*peeks out from behind blog* He…hello? (Projection: Drunken Dragon Reviews will be the first blogger to point out the irony of my writing a post several days after saying, “I quit.”)
But it’s my space, damn it, and I’ll be inconsistent if I want! As Walt Whitman might say, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.” Or, to quote someone more on my intellectual plane, Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”
It occurred to me, in the days (hours?) following my decision to cease blogging that my problem might be identified as one of “input versus output.” In other words, the output was this blog and the variety of interactions I engage in on social media. The input was the variety of information I receive daily, not merely through sensory experience, i.e., walking down the street, but also via the Interwebz. When I’m talking to someone on Twitter, I am by virtue of the medium receiving a stream of information from other people, much of it peripheral, to be sure, but still there nonetheless. I would come home after staring at a screen all day, more and more often at spreadsheets and databases that are (tens of) thousands of rows long, open up WordPress, and…there were 42 new blog posts to sift through. To me–but not necessarily to you–that’s exhausting.
Social scientists, and, in their wake, journalists, have begun to comment on the daily flood of information people confront. Anxiety is the most common result. In my personal experience, I recall logging into Twitter the first time and thinking, “Oh my God, what is this, it doesn’t stop!” And it did cause me anxiety. Yet I couldn’t look away. Still can’t. Favorite. Favorite. Retweet. Researchers have identified Facebook as a source of anxiety and depression in some users, possibly due to the large number of cat videos in their news feeds. (Just kidding. Everyone loves cat videos.)
In summary, then, individuals must absorb larger and larger amounts of information, much of it of varying quality. Sociologists have long noted the affect media consumption has on our ways of thought–during the 1990s, we feared gang violence, a relatively rare phenomenon, far more than we did the negative health consequences of pollution, which is rampant–but the quantity of information presented to us daily is simply overwhelming. You may filter it, of course, but then you’re exacerbating the selection bias you practice without even realizing it. You end up with blind spots bigger than a house.
Some of this is a matter of personality, personal preference. Perhaps I simply have a low tolerance for much of this social media tomfoolery. (Although it doesn’t really stop at “social media.”) I suspect that some of it is the way I’m constructed. We’re all familiar with the notion of introverts and extroverts, although, as I understand it, and perhaps From Couch to Moon will be kind enough to correct me if I’m wrong, there really is no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert; rather, we all exist somewhere along an introversion/extroversion “spectrum.” Those who tend toward introversion, though, are “low energy” and are more quickly wearied by external stimuli. That’s why introverts don’t do well at parties; there’s simply too much going on. (Note: Shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing, although they can coexist. I suffer from introversion and grumpiness.)
I wasn’t able to describe any of this until a few years ago, after reading Susan Cain’s 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was only after reading Quiet that I realized that I didn’t like parties because they provide me too much sensory stimulation. Plainly: They’re loud. And I have to talk to people. With whom I’m minimally familiar. For hours at a time. Prior to Quiet, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my experience. So I mumbled my way through many a shindig, suffering in begrudging silence, only to retreat to my lair at the earliest opportunity. (Quiet is a very accessible and easy book to read. Readers without children can skip several chapters near the middle that deal exclusively with the ways in which various settings, for instance, schools, are stacked against child introverts. Readers with children will likely find those chapters of interest.)
My struggle over the past few weeks has been “How do I sift the digital wheat from the electronic chaff?” as much as it has been “Do I hate blogging?” Characteristically, my response has been retreat. Fall back, fall back, dig in. But even that is only a stopgap. I might feel secure behind my Maginot Line, but the digital blitzkrieg rushes on. To put it another way: If I have limited cognitive bandwidth, how do I maximize its usage in terms of the variety of inputs demanding my attention?