Last Friday, I deactivated my Twitter account, thereby severing an eight-year relationship that had become a big part of my professional — and personal — life.
Perhaps too big.
Twitter was actually the holdout in what has turned out to be my total purge of social media. Facebook? I deactivated my personal page, spanning a third of my life, last year. Instagram? Loved it for awhile. But I deactivated that last year, too.
I had some comfort in seeing that the platforms would keep my account information at the ready for a year or so, in case I regretted my decision or needed to reactivate one of them. Never say never: that may yet happen. But so far, I haven't looked back. If anything, I should have done it all sooner.
I had been one of the earliest social media adopters, driven by a mix of curiosity and enthusiasm for the way in which it levels borders and connects people who couldn't really have connected otherwise. I loved how it brought our audience (I am a news anchor for CNBC) to life and allowed me to "meet" and interact with them one on one.
There has been much coverage lately of the seedier side of social media. That surely played a role in my moving away from it. But I don't really blame the social platforms themselves. Being constantly confronted with gross and bizarre comments from strangers was if anything an important reminder to me that not all the world is like my supportive family.
Plus, there was always, for me, a much larger joy derived from the connections and interactions uniquely sparked by social media. The wonks on Twitter who would engage in a real-time debate over financial markets and the economy. The Apple or Tesla followers who would rail on any perceived bias in our coverage. The partisans, the traders, the wildcatters, the retired investors, the co-workers and former co-workers, the family members, the family members of our TV guests, ... it was a kaleidoscope of individuals that changed with each tweet.
That is what made platforms like Twitter seem so dazzling at first. But it ultimately became dizzying and exhausting to me. I felt lost in endless spools of social media, all the while emails by the thousands were piling up, phone calls were getting lost in the mix, and messages from the most important people in my life were getting drowned out in the din. I was more responsive to comments on Instagram than to my own closest friends and family.
And that is precisely the allure of today's social media: by enlarging our impersonal connections, it seems to free us from those closer, trickier, more personal ones. It lets us choose who we follow, rather than forcing us to have to find a way to live together. It is a fresh manifestation that, as the writer G.K. Chesterton warned, "A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness."
I shut down social media because I needed to shut out online distractions and engage with the people, issues, and work right in front of me.
I started reading the newspaper first thing daily instead of following the news all day on social media — and I've never felt better informed.
Now, the risk for any of us in the news business is missing breaking news — which, these days, typically breaks on social media. But for that narrow period of time during the day when I am actually on live television and need that information, there are dozens of people behind the scenes whose job is and always has been to take breaking news — whether from newswires or Facebook Live — and make sure it gets transmitted to our viewers. They do that job exceedingly well, and I do mine better when I'm not distracted by constantly checking all these platforms myself.
I'm still "on" social media thanks to professional pages my colleagues like to maintain, and just by being in other people's lives when they share that online. I still relish any and all feedback from viewers or readers, however it gets back to me. I may yet need to go back and "lurk" on Twitter to follow the news.
And I still haven't been able to delete my LinkedIn account, since I've long forgotten my login credentials and apparently need to send the company a copy of my driver's license to prove who I am in order to finally deactivate it.
But what I have turned "off" — hopefully for good — is the need to keep up with the Instagram Joneses. Am I "missing out" on stuff now as a result? Sure! And I can't wait to hear all about it when I catch up with everybody directly.