As we enter 2018, like so many others, I find myself reflecting on this past year and thinking about what I’m going to do differently during our next 365 days around the sun.
There’s a lot to write on this topic. But for now I’m going to focus simply on why—for the umpteenth time—I’m writing yet another “first post,” on yet another new blog, at the beginning of another new year. I think this one might be different, and here’s why.
After Looking Inward, It’s Time to Look Out
Since June, I’ve been on sabbatical from my work at Uber, and primarily focusing inward. That introspective time has been immensely valuable (more on that later), but I’m feeling ready to start looking out.
While I haven’t been a complete digital hermit, I did very purposefully leave behind many of my online communities behind during this break. I all but quit Twitter. I said goodbye to Instagram and archived my old photos. I went pretty quiet (albeit not totally silent) on Facebook. And this website turned into an indefinite “under construction” page. After 6 years of what felt like nonstop online activity, I just needed a break to focus on the real world. And given the media and political landscape… maybe I couldn’t have picked a better time.
The break has been healthy. I learned a lot of important lessons about myself. But it’s time to re-enter reality, and while I may not dive back in to everything headfirst, I am feeling ready to more actively participate in my community, both online and off.
Listening to the Stories Around Me
My personal motto for the longest time has been “I just want good stories to tell when I’m old.” And we’re surrounded by interesting stories every single day. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing so many fascinating, wonderful, and inspiring stories over the last 6 months—from baristas and bartenders in my neighborhood, to tour guides and fellow travelers, to my incredible, unbelievably supportive, truly one-of-a-kind girlfriend. It’s not hard to find (or make!) good stories: you just need to listen.
So simply put, I’m eager for more.
All these IRL stories have reminded me that participating in the conversation (whether one-on-one or even on the dumpster fire that is Twitter) can mean tremendous dividends. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a slippery slope… I don’t want to get sucked into the digital wormhole, absent-mindedly scrolling Twitter for hours a day. But with moderation, I’m ready to broaden my listening to once again include social media.
Being a Good Digital Citizen
What does it mean to be a good digital citizen in today’s day and age? Is it fiercely debating in the public forum (Twitter, Reddit, etc.)? Or is it the inverse, honing in on those you can see and touch and avoiding the chaos of the anonymous world wide web?
For a while, I was leaning more toward the latter. It’s easy to see social media as evil, especially after the year we’ve had… What had once seemed like a democratizing, revolutionary force for good has begun to feel like a pox on our national debate 1. What was supposed to lend a voice to those without now seems like an impenetrable wall of sound. These platforms that were meant to connect us, now seem to divide us.
But they are also here to stay. Twitter, despite its questionable business fundamentals, isn’t going to disappear overnight. Facebook is arguably the most powerful company on earth. And new means of digital conversation are sprouting up each and every day.
I’ve realized that me personally quitting social media doesn’t do much to make our world better, and it’s not going to make a dent on any of these powerful platforms that dominate our new media landscape. And while I’ve experienced firsthand that there can be benefits from quitting cold turkey, I think there are also benefits to being engaged (in moderation).
Anyway, I don’t know what the answer is to being a good digital citizen, but for now I’m thinking I don’t want to be absent. Just as politics require participation, debate requires dialogue.
So I’m here. I’ve got thoughts. Lots of ‘em. And I’m ready to jump back in. Thanks for joining me along the way.