Unfollowing Is Hard

One of my dig­i­tal New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions was to “go pro” on Twit­ter. I’m near­ly there and I can tell you it’s not easy. For me it’s meant unfol­low­ing and plug­ging folks into lists or just dis­con­nect­ing alto­geth­er in order to pay atten­tion to things that are, you know, work-relat­ed. In some cas­es it means sev­er­ing ties with old co-work­ers, high school class­mates and vibrant locals in exchange for nation­al and region­al media, cur­rent co-work­ers and influ­encers. It’s a win­dow into their process, some­thing that would­n’t have been pos­si­ble a decade ago, and it’s more impor­tant to my work than ever. Thing is, has this trans­for­ma­tion sucked all the fun out of Twit­ter and Facebook?

The short answer is: not entire­ly. What I’ve lost in the ear­ly going is some of the engage­ment I enjoyed. It’s not an entire­ly pas­sive expe­ri­ence — I still man­age to inter­ject from time to time — but it’s not the free-for-all that it was back when I was tweet­ing about Philly, music, par­ent­ing and base­ball. I still do those things, but I’ve turned the vol­ume way down. I can see the val­ue in pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing Twit­ter and it’s worth the trade­off, even if I’ve been inun­dat­ed with some pret­ty fun­ny CES tweets this week. (It’s like SXSW Music, but way geekier.)

You know what I don’t miss? The con­stant whirring of news that’s bet­ter suit­ed for a police scan­ner. Want a snap­shot of urban pan­ic? Look at Twit­ter while a heli­copter hov­ers over your house. It’s valu­able infor­ma­tion only if it’s cor­rect and that’s an ongo­ing issue with hyper­local news in the dig­i­tal age: the game of tele­phone just went online.

That said, it’s hard­er than you think to cut ties to accounts you’ve been fol­low­ing for years, even those that annoy you or that you fol­low out of some sense of oblig­a­tion. Twit­ter does­n’t need to be per­son­al, but it often is. Peo­ple get upset when they dis­cov­er you’re not fol­low­ing them back. I’ve nev­er fol­lowed every­one back. In fact, my fol­low­er to fol­low­ing ratio is near­ly 3:1 and always has been. It makes it pos­si­ble for me to actu­al­ly pay atten­tion to what’s stream­ing past in my time­line. If you’re try­ing to go pro on Twit­ter, don’t feel guilt­ed into fol­low­ing back. The Twit­ter cops aren’t going to bust you for per­son­al­iz­ing your user expe­ri­ence. You can always change if you like!

Of course I’m cheat­ing by cram­ming peo­ple into lists. I use Base­ball Brains and Crit­i­cal Blasts to stay abreast of what’s hap­pen­ing in my favorite sport and in weirdo music cir­cles with­out clut­ter­ing my time­line. I know it’s a fea­ture few peo­ple use, but I’ve learned the val­ue of orga­niz­ing social media into groups. Much bet­ter expe­ri­ence that way.

Face­book? That’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Last night I trans­ferred my pho­tos from Face­book to Google Pho­tos. I’m try­ing to dis­con­nect there alto­geth­er and start over on Path. Why? It’s just too much noise and it’s all my fault. When I arrived on Face­book, I was a skep­tic. Who did­n’t leave MySpace won­der­ing if social net­work­ing had any val­ue at all. When I start­ed, it was real­ly nice to see famil­iar faces, even though we had­n’t been in touch in a decade or more. Back then, I was shocked that an algo­rithm could piece togeth­er my past and I loved it. Now I’m not so sure. Some of it has been great; high school was­n’t all bad and recon­nect­ing with my exchange friends has been amazing.

But I over­did it. I glut­ted myself I did­n’t take a moment to think about how much every­one would be shar­ing. I did­n’t curate lists back then because I did­n’t think it would get out of hand. Next thing I knew I was scratch­ing my head try­ing to fig­ure out why adults were ask­ing me to help them on their vir­tu­al farms. I want­ed to escape, but I could­n’t. Why? I had a baby, and in case you don’t know, once you’re a par­ent, every­one in your life expects pic­tures and videos. Face­book offered a place that was­n’t a ded­i­cat­ed blog where I could share those things in real time. It proved a trap and now I’m scram­bling to get out. I’ll let you know when I’m free.

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