ve never heard of this person, and if he was on fire I probably wouldn’t bother to write an app to simulate a stream of urine directed onto him.

He comments, addressing my friend: “I don’t know where this guy came from, but he’s just the kind of shit-for-brains reactionary who’s going to drive this country into a revolution that will end in an influenza pandemic and nuclear war! Just because someone’s a plumber doesn’t mean his words are false—that’s nothing but elitist thinking from a lackey of the rich and privileged who have filled this country’s prisons with the innocent poor and are conducting scientific experiments on them to create a super-soldier! I’ll bet he’s never even been to an orgy! I’d like to see this asshole debate the real issues instead of drooling his opinions—I’d shred him in 2 seconds! But I doubt he has the guts!”

As I read this, I reflect that they are called Wise Folk instead of Pretty Folk for a reason. I should listen to them more. I feel a gut-wriggling urge to respond to this snot-streaming cretin, but it’s evident that hours of spiteful conflict will ensue with a person I do not know, care about, or wish to see in the gene pool. Only evil lies at the end of that path.

There is salvation. It’s called the “Block” button, and I punch it as if it was the ejector seat and my F-18 was flaming out.

Sure, Facebook is a social network, but social isn’t always good. Most murders are committed by someone close to the victim, and the most vicious wars are fought between people with only a few degrees of separation. If I want to enjoy my time online, I’ll keep my fingers in my pockets when those touchy subjects float by. If I want a fight, I can always walk up to someone in a bar and call his mother a clot of nose-filth.