Over the past few years, I’ve noticed my personal patterns of writing and reading have changed significantly. Some of this has been in response to the changing technology of communication — the rise of social media, in particular. But some of it has also been about where I am in my life and my work.
Here’s a quick rundown of my own changes, and contributing reasons for them. I’d be curious to hear about other people’s personal media evolutions, too. Please share your own experiences in the comments below…
1. More conversation and annotation, less exposition.
I’m an avid user of two social media channels: Twitter and Delicious. Through these, I’ve gotten used to quickly stating what really needs to be shared or communicated. Most of the points I want or need to make don’t require exposition. Generally just a brief statement, or a link with context, will suffice. This is why the vast majority of my posts to this blog have been syndicated from links I’m saving and annotating in Delicious.
Personally, I think this is a gain, not a loss. For most things, I prefer more efficient communication. It allows me to cover more ground — and to learn more.
What’s lost? Not eloquence, since I was never very eloquent. However, continuity and context can suffer. Often it can be difficult for others (or for me) to follow my trail of breadcrumbs, to connect all the dots in order to see a larger picture. Yes, I still want a “me collector“.
2. More text, less voice.
I’ve never been much for talking on the telephone. I even squirm at face-to-face conversations that go on for more than about 20-30 minutes at a stretch.
Instant messaging suits me much better. It’s a key way that I keep in touch with the people who matter most in my life. Every day I text-chat with my current and former intimate partners, close friends, colleagues, and more casual friends. I’ve been able to connect with these people more substantially and meaningfully through instant messaging than by relying primarily on phone or voice.
I like the pace of IM conversations. They’re either very fast and functional (“Got a quick question for ya…”) or they ebb and flow over an hour or more. Depending on the conversation or person involved, I don’t like to feel the constant pressure to respond immediately that exists in phone or face-to-face conversations. In IM chats, pauses generally aren’t awkward, so conversation feels less forced. Even better, my attention is free to wander, as it is prone to do, without me seeming rude or uncaring.
What’s lost? I still see local friends face-to-face quite often, so I don’t feel I’m lacking conversation there. But I do make less effort than I probably should to reach out by phone to people who are important to me but who don’t use IM. So there is some relationship impact there. I do tend to prioritize people who are available via my preferred communication channels.
3. News: Listening up, reading down
It’s been many years since I read much news in print. But in the last couple of years I’ve found myself relying almost entirely on audio news podcasts for my daily fix of what’s happening. I prefer to listen to news while doing things: making breakfast, cleaning up, working out, running errands, strolling the neighborhood, etc. I don’t just sit there and listen to news, and I almost never watch video news podcasts. When I have to sit there for news, whether for reading or watching, I get antsy.
It’s not that I don’t read online news at all. Every day, I read a lot of online news — but rarely any more than headlines and the first few paragraphs of most online news stories. I’m one of those people who’s more likely to glance at the headlines and summaries on Google News (especially on my phone) a few times a day, and to maybe click through to a couple of stories.
There are exceptions: When an article is highly recommended by a friend or colleague, or when it’s extremely relevant to my specific circumstances or interests, I’m likely to read it through to the end. Quite often, for online news I really want to read, I’ll use Instapaper to transfer the content of that web page to my Kindle. I’m not crazy about reading long-format content in my web browser. I prefer an e-book reader. Both the Kindle device and the Kindle iPhone app offer me a great e-reader experience.
What’s especially interesting to me is that through audio news podcasts I feel a very strong loyalty to several mainstream and niche news brands (NPR, Slashdot Review, etc.). However, when reading online news via a web browser, I feel almost no brand loyalty. I have a strong preference for news aggregators over news sites. It’s very rare that I visit the home page of a news site.
What’s lost? For me, nothing. Do habits like mine hurt the news biz? I don’t think so — especially since it’s the only way I feel any loyalty for specific news brands these days.
4. Journaling: Sharp increase
2009 was an emotionally wrenching year for me. I sold my house, ended my marriage, transitioned to a very positive post-marriage relationship with my former spouse, moved from Boulder to Oakland, left my cats behind for now, downsized my possessions to fit into a single room, got knee surgery, dealt with knee surgery rehab, traveled a lot, had a very short and unhappy relationship with an unsuitable partner, began a much more rewarding and happy relationship with a very suitable partner, watched my cousin die from afar, and some other stuff…
Most of this I would never blog about. Some of it I wouldn’t tweet about, either. But I do write about it all, in my paper journal.
Yes, when it comes to working through difficult emotional stuff, journaling tends to work best for me. And this year I filled up three of them. That’s a lot for me. There have been times in my life when I didn’t journal much at all. For the past couple of years I’ve been journaling a lot, and it keeps me sane.
I like doing some writing that is only for me. And I like doing it by hand. I like the feel of a fine-point felt-tip pen on the creamy paper of a Moleskine journal. It feels deeply personal and intimate. I think better about how I feel when I journal. I understand myself and my life better. I forgive myself more, I allow myself more. I don’t worry about covering all bases or responding to critics. And right now, I need all of that.
5. Twitter as antidepressant
I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling low energy or in a down mood, spending a few minutes scanning Twitter tends to engage and energize me. I follow a lot of very interesting people and organizations on Twitter. Any time I dip my toes into that Twitter stream I always find something interesting, amusing, heartfelt, friendly, or useful.
…Yes, there’s some drivel and occasional nastiness. But I tend to unfollow people who get boring or mean there. So I’ve got a pretty high-quality Twitter stream.
I like that Twitter takes so little effort to read. (Similarly, I dislike Facebook because its interface is so chaotic.) I feel no pressure or desire to “catch up,” for me Twitter is all about right now. If I’m feeling lonely or bored or isolated, it’s an easy way to reach out to people I know. I respond often to other’s tweets, both publicly and by private direct message.
In a year of so much personal upheaval, having an instantly available ambient sense of my friends around me, and what they’re into, has helped keep me functional, balanced, and happier than I would have been otherwise.
The downside? Yes, sometimes Twitter can be too distracting. When I was having some especially hard times in my life earlier this year, I definitely used Twitter to procrastinate and distract myself. But that seems, for me, to be more a function of how I’m doing, rather than anything inherent to Twitter.
…Anyway, those are the changes I’ve notices in my own reading/writing patterns. What about you? Please comment below.