The Los Angeles Times book blog ran a post last week about a writer who went off Facebook and Twitter for the first three months of this year to focus on her project. Edan Lepucki blogged about the detox, concluding that she didn’t miss the sites as much as she thought she would.
Which begs the question: Do social-networking sites help or hinder writers?
I think the answer lies largely in how you use Facebook and Twitter. Sure, they can be fun. But they can also be incredibly useful. And I can’t help but think that people who only see them as a distraction aren’t using them in a useful way.
For me, Facebook is not a time suck. (If it is for you, maybe you should seriously consider a detox.) I use it to keep in touch with people, so much that the messages feature serves as a second e-mail. It helps me keep up with old colleagues and classmates, as well as new friends. And right now it’s helping me network for jobs.
Twitter is a different story. It offers so much information that I could easily spend my entire day refreshing my stream. But while it has the potential to be more distracting than Facebook, it also has the potential to be more useful. My stream serves as a sort of classroom, offering links to stories and blog posts, tutorials, you name it.
Then there are the people I’ve met: writers who’ve helped me with my manuscript, journalists who’ve been instrumental in my job search, and more. Twitter is not just about tweeting at these people online; it’s about bringing those connections off-line. (Credit Penelope Trunk for that insight.)
I could go on and on about how great Twitter can be when it’s used properly. But the truth is, sometimes Twitter is a distraction. Particularly for those of us who write at home all day. It takes a lot of self-discipline to focus on writing.
Unless, of course, you don’t have a connection. I was forced to experiment with this for five weeks this fall, when I was a resident at an artist’s colony in Georgia. My studio was not wired with Internet. It also didn’t have a television, cell phone service or even a phone we could use to call home. (There was a land-line for emergencies — and thank God for that, since I was in the middle of the woods by myself.) Every distraction I might’ve had at home was removed for me in this setting. In the evenings, the artists met for dinner in a common building that was about half a mile from my studio, and there we had access to Internet, so I could check my e-mail, Facebook page and whatever else was begging for my attention.
At the end of my time there, I was asked to fill out an evaluation form. (Hambidge got all high marks from me.) The board that oversaw the place was thinking of installing Internet in the studios. Did I think that was a good idea?
Before arriving at Hambidge, I was terrified of going without Internet and cell-phone service. So what I suggested on that evaluation form was unexpected: I wrote that they should leave the cabins without a connection. Not having those distractions created a silence, both around me and inside my head. It made room to think about things I didn’t have space for before, like, well, my manuscript. Without the Internet muddling my thoughts, my story arc became clearer. And perhaps more importantly, my life became clearer, too.
What I’m saying here is this: social networking has a place in my world. It’s not just fun; it’s essential to my growth personally and professionally. But I see the value in detoxing for a period of time, in stepping away not only from Twitter and Facebook but from other distractions in life that keep me from producing my best work.
What do you think? Would you consider a long-term social-media detox? Or a break from all Internet? Or is that online connection too vital to what you do every day?