Posted on Sat 05 March 2016

Online relationships

I've been feeling dissatisfied with my social life lately. On the one hand, I know having friends is good for your health. On the other, I avoid social situations as much as I can. I'm better at being friends with people online, where I don't have to physically (awkwardly) share the space with them. But I've been feeling underwhelmed with online relationships lately, too.

It's something about the superficiality of the internet. The relationships I have online (though I know this isn't the case for everyone) don't feel as deep, or as real as the ones I've had in real life.

I had a blog post republished on fast company recently that was fairly popular. I got hundreds of Twitter mentions for a few days as people discovered and shared the article.


On the one hand, I think it's great that what I wrote resonated with people, and hopefully they found it useful. But there's also something depressing about seeing hundreds of strangers posting the same tweet (pre-written by someone at FastCo) over and over and over. Not to mention some people keep tweeting it. They tweet it every day, or couple of days. And one person even favourites the same tweet every other day. I really cannot fathom what that's about.

But there's something eerie about this whole thing happening around my work that, in a sense, doesn't even involve me. I deleted Tweetbot from my phone a few days ago. I didn't bother installing Tweetbot when I switched to a new MacBook a couple of months ago. I'm not looking at those tweets that mention me, let along responding to them. But they keep coming. And they keep getting retweeted and liked. I'm essentially outside this whole situation, while simultaneously being at the centre of it.

It's very strange, and makes me feel especially isolated.

Yesterday I deleted Instagram from my phone. I'd recently found solace in the refreshingly different perspective of Instagram when compared to Twitter, but yesterday I realised I was obsessively refreshing Instagram the way I used to refresh Tweetbot. I stopped looking at my Twitter timeline a long time ago, so refreshing Tweetbot was purely to check for interactions with me, whereas I have so few interactions on Instagram that I was refreshing simply to find more pictures to look at.

That's a little healthier, but I didn't like the way I was treating the feed of images as something to obsessively check and consume, rather than somewhere to find occasional inspiration or insight into the lives of people I know or admire.

I may go back to Instagram, but for now I'm taking a break. The only social app left on my phone is Littlelogs, which is a small, slow-moving community of people sharing progress on their work. I'm invested in Littlelogs because it's one of my company's products, but I also find the slow pace and the focus on sharing progress makes it a refreshing change from other social networks.

Today I was catching up on the blog of Becky Hansmeyer, an iOS developer I respect and admire. Becky's new to iOS development, as am I, so she often writes about things I can relate to or find interesting and relevant to my work. She finds a good balance between technical posts and topics around bigger iOS community issues.

A couple of times I've wanted to make a quick reply to one of Becky's posts, but she doesn't have comments on her blog. I don't blame her—I don't either. But now that I'm not using Twitter, I don't have a good outlet for responding to Becky or furthering the discussion she's started.

As I wondered about this today I realised I could use my own blog to post a reply in a sense. In the same way lots of developers weigh in on community issues when they blow up, I could link to Becky's post and write my own short reply in the form of a post on my own blog.

This feels very old-school to me; something that happened more in the early days of blogging when trackbacks were also a big deal. I wasn't heavily involved in blogging early on, so I don't know if this is true, it's simply a vague feeling I have about this approach. Direct, and yet indirect, communication via blogs. Almost like writing letters to someone whose address you don't have, and being forced to publish them in the newspaper in the hope that they will see them.

There's no guarantee that Becky, or whoever I'm "replying" to, will see my response. And it's not as personal as a direct response via a blog comment or a tweet would be. Perhaps between two people who already follow each other's blogs consistently it would be a viable method of communication. But even then, you can only discuss things you're open to making public.

I'm going to try this out and see how it feels, but I'm not convinced it's a complete solution. I don't think it will solve my problem with the superficiality of online relationships, but perhaps staying off social media for a while will help a little.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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