Sunday, October 03, 2010

Swimming Horizontally or Vertically?

I took the plunge a few weeks ago and opened a Facebook account, and it’s a wonder that I’ve got the time to write this blog post because much of my time since then has been spent learning how to function within this new Facebook world that I’ve discovered.

Facebook is a remarkable creation, a worthwhile forum for sharing ideas, re-connecting with old friends, and meeting new people, and an almost effortless way to create a supportive community and expand one’s perspective of the world.

But it’s also a remarkable drain on one’s energy and time, and, there are times, as I find myself grappling with the new technology, that I wonder if my time might be better spent reading a book or writing in my journal or practicing yoga or going for a bike ride–anything else, in other words, than spending time on Facebook.

Yes, Facebook brings people together in new ways. But I found it can create distance between people, too, when one night last week I noticed my daughter on her Facebook account in the living room while I was on my Facebook account in my office. Had Facebook brought us closer? No, it was Facebook that kept us from sitting in the living room together watching another segment of The Office (my daughter’s favorite TV show) or repeats of House (one of my favorites at the moment).

What I’ve discovered inadvertently from spending so much time on Facebook over the past few weeks is that Facebook requires a different kind of writing and, hence, thinking. On Facebook I write “horizontally” rather than “vertically.” Depth doesn’t really exist on Facebook (or, at least, I haven’t found it yet). The structure is designed to enable people to reach out in the broadest possible way ... on a horizontal plane. That is, it makes it easier to amass friends, to increase one’s horizontal presence, say, than it is to think deeply (due to the restriction on posts over 420 characters).

This kind of structure, with word limits and incessant news feeds, encourages people to write in the form of an old-fashion postcard, where brevity was an art, and to communicate briefly with friends. It's a good way to stay in touch. But the same structure doesn’t encourage other kinds of writing (or thinking) that might suggest deeper forms of thought. The space –and time– to do such writing and thinking simply isn’t available on Facebook.

You can make discoveries when writing horizontally as well as vertically, but the discoveries are different. They have different weight, different value. And, of course, there’s no predicting what will happen as a result of writing horizontally on Facebook. You may discover a life-long friend who has the inclination to think deeply and the desire to share thoughts and feelings with you, just not on Facebook. You may even find the spark for an idea, the catalyst that starts you on your next story or points you toward a longer, more complex writing project.

What I have to remind myself each time I sign on to Facebook is to be careful of deluding myself into thinking that writing horizontally is writing vertically. It’s not.

I also have to remind myself that time is a rare commodity. It slips away too quickly, as this anonymous Latin poet so poignantly suggests:
Death plucks my ear and says,
Live—I am coming.
It's a question, I guess, of how to balance your time so that you can make the most of it.

And these notes are simply my gentle reminder that as writers we need to think about how we spend our time.

It's wonderful to enjoy spending time on Facebook, as long as it doesn't mean that we sacrifice the time we need to write the kind of deeper, more thoughtful work that calls to each of us.

See you later on Facebook.

For more on procrastination, visit:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these deep, gentle thoughts, Bruce. I was alerted to their presence via Facebook, so I guess there are ways Facebook can indirectly lead to more meaningful, "vertical" communication. But I'm with you -- it's better to spend time face-to-face than Facebook-to-Facebook!