This is the sixth (and final) post of the Pop Culture 180 experiment, in which I gave up reading books and other print media and replaced them with social networking for more than one week. For more information, read this introduction post. Then, read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Maybe I approached this a little different from Rich.
Experiments are great, but the simple fact is that they are hard to control. This one was no exception. Rich is right that it imperfectly measures our responses to a change in medium. That sounds like an opportunity; an opportunity to lower expectations and look for value.
So as we endured simultaneous exasperation and withdrawal symptoms this week, I kept asking… what little pieces of information have value here? What am I finding out about my personality that I may not have known before?
First, let’s talk about Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is a powerful tool for defying undemocratic elections. It is good for organizing large groups of people. It is maybe a nice way to keep track of yourself and your movements during the day, if you are interested in doing some introspection. And it is a great way to keep up to date on news from particular sources.
But for the most part, I found it to be very unhelpful. It takes a lot of attention to really keep up with Twitter, and it is too easy for the Tweets you follow to build up so that you skip or skim most of them. Writing for yourself in such short sound bites is hard to do, and does not give much return for your efforts.
I can see a person who has an iPhone or Blackberry appreciating how well the format fits their phone, but I have a hard time seeing a high value-effort ratio even then. And on top of all that, I just did not think it was fun or interesting (though as always, I emphasize that this was true for me and is likely different for others).
Facebook, on the other hand, is much more powerful. It is rapidly becoming a must-have for families; all four of my grandparents, all 9 of my nuclear family members, and plenty of other relations use it to see pictures and videos, get news updates, and communicate simple messages of fun and love and affirmation. Further, Facebook is one of the most important methods of communicating with college students at my church, both in organizing physical events and in maintaining relationships. This allows for the creation of social events planned on much shorter notice, for a better RSVP structure, and for clearer communication across the group. Facebook can even help you love others more, as you are more aware of what they are going through or struggling with. In short, it is all the best of Twitter and a whole lot more.
Facebook also has an amazing amount of fun to it. There are little games, records of books you have read and liked (important!), details on your likes and dislikes, records of sites you like or favorite links, and a host of other things. It has even become an added dimension to relationships: if someone “unfriends” you it is a good indicator that something is going on in either your relationship with them or else something significant is happening in their life.
Here is the thing I really love about Facebook: you get back what you put into it. In my case, I tend toward the low end… a few links and comments, some pictures, and the ability to look at other people’s links and pictures. However, if you really love the quizzes and games and comments on other people’s stuff, you can do that. If you want to use it for family communication or to organize group meetings, it is equipped for that too. In short, it is a flexible and powerful tool.
Of course, I still plan to have low input personally. I do not really want to be a pirate OR a ninja, and I do not care to know which Power Puff girl I most resemble. But if that’s your thing, go for it! Facebook will let you.
My experience of not being able to read books was less clinical, and a heck of a lot more affecting. I really, really love to read, even to the point of leaning on it as a crutch. I read when I am frustrated and do not know what to do, I read when I am bored (key!), I read when I have chunks of free time, and I read when I am excited about what I am reading (which is often).
As a result, not reading was tough for me. I found that I was bored more often. I found that my word seemed significantly less vivid, as I described in my last post. I went to bed earlier, experiencing a lot more energy for a lot less mental activity. I did not, I noticed, spend much more time with people, have more valuable conversations, or even feel more interested in the social scene.
Perhaps the biggest loss was this: I missed a whole category of friends. Excellent authors spend long periods of time pouring out the most thoughtful, creative, questioning, interesting thoughts their God-given minds can produce. You listen without interruption, forcing yourself to walk a mile in another man’s shoes or sit at the feet of a great teacher. You then process that information, learning what to accept and what to reject, finding ways to use a concept in a different way here or experiencing greater patience with someone over there. Life’s rhythms have more weight, and it’s underlying structure is laid bare before your eyes.
After college, my wife and I slowly became separated from our closest friends. Now, when we have reunions, it is a powerful and wonderful experience because they cause us to be our best selves. The same is true of books; I am less of a person when I am not interacting with books.
We all need time to ourselves, especially introverts like me. When our most powerful well of energy and inspiration is blocked up, no number of social websites and slick problem solving games can replace it.
This experience was excellent because it told me several important things. First, I dislike Twitter despite its impressive strengths. Second, Facebook is a powerful tool whose chief benefit is the way it allows you to get as much from it as you put into it. And third, I am addicted to reading, but I am a better man because of it… if a little more sleepy.
Look out for the Pop Culture 180 Podcast Discussion this Friday, where Ben and Rich will discuss more in depth what their experiences were like.