When people talk about J.D. Salinger, they always mention how he became a recluse toward the end of his career. There were no more short stories or novels. He refused to grant interviews. Instead of living in some cultural hotspot, he moved to a modest house in small town Cornish, New Hampshire. People act as if he completely disappeared from the world.
Yet there are the photos that people took. He was spotted around Cornish. There were women that he had relationships with. He had friends, and a whole life. Everyone knew where he was. Wanting his privacy, not wanting to be in the spotlight, didn’t make him a recluse. He just didn’t feel that he owed anyone anything, especially the people who insisted that he did.
There was a point a couple of years ago when I quit social media. I managed it for over a year. It was an educational experience. One thing I learned was who my friends were. Here’s a hint: If people won’t budge from their social network of choice to answer your email or look at your website, they’re not your friend. Like Salinger, I was right there in plain sight all along. I just wasn’t in your passive field of vision.
The other thing that I learned was that this far into the 21st century, stepping away from social media becomes problematic. If you announce that you’re quitting, people act like you just said you don’t own a television. They think that you’re a pretentious git. It doesn’t matter if you find it a distraction, or a time sink that takes you away from more important things, or a matter of self-care because you can’t deal with a steady stream of trolls and abusers.
I received numerous mental health checks. While I’m sure people were well-intentioned, it was kind of insulting. None of the inquiries ever started off with “Hey, haven’t connected with you in a while, how have you been?”. It was always “Are you okay? I ask because you seem to have dropped off the Earth”. Never mind that I had a home, and a wife, and friends. Ignore the fact that I was being regularly published, or that I had a blog that was updated regularly where I talked about what was going on. If I turned my back on social media, if they didn’t see me where they expected to see me, I had fallen off the Earth.
The reason I’m mentioning this is because I read Shanna Germain’s blog post yesterday about saying goodbye to social media. For her, the good no longer outweighs the bad. Being able to interact with interesting, kind, and like-minded people in a sort of community is bogged down by all of the negative. As she puts it, “Strangers who have no qualms about verbally punching you in the face, or in the heart, just because they can.”
Social media has no business value for me. I have the data to prove it. Plugging my books, talking to random strangers, chatting with other authors and game designers, has no statistically significant impact on my sales. It’s wasted time. On a personal level it’s fun to talk to people, but I also end learning things that I could have lived without knowing, bearing witness to to things I didn’t need to see, being pulled into drama that I don’t need to be involved in.
But I won’t quit social media. I’ll invite people to join me here, for sure, or to engage in email correspondence as time permits. I still won’t do business over social media, for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain to professional people (and no longer will). It’s easier, though, to post things now and then, and respond to the comments people leave, and occasionally click like on their posts. It avoids the concern trolling and the welfare checks and the backhanded attempts to guilt me into coming back. It’s less hassle to maintain a minimal presence than to have no presence at all.
I’m not going full Salinger. Even Salinger didn’t really go full Salinger. Anyone that wants to find me can find me. My work is out there. I have a presence on the internet. All it requires is a little bit of effort.