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You can choose to tune out the static.

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.

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14 responses »

  1. I totally agree. Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of the same. I can’t tweet incessantly, read and comment on every post and engage with everyone on Twitter, Facebook, etc and get all of my “real” work done. Life in the real world is so much better than the digital one. 🙂 Happy New Year to you!!

    Reply
  2. Preach, Julie. This post echoes/reinforces some of the things I’ve been pondering myself. Though I don’t think I’m one of the writers referenced here, I easily could have been – I’ve been having some of the same conversations.

    Reply
    • Eva-
      I’d love to read an essay (if you think there’s enough there) by you about being offline in the far flung territory when you were doing your heavy labor stint last year.

      Reply
  3. I do the same thing… I cleaned out my inbox, made lists, vacuumed…

    Reply
  4. Agree strongly with this. The best thing I ever did (ok, not *really* the best, but pretty damn good) was to stop using stumbleupon, cull my twitter account (which you’ve reminded me is now due another paring), and delete most of my google reader. I think you’re right–it’s so easy to follow someone/thing out of a misplaced sense of obligation.

    Reply
  5. I try to do this on a monthly basis. My reader gets a good cleaning at least once a month, and, quite honestly, I’ve cut out a lot of the noise from the travel blogging community. I don’t need that stuff to bog me down. I’ve also made a commitment to focus more on some of my offline projects in 2012, and I’m looking forward to doing what I *want* to do, not what I *should* do.

    Reply
  6. Love this Julie! This has been my mantra for a long time. About trying not to get worked up over people living totally different life paths than me. The last few months have been quite comical online in terms on arguments back and forth between various camps.

    Reply
    • Very wise. Although I didn’t find it funny as very often it was my work that got caught in the crossfire and dragged into the mess. Glad I stayed out of it – now I need to work on my sense of humour 😉

      Reply
      • Abi-
        That IS the tough part. Right after writing this post, someone asked me why I’d been chosen to follow Prince Harry in Belize. He then decided that he wanted to call into question everything I’d done here. I have no problem with him asking (after all, I’d rather someone ask than create or pass along rumors or assumptions), but his tone and his overt hostility really frustrated me. Why did I even feel like I needed to respond to him, when he was obviously someone to whom the truth didn’t even matter because he was so attached to his own opinion, which was formulated on a host of inaccurate, ill-informed assumptions. In short, this post is as much a reminder to me that I don’t have to engage in static-making!

      • I can only imagine Abi!

        You also have the unique position of being able to work and see things from both sides – print outlets and blogging. As difficult as it might seem especially since it’s one’s creative work being called into question, staying out of the debate and letting one’s work speak for itself is wise.

        I think you were 100% wise in staying out of the debate. Your work absolutely speaks for itself!

  7. Thanks for this, Julie. I recently had a forced offline period when I was in a country where I had very little access to the internet. Except for wanting to do some real blogging, I didn’t miss it.

    Since I spend most of my work day off of the computer, I really don’t have the patience to spend my limited online time paying attention to travel blogging world fluff. But there are moments when out of envy of someone’s supposed success, I slip… I’ll sometimes tune into the fluff or put out some blog or social network fluff to try to keep up. For 2012, I want to put more emphasis putting stuff out there because I feel it wholly, whether that applies to Twitter, blogging, commenting, etc.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: The Uncomfortable Truth About Being Productive | almost fearless

  9. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
  10. Pingback: » Blog Archive » The newest travel magazine in town – WildJunket » Geotraveler's Niche

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