I have been on an unsubscribing kick lately. And I’m not the only one.
People who track and parse the trends of social media (which is currently being transitioned into “the new media” and which will, soon enough, become just “media”) have been saying this for a long time: attention is the new currency. In other words, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention, this is non-news.
But from the dismaying and ever-expanding swath of garbage I have to wade through every day to get to fresh, open waters, I’d say most people have yet to get the memo. And I say that having already deliberately and painstakingly filtered the firehose down to a relative trickle. I follow fewer than 100 people on Twitter. I have only a dozen or so “always” blogs in my Google Reader. I use delicious and FriendFeed to collect and collate, not chat nor find new material. I stay the hell away from YouTube entirely, just reading the comments there is often enough to lower one’s IQ 50 points, not to mention plunge one into a black hole of depression. I will visit HuffPo only out of absolute necessity, and only long enough enough to hit the “Instapaper-izer” bookmarklet I installed on my browser to strip it and its ilk of their Downtown Vegas-like flashing carnival lightshow of crappery.
And yes, Facebook “friends”, many of you who are redundant, dour, knee-jerk cheerful, or too talky, especially around the business offerings, just don’t show up in my feed at all anymore.
I am not a highly-sensitive person like my friend, Havi, and I never saw that old ’90s movie where Julianne Moore became allergic to everything, but as I let go of the clutter I’ve used both to insulate myself from and inure myself to sensation, I’m freaking out a little bit over how crowded and noisy everything has gotten in the past seven or so years. I mean, I’m as delighted as the next gal about the democratization of dissemination that owning the means of production has created, but does EVERYONE have to make EVERYTHING ALL the time? And with quite so many %#@$ modal windows?
A brief history of the Web 2.0 gold rush
It’s not like any of this is news. When most normal people, i.e., non-ADD types and non-change addicts, first come to social media, they ask the same question: how do you deal with the noise?1
To which the standard reply from a responsible social media tour guide is two-fold:
- Reduce input to what is necessary
- Filter the rest with tools and processes
In the beginning, we tended to err on the side of too much info and rely on tools and processes to manage it. Them was heady times, the land-grab days, and we didn’t want to miss a minute of it. And yes, it sounds goofy, but there was a great big bunch of us who were writing about the same stuff we were reading about, the stuff we were always interested in, that we were now finally able to swap stories about (productivity pr0n was a big one) and the stuff that was brand spanking new that we were trying to wrap our heads around (i.e. social/”the new” media). I was as guilty as anyone, and guess what? I’m not even the least bit ashamed. This was well before social media hit pop-will-eat-itself levels. There were a handful of gossip bloggers. There were (blessedly) no mommybloggers.2 Back then, it was such a relief to be able to have conversations and interactions instead of just consuming page after mind-numbing page of webular data, I loved it all, including the then-occasional “10 Best Whatever” post. I subscribed to blogs, to newsletters, I joined forums and Yahoo! groups. I did way too much, but I learned a lot, which I was then able to sift through, process, and synthesize in purportedly useful ways to people joining the party late.
And then, all of a sudden, a little bit at a time, I realized: I was done.
Done with ubiquity. Done with ravenous, voracious intake. I am back to reading judiciously about process, and intensely in new areas of interest. So I unsubscribed, and unfollowed, and deactivated, and generally went elsewhere. There are plenty of people who have a deep and enduring interest in exploring and sharing the stuff I once did, and some of them are even doing it responsibly, thank goodness, meaning they are not just yakking about social effing media, but talking about it from some sort of useful context. If you’re climbing aboard now, you should find one of these people. They’re fairly easy to spot, if you like the tenor of my blog.
Walking my own (not-)talk
In February of this year, I did something fairly radical for me: I told people to unsubscribe.
The engagement levels of my newsletter had been dropping for a few months, and I was despondent. Not that I don’t spend a great deal of time on this blog, I do!, but I spend even more time on my newsletter, proportionately, plus it costs me money to send out every month. This is one thing when you’re working, and when your newsletter is bringing you clients; it’s quite another when you’re purposely on self-imposed sabbatical and essentially paying for other people to read your work and they’re not.
The solution suddenly seemed simple: tell the people who were disinterested that it was fine for them to go. So I did. My unsubscribe rates are now just about dead even with my subscribe rates, so the cost is holding steady. But the range of feelings I was suddenly exposed to was far more valuable than the few bucks that went back into my pocket.
I would be offended and/or surprised at who left, and almost immediately after, I would be joyous. I was letting go! They were letting go! We were all free to go wherever we pleased! I got a taste of what it feels like to be filtered out, along with a kind of permission to filter more honestly. Walking the talk! What a concept!
The remains of the day
What’s left is a profound gratitude for who’s left, because they’re really choosing to be fully present with me, plus a kind of focus I never felt before. I am paying more and more attention to what it is that interests me, and trusting that everyone else is grownup enough to do the same. I’m enjoying the hell out of the time I do spend in social media, and what I read and share there. Out of the nothing, a something emerges, and I realize that this is all one process, and that it doesn’t end until we do: we take in, we interact, we synthesize, we release. The landscape of our lives is always changing, just like life is always changing. It’s so obvious, it’s ridiculous, but there it is.
I look at what is left of all I’ve learned from so much time spent absorbing these various modalities of communication, at what has stayed with me, and I start to get a sense of how I might be useful to people when I emerge from self-imposed sabbatical. I’ve been playing with it a bit here and there, quietly test-driving it with a few longtime clients who are, for whatever reasons, also happy to play in this space, to cop a coach-y term. I’m hopeful that by February, when the odometer on my year rolls over, I’ll have some clear and useful offering to extend more widely.
In the meantime, though, I hope that if you are here, you will be really here with me. And that if you are not, you will feel free to let go. And that if there are impediments to your finding utility here, a lack of organization in some critical area, or a missing delivery system, you’ll let me know, either via a comment or an email. Comments and emails remain a constant, I do not see giving them up anytime soon.
You are my great love, giver of useful feedback, engager in meaningful conversation. I will give up much to share in this way…
1In fairness, the first question many people ask is, “What the hell is the point of this crap?”, but these folk are unlikely to use social media for any purposes, good or ill.)
2There were plenty of mothers who happened to blog, and some outstanding blogs from them. They just weren’t the ad-splattered, Proctor-and-Gamblized, black holes of mediocrity you find in such woeful numbers today.
Image by woodley wonderworks via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.