[11] On social rat races and the joy of relaxed blogging

Why blogging is good for the mind and social networking is not.
There was a time when I was rather excited about social networks. During that period, day by day, in parallel to my professional brain work, I was consuming, processing and creating a steady stream of diverse information within my online community. My mind had readily adapted to this 21st century selection pressure and compulsively evaluated each tiny new micro event of my life for its potential usability in a quick tweet or in one of the next essays. And the number of feeds to scan through, the number of information items to share with the community, the number of comments to reply to, was growing all the time - never shrinking. My spare time became just as energy-consuming than my working hours.

And then, after a final post at Sep.8, 2009, I suddenly realized how very unhealthy this way of living was. Riding on a towering wave of disgust, I quitted all online activities that were not absolutely critical for my job, in particular those social networks that made me feel guilty when I didn’t immediately react on any new information snippet popping up at my screen. Basically, I stayed “socially offline” until today, with a brief exception during the first days of the Tohoku earthquake.

This is not to say that I spent less time in front of my screen since then. I am still a kind of information junky. But the difference is that now, with a proper timing and frequency, I allow myself to surf the net, or to satisfy my hunter-and-gatherer instincts and download thousands of PDF-documents that I will probably never open again. My general way to use the web turned from an externally driven, compulsory rat race towards a more voluntary, pleasure-full, relaxing activity.

Of course, my self-control (yes, I belief this concept is making sense even after what we know today about how the brain works) with regard to web use is still far from perfect. It still happens occasionally that after a long surfing session I feel that it was a waste of time and become angry with myself. But I am improving my awareness, little by little.

And surfing the web is, fundamentally, a highly self-controlled activity: Each mouse-click on a new link, after all, is your own decision. You are walking through the information landscape along your own hiking path. Compared to that freedom of choice, a typical social feed is like TV: You passively wait until, hopefully, an interesting bit of information comes by. And all the not so interesting bits must be endured patiently, sucking energy, little by little changing your mind state and mood in ways you cannot control.

Even better than surfing the web, of course, is blogging. Not micro-blogging, but good old traditional blogging. As is known since centuries, writing a longer coherent piece of text can have a very positive effect on our mind state. Writing down a train of interrelated thoughts, with a clear thematic focus maintained for a substantial period, creates almost the opposite mind state than the participation in typical social online conversations with so many different voices. It leaves you concentrated, steady and peaceful.

Therefore I decided to partially resume my online activities and allow myself to write a little essay from time to time. Just idiosyncratic opinions on random topics, written simply for the joy of the process. No need this time for a fixed rate of “text output”. No need to continue that path for long. No obligations whatsoever.