At the close of one year and the beginning of another, I am always overcome by the overwhelming desire to clean. It’s as if I need to make room in my life–physically and mentally–for new things.
Last week, I cleaned my bookshelves, rearranged my bureau, and got rid of my daughters’ broken toys. I made sure all my receipts were properly sorted for taxes. Then, I started cleaning up my digital life. Blogs that hadn’t been updated for months? Out of my reader! Blogs I was reading only out of a sense of obligation, not for joy or true interest? Ditto. People on twitter who only ever talk about themselves or thinly veiled product pimpage? People who only like to create controversy, rather than conversation? Unfollow.
In the last few months of 2011, I made a concentrated effort to get offline more so I could connect with colleagues, acquaintances, and friends who are writers or editors. In almost every single conversation, we would inevitably touch upon frustrations with online personas. The other person would articulate his or her frustration with people who appeared to be having great success but whose product’s quality was questionable at best and piss poor at worst. “So why do you follow them?” I’d ask. More often than not, he or she would look at me as if the thought had never occurred to them. A couple admitted they thought that if they followed or interacted with the other person long enough, that “influential” person might reciprocate by doing something for them. “How do you keep up with your ‘competition’ if you don’t know what they’re doing?” they’d ask.
There are a few ways to answer that question. First, is the person you feel compelled to follow because of the number of his/her followers or his or her supposed reach and “influence” really your competition? Is he or she doing what you want to be doing? If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is usually “No.”
Second, why aren’t you spending the time you’re wasting on following that person’s activities on your own craft and goals?*
I suggested this to one writer who was troubled by the extent to which she was losing time and energy on the dramas of people she followed online.”Try it,” I insisted, “then get back to me and tell me what you think.”
A few months later, the writer had become embroiled in a petty online argument. She’s smart, and was trying to clarify and enlighten in the argument, but no matter: the people arguing didn’t want to be informed or enlightened. They simply wanted to argue. She decided to take a few days’ break from her online life; then, she took my advice and started unfollowing. She wrote to tell me how much more time she had and how much more pleasant her life had become.
There’s a lot of static online. For some reason, many of us convinced ourselves that we have to listen to it. But you don’t. When you tune out the static, you’ll realize that the people creating that static suddenly recede in importance. Their supposed influence diminishes. The quality of your interactions increases.
You can choose to tune out the static. Try it, and let me know how it goes for you.
*Note that I’m not arguing that twitter or facebook are time wasters. I don’t think that at all. What I’m saying is that following people you don’t actually like or whose content you don’t find valuable actually steals time from you because you’re investing too much mental/emotional energy in their activities.