The Twitter Cleanup

In one of her Lord Peter Whimsy books, Dorothy Sayers has Whimsy talk about books in a person’s library. He says that they mark a person’s history and are markers of their journey – that we move from book to book like a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, leaving the old husk behind.

That is how I felt Thursday, when I reviewed my list of people I follow on Twitter.

There were the nerds from back in 2007 and 2008. The people who work in homelessness I found in 2008 and 2009. The theology people came next, followed by the activists.

They were all markers of the journey I have been on the last ten years.

When I moved to Raleigh in August of 2007, Twitter was my jam. It was all new and we were all trying to learn how to live in this social media world.

Twitter was just over a year old at that point, and had blown up in March of ‘07, after it was profiled at South by Southwest that year. Because that is where we heard about it, most of us in those days were nerds.

But over time it grew, and I would follow people with reckless abandon. And the more people I followed, the less I enjoyed it. What had once been fun became a chore, and all the incoming data filled me with anxiety. By the time Ferguson hit in 2014, I was done.

Once a year or so, I would miss it enough to go check in, change my profile pic, update my bio – but we both knew it was over.

I recently have been trying to be intentional with the place Social Media sits in my life. I cleaned up Facebook, and after siting with that a while felt like I might have the energy to reexamine Twitter.

As a result, I unfollowed more than 500 folks, most of whom were talking heads or people I had no relationship with whatsoever. Many of them I had just automatically followed when they followed me. (I never recommend you do this.)

I don’t know that this is the answer to my rejoining Twitter in an active way, but it already feels calmer over there. If you want, you can follow me there at @hughlh. I might even follow you back.

Nobody has a right to all of you.

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I recently changed the way I use Facebook. I deleted my personal account that had several thousand “friends”- most of whom I never knew in real life – and started over, this time only friending people I knew, liked and had spent time with.

I also made the decision to not friend people I like, but who primarily use social media for work announcements – I will use other ways to stay in touch with them.

My friends list went from nearly 3,000 to less than 300, and is much more manageable. Most people have been understanding.

But not everyone.

Someone unsubscribed from my newsletter the other day. When you unsubscribe, you are given the option to say why. Here is what he wrote in the box:

I had thought that we were friends until your Facebook friending showed that you do not reciprocate. I wish you well.

So many layers in just 21 words.

I could spend hours talking about the ways in which Social Media deludes us into the appearance of connection without the reality of it.

But the bigger point I want to make is this:

Nobody has a right to all of you.

I share a lot of my life and thoughts on Social Media. I have an Instagram account, open to the public. I have a Twitter feed, open to the public. I have a professional Facebook page, open to the public. I have a newsletter that goes out every week where I share very personal things.

All of that is open to him, but because he did not have access to this one part of my life I choose to reserve for people I am in actual relationship with, he got mad.

Nope, nope, nope.

You have a right to boundaries, a right to decide how much of you is available, to decide how much of your life, your time, your story, your pictures, your memories you wish to put out into the world. You get to decide how much of your life you want to share with people, and you get to decide that on a person by person and event by event, basis.

And if people do not understand that or respect that, then you get to decide they should not be in your life at all.

Quitting Facebook. Again. Sorta.

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As anyone who has known me any length of time can tell you, I have struggled for years with how to do Facebook. I love Facebook. I also hate Facebook.

I love being invited into people’s lives, to see the pictures of their families, to know what they are passionate about, to hear about their dreams, fears and even frustrations. Allowing me to see into your life is a holy and beautiful thing.

But it is also overwhelming. Because of how Facebook works, it becomes a firehose of information, with there always being something new to see, something new to be angry about, something new to like or dislike. I am pretty certain the human animal is incapable of paying attention to thousands of people. I am absolutely certain that I am.

For ten years, I have used Facebook as an address book of sorts. If we ever met and had a good conversation, I added you. If you moved down the street from me, I added you. If you asked me to add you, I added you. If I just wanted to get to know you, I added you. If we went to school in the 8th grade and I haven’t seen you since, I added you.

