I don’t know if it will end up being a personal turning point, but the discovery of an old computer artifact got my attention this weekend when it comes to online priorities.
It started Friday morning. I tend to be on Twitter a lot for discussions involving sporting events we’re all watching, because I can access it on a computer and type my posts on a real keyboard. Being born with fat thumbs and fingers has always been an issue for me when it comes to texting on a tiny phone keyboard, and as a result it’s not my favorite way to communicate with friends.
But while looking for something else in the basement, I came across a small keyboard designed to connect to smaller devices made by a company called Targus. It’s about half the size of a regular computer keyboard, and when I found it, it was as dead as a certain local football team’s chances to play in the Super Bowl. But with a new battery, it easily connected to my phone via bluetooth, and problem solved. I put the phone on a little stand I had bought on Amazon so I could easily see what’s on it, and started texting people with the tiny keyboard.
As the baseball games started Friday, I did not immediately join in on the conversations on Twitter. No longer tethered to the computers in my office, I took my phone and keyboard out to the den and texted a few friends I knew were baseball fans. They responded, more friends jumped in, and for most of the day, I was discussing the game with 7 or 8 friends I’d actually met, had meals with, and would not call me some spawn of Satan if I said something they disagreed with.
Well, most of them wouldn’t.
I’d stick my head in for a few minutes every couple of hours on Twitter mostly for news of if a player was injured, or who was going to start at quarterback in the weekend games. But otherwise, my electronic vehicle for discussion was texting old friends.
Saturday came and I went back to my old ways of voicing opinions on Virginia Tech’s football games via Twitter and my computer, but I also kept the texting group going. The differences between the two was pretty stark: Texting friends, I could say something without fear of someone misunderstanding my intentions when I noted something that wasn’t all that positive via text. On Twitter, I found myself reading everything two or three times because if too blunt, I’d incite the mob and end up being accused of things I wasn’t really saying.
After the Tech game, I did something else I’ve rarely if ever done. I’m notorious for having many screens in my office to the point it rivals or exceeds some sports bars, as I currently have 5 screens ranging from 32 inches to 65 inches in size. They are all connected to either my desktop, cable, or a firestick, so I can have a lot of flexibility in deciding what to watch. I also have barstools available to add at least two more screens if the need occurs.
But despite all those options, I’ve never filled every screen with just sports. One has always been left available for social media, so I can watch and chat at the same time. Saturday night, however, there were so many things going on, that wasn’t really feasible.
College football easily filled three of the screens, and with two baseball playoff games going on, the answer to social media was “Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.” So Saturday night I watched 5 games at the same time, chatted with 3 or 4 friends via text, and had one of the more enjoyable, peaceful evenings watching sports than I’ve had in quite a while.
I thought to myself, “what a concept. Using televisions to actually watch television.”
I continued this all day Sunday. When Saquon Barkley hurt his shoulder in the morning NFL game, I peeked at Twitter, saw his status, and replied to a few people who had directed a comment my way. But the rest of the day, I didn’t have to hear about how bad a certain coach was, how we’re on the edge of World War III, how a certain politician is an idiot, etc.
All I heard was how bad my fantasy football team was from my old friend Tim Hogan, whose team was beating mine like a rented mule. And because these were texts, I could answer him with animated replies that would not be appropriate for a public forum like Twitter.
Back when Twitter first started 13 years ago (at least that’s when I started), this is what it was like. You could say what you liked and engage anyone. There were no bots, mobs, corporations, the CIA, etc. behind the scenes ready to pounce on things. It has happened slowly over the years to the point you really don’t realize your freedom of speech is being restricted until you one day do what I did this weekend.
Then I started thinking “why ARE you doing this?” and I realized a lot of us are doing it thinking we will reach more people and thus maybe make more friends. Or something might go viral and maybe we’ll be famous. Or rich. Or both.
Or if you’re in publishing content, I run a website and can tell you from experience that posting links on Twitter and Facebook usually result in thousands of people reading stories instead of hundreds. Ask anyone who writes and they will tell you it is a necessary evil. And yeah, posting a story about Virginia Tech football and seeing close to 10,000 people have read it is a nice boost to the old ego.
But again the question of “why?” popped in my head. DullesDistrict.com has always been a non-profit deal, serving as a vehicle for me to write for my own enjoyment and give younger writers a place to endure my editing, maybe get better, and possibly be seen. Why subject yourself to the abuse of social media for a result that doesn’t affect you in any meaningful way?
Truth is I’m old now. I’ve never cared about how many people are followers, I don’t do this for money, and if I write something that makes a few people smile, it’s a good day.
Maybe, I thought, I shouldn’t worry about reaching thousands.
Maybe instead, I should just worry about the people I care about.
Or maybe I should just enjoy each game, each friend, and each day and be thankful.
Just like it used to be many years ago before social media existed.