Planning a Social Transition

Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.

For nearly a decade now, a huge proportion of my social energy has been directed toward constantly-connected online social networks. On a few occasions in that stretch I've taken breaks as part of an attempt to ameliorate my procrastination, but they have always been temporary from the start. Now, though, I'm going to try to make a permanent shift toward much more intentional and intimate forms of social interaction.

First, a bit about the virtues of social networks. Outside of family, there are about three people I consider important in my life that I didn't meet through some sort of online group or other. I've had innumerable valuable experiences wholly on social networks, and would not at all be the person I am today without them. By lessening my time there, I am sure I will miss out on awesome ideas, people, and experiences. And, while this doesn't apply very much to me, social networks are an excellent way for people who dislike or struggle with traditional social interaction to still be social overall. Given where I am in my life now, though, I think it's time for me to try something else.

My time online is all-encompassing and automatic: My phone is always connected to google and facebook chats. I get notifications from tumblr and facebook on my phone. When I'm at my computer I always have a tumblr and facebook tab open and regularly refresh them, and I often am engrossed in the phone apps when I'm out. The end result is that I am constantly interacting whether I actually want to or not, my time is spent more on people who are regular posters at the expense of people who would provide more quality discussion, and I am constantly distracted when I want to be focusing.

Moreover, for me online multi-recipient broadcast communication is missing a level of richness and intimacy that I've really come to value in relationships. When I post something on tumblr or facebook, I have no idea if anyone will read it or care, and I end up shaping my communication for a more general audience. If I have an unplanned gchat convo while working, it is usually shallow, distracted, and ephemeral. And I have always felt like something vital was missing when I can't see, touch, or most importantly go out and do things with people I'm interacting with.

And the last bit, that finally pushed me over the edge, is fairly peculiar to me but is still vital. I have a strong preference for intellectual relationships, where discussion of ideas plays a central role in the interactions. For whatever reason, the people I meet online who might meet this criterion tend to be associated with Online Intellectual Movements that seem to all share some core awful characteristics with each other. So far I've interacted with the online Objectivist movement, a portion of the online feminist movement, and two or three portions of the online rationalist/Less Wrong movement (two of which I affectionately refer to in my head as 'weird twitter' and 'bonobo rationalist tumblr', respectively). Though I've met some of my closest friends in these online groups, and though I think many of the ideas they're centered around are extremely important and true, they've all tended toward an overabundance of 101-level discussion, a pervasive ingroup/outgroup mentality invading most discussions, and an implicit (or sometimes explicit) sense that having the right ideas on certain core issues makes you automatically moral and always right (and conversely if you have the wrong ones). This is extremely frustrating, both because many of those behaviors are explicitly opposed the core ideas the movements are centered around, and because it either doesn't happen or is much more avoidable in person (even when it's the same people involved!). Online intellectualism so far only beats out in-person intellectualism in quantity, and I expect once I make serious efforts to strengthen my existing relationships and form new ones locally even that will disappear.

So in practical terms, my plans are:

If you want to still talk, I'm sure I'd love to! Just shoot me an email (domain shealevy.com, username shea) and we can figure out a way to keep in contact. I know this will probably mean a lot of my relationships will fade, and I'm sorry about that, but I think on net this will be much better for me.