The result is that I have several thousand people who now have a piece of my attention, most of whom I do not really know, and who do not know me, but whose life streams across my screen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I have long rationalized that because of work – I am responsible for raising money to pay salaries for myself and other people – it behooves me to “know” lots of people. And it does. But it’s just not sustainable. That level of attention kills my creativity.

And about that creativity – all of that attention I am paying creates a cognitive load that is, frankly, exhausting. I am not doing my best writing, my best thinking, if I am consuming all of the time. And that is what I am doing – just consuming everyone else’s lives rather than creating mine.

This way is fraught with peril. Back in the winter I took a Facebook hiatus for a few months. It was incredibly peaceful – but I also felt isolated, realizing just how much I depend on Facebook for connection with people I genuinely care about.

So here is what I am doing: I have created a new personal Facebook account. I am adding my family and some trusted friends… and then I will deactivate my old one. I am sending a spate of friend requests to some folks – if one of them isn’t you, I hope you won’t take that personally. I am just trying to make my intimate world smaller, so I can share my non-intimate world with more people.

That’s right: My radical plan is to only be Facebook friend with my actual friends. Some people are upset at me for this – which is a whole ‘nother blog post, about the way people feel entitled to the consumption of other people’s experiences.

But there are lots of options for those people who want to see how I move in the world. On Facebook there is the Rev. Hugh L. Hollowell page and Love Wins Ministries page, and I personally am on Instagram and Twitter. Those accounts are wide open, and where I will be doing the majority of my public sharing from now on. I hope to be doing more writing here – you can get an email when I update this blog by going here.

And, as a reminder, I send an email newsletter out every Monday morning that tells a little bit about what I am up to, and has links to five beautiful things. You should subscribe.

Is this the magic bullet? I don’t know. But I hope so.

Getting News After Leaving Facebook

“But where will you get your news?”

That was a question I was asked yesterday, in response to my blog post earlier this week about my decision to leave Facebook.

The asker went on to say how much he enjoyed getting his news all in one place, filtered by his friends and people he trusted.

And that, I think, is bumping around one of the reasons I am leaving Facebook. All the news I get there is filtered by people I trust and hand select. If I support a woman’s right to abortion access and a friend doesn’t, I can choose to see less of the things she posts about that subject. And the worst part is, I do choose, often unwittingly, by the things I click “like” on, the things I comment on. Facebook learns what I am most likely to respond to, and serves me up more of that.

As a result, I see a lot of things I am likely to respond to, and less things I am not. The only way I would see more of the things my friend I disagree with posts is to comment on them, and since I disagree with her, the comment would likely be unfavorable.

Facebook has designed the system so the only way I can see more content from opinions different than mine is to fight with those people.

It’s madness. The only way to win this game is to not play it.

So, to answer the question: Where will I get my news?

I own a Kindle Fire (which is an amazing deal. For less than $50, you get a decent, fully functional Android tablet). The Washington Post has a super deal for Kindle Fire owners, where you get a six month subscription for $1, and it’s 3.99 a month after that. That is my primary news source right now. With a few missteps along the way, their investigative reporting is amazing.

But I am also sensitive to the danger of only having one source, so I subscribe to a couple of “news aggregation” emails, including the New York Times and Need 2 Know. They both send emails to my inbox every morning with top national headlines. (Need to Know is also good about sharing pop culture things, so I know what latest shenanigans Taylor Swift is up to.) I also subscribe to my local paper’s email updates, where they email me every morning with local and state level headlines. (These are all set up with an email filter, so they all go to a specific folder in my inbox)

So, every morning, I get up, drink my coffee and scan headlines from many different sources, with professional editorial voices at work. I read articles that interest me, and, wonderfully, I have no chance to argue with people I know.

