A Filter For Internet Participation
[preface] It’s been over a year since I’ve written in this “Letter Home” format. It’s a warmly familiar return to the design I used to relate my mixed bag of sentiments from my 2011 journey. During that travelling phase, I wrote a letter each week. My goal for this year is to write one letter per month – a bit of communication, without being burdensome. And so it begins.
Communication has been on my mind lately, and more specifically, how I converse on the web. As an active participant in the vast universe of 21st century communication, I have access to a myriad of platforms: email, Tumblr, Pinterest, a personal website and more. It’s difficult to know where to devote my energy, and what the return on investment will be. At the moment I’ve decided to tinker. One of these experiments involves taking a step back from Facebook and Twitter for a few months. The idea behind this – or at least part of it – is to eliminate distractions, and sharpen my focus on a book project that I would very much like to complete. But I’m also very curious to measure the impact of “absence” on social media. In the sheer volume of data we receive, I’m wondering if my abstinence will be noted to any significant extent? If not, then perhaps it’s time to reassess how I engage with that messy thing we call the Internet.
These thoughts have been brewing for a few months. In October I watched a video featuring one of my intellectual crushes, Mr. Jonathan Harris, speaking at a PSFK Conference about his personal quest to humanize the Internet, or at least how he relates to the Internet. I was particularly struck by one idea he outlined about moving from the current frenetic state of cyber behavior to more intentional forms of participation. For Mr. Harris, this entailed a transfer from disposability, curation and self-promotion to timelessness, creation and self-reflection. I suppose I saw many of my own behaviors on the list of frenetic actions.
Self-promotion is considered an important factor to “get ahead” in the competitive virtual race. It’s vital in constructing a cyber-community, but also in breaking through the tsunami of sensationalist Internet rubbish. Admittedly, self-promotion has served me well. I tooted my own twitter-horn, and it has led to a certain amount of online success. Yet, after four years of slogging through the cyber trenches, I’m unsure if self-promoting behavior is what I want my default Internet strategy to be. I yearn to bring more depth than a Facebook status update about the delicious dinner that I just happened to throw together (drenched in the subtext that I’m effortlessly skilled and endlessly creative), or a calculated Instagram selfie that features my latest hipster haircut (which might just get a 20 “likes” if I capture myself at the most complementary of angles). I don’t want to pander to the lowest common denominator. Which is all fine and dandy, but still leaves me with a greater question: how do I make my cyber contributions add up to something more meaningful?
Perhaps it starts with the cessation of shouting for the sake of being heard – something I’ve been guilty of in the past. My grandma used to encourage us to monitor what came out of our mouths. She said: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” When I translate these sentiments into an adage for Internet behavior, it reads: “If you don’t have anything valuable to post, then shut the hell up.”
My approach is to apply these intentional words – a type of filter – to what I share on the Internet. I must ask myself: “Does what I’m about to share have value beyond my own self-promotion?” It’s a big question, and one that is difficult navigate on my own. In fact, i t would be great if you could help. I ask for your assistance with keeping me inline, while I continue to tinker with my presence online.
And maybe together we can make this Internet vortex a bit more meaningful.
Victoria, British Columbia
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UPDATE: I recently read my horoscope on the wall of a cafe. It related to my decision to lay off the gas, so to speak, of cyber participation.