Now, you can argue that this is “harder” than just logging on to Facebook and seeing what everyone else is sharing, and you are right – it requires more effort, at least in the beginning. You have to buy the Kindle, you have to pay for the subscription, you have to search out the email digests of various media (they hide them!), and then teach yourself how to set up email filters (assuming you don’t know how).

But in exchange, you get no drama, you learn things from sources you trust, you don’t have to wonder if this is fake news or satire or legit, and you probably have a better sense of what is actually going on in the world.

Why I Am Leaving Facebook

I’m not sure when it happened. Not really. I can point to the week, but not the day, when I had had enough. When I decided it was time – I am walking away from Facebook.

It may have been while I was in the Bay Area of California at a house where I had no obligations for 48 hours, and I was looking forward to just writing and reading, and instead sat on a couch and scrolled Facebook over and over. I would pull up Word and stare at it for a few minutes, and then pull my phone out of my pocket and see what has happened in the last 4 minutes since I checked last time.

Or on the five hour flight home, when I could not get online, and instead read a whole book and wrote three pages of content in plans for 2017.

Or it may have been the night before the Inauguration, when I wanted to read my new book, but instead clicked links on Facebook all night, filling me with fear about the upcoming administration.

A night where I felt the need to say something profound for the several thousand people who have some connection with me and have either friended or followed me. Marcus Aurelius would have told me that they were not thinking about me at all, but in my head, I had to produce, to be profound on command.

Or it may have been the next morning, Inauguration Day, when I penned most of this post and realized I am losing control of my life – I can’t read for more than a few minutes anymore, and I have already, 224 words into this post, checked Facebook three times to make sure I am not missing something. That morning on the way to work, I stopped for gas and checked Facebook before I got out of the car.

So, I decided to quit.

This is not an easy decision.

A significant portion of my income can be traced to relationships that are maintained on Facebook. I am connected, in some way, with more than 4,000 people there, most of whom are interested in my work in some way. Some of them donate regularly to my work, or supported us when my wife had a heart transplant in 2015, or gave money to make sure I was able to get away for a month in 2016.

But I also know those people love me, and they love the work  I do and the things I create, and the reality is, living in Facebookistan is preventing me from doing either.

So, here is the plan.

At the end of this week, I will delete my personal page. I will lose some things in this (pictures and so on) but I am working on downloading the archived versions.

My Rev. Hugh Hollowell page will remain active, and will be the place that things I write elsewhere are shared. I will also import my Instagram feed there, so not to worry – you will still see pictures of my cats, including Pepe and his magic ears. It will import all my content automagically.

I will maintain a presence on Twitter (for now, anyway) and Instagram. I will be writing on my blog (which you are reading right now) and you can sign up to get an email if you want to be notified when I post something new.

The best way to reach me is email at hugh@hughhollowell.org. If you have my phone number, feel free to text me. The number hasn’t changed in seven or eight years.

I announced this last week on Facebook, and the response has been interesting. Some people totally get it. Some people are almost angry at me. The most interesting response has been my own: I am a little afraid.

Facebook is easily the place I have the most influence, the most voice, the most “reach”. And as I have several ambitious plans for this year – plans that could really use reach, voice and influence to come to fruition – the fear comes to the surface again and again.

Can people still find me? Will people still listen to me? Will I still have any influence?

That I am scared to leave just provides further proof to me that I should, in fact, leave. I often find fear to be a good barometer of whether I should do a thing or not – because the default is easy, but progress is hard.

So, that is the deal. I am leaving Facebook, but will still be very active in the world. Especially on my weekly email newsletter I call The Hughsletter, where I will tell you what is going on in my world, but also share links to books I have read, articles I have enjoyed and links to things I have thought to be beautiful. In fact, in my plans for the future, The Hughsletter is the cornerstone of what I am doing in 2017, so I hope you will subscribe, if you haven’t already. It is the major way I will be communicating going forward as I seek to build things for my true fans.

If you have questions, feel free to email me, or ask question on my Facebook page. And thank you.

Seriously.