The great experiment

 

Nearly ten years ago on a whim, I started this blog. At about the same time, I also joined Facebook and Twitter.  For all intents and purposes, this blog has been on life support for years. I’ve also severely restricted my forays on Facebook to infrequent personal updates. What I had been doing almost without fail for nearly a decade was to tweet. After nearly 50,000 tweets, I felt that it was a good time to take a break.

Twitter works mainly because there things are always happening in this hyper-connected on the world- on a political, cultural, and social level-  all waiting to be experienced on a collective basis in real-time. Conceptually, it is brilliant. There are always elections, political speeches, horrendous crimes, blockbuster movies, natural disasters, prejudices, and television shows to drive instant reactions. You will never run out of things to feed the machine.

I’m not above the fray in joining these events- after all people face existential threats such as climate change, bigoted world-leaders, and discrimination on a daily basis. But after a while, it started to become tiresome trying to keep up with a world that was “very much with us” all the time.

A few years ago, I decided that I would not tweet mainly on current affairs, but about emotions, experiences, and new learnings. I would skip the latest gaffe or outrage of the day, and focus on what I exclusively found interesting, regardless of whether anyone else cared or not. There were two exceptions: I did comment on gender issues from a personal perspective; and on the beautiful game- international football, which I found irresistible.

These past few years I tweeted about places, food, science, history, culture, art, and poetry (in four languages). I tweeted about my emotions in sending off my son to school on his first day and of leaving my homeland again on a jet plane. I tweeted about reading Neruda’s poems on Machu Picchu and feeling nostalgia for an unknown world. I tweeted about the creation of the universe, on the formation of black holes, on how to rig elections, on the Panama Canal, on a radioactive disaster in Brazil, and on the fall of Constantinople. I tweeted about eating simple marketplace tamales that brought tears of joy to my eyes.

After a while, the returns on Twitter started to diminish: I found a core group of friends on Twitter whose tweets I was interested in, but those voices were drowned out in the cacophony of mean-spirited, hypocritical, angry, or perpetually inconsolable voices that I was trying to escape from in real-life.  The compulsion to broadcast new experiences and knowledge to a largely unknown audience was disappearing, and often I was simply repeating myself.

Tweeting was becoming something I did- a chore. I was taking photos of meals and trips to the grocery store and sharing them. I was engaging in conversations with an unknown virtual audience instead of the real people surrounding me. I appreciated the company, but at times, it also meant that I was disconnected from the here and the now. “Better to stop and enjoy the cup of coffee and go for a walk leaving the phone at home,” I thought.

So is this a long-winded, self-absorbed rationale for quitting Twitter? Well, not quite.

Do anything for ten years and you’ll meet some good people. There are people who are consistently putting out exceptionally brilliant perspectives on Twitter. There are people who are sharing amazing essays, poetry, travelogues, and art. There are people who know the best places to eat and the things you have to do when you visit their hometowns. These are people who I’ve never met, but who I feel I know on a personal level and who I care about. And if you have a specific question, Twitter is still an amazing place.

Ten years is a long time, but it also passes by quickly. A few days ago, I was browsing through photos from a trip to Hawaii I had taken exactly ten years ago, and reminiscing about all that has happened since then. So much has changed.

Ten years ago, I was more arrogant, angry, and restless than I am today. I am sure of less now, but appreciative of more. My hair has grayed a little bit more, but my eyes are kinder. I am still a work in progress. I have fewer friends and family, but I care for their well-being more. I stop to hold doors for people, I talk in lower volumes, I tread on grass softly, I empty my pockets for the poor, and I am pained when see indifference. I have gained so much in experience, but have lost so much in the process. In ten years through external and internal conversations, I have come to terms with my own privilege and the relatively easy life and path I have had because of my socioeconomic, caste, gender, and educational background. Me now and me ten years ago? We are different people.

And so, a very selfish, narcissistic reason why I won’t be able to retreat completely from social media is that it served to fossilize my thoughts in amber. So many of my consequential and trivial thoughts were splattered all across these platforms. I’ve seen myself change through the lens of social media.

That’s the Great Experiment in my view; that’s the key difference social media makes to each of us. Tweets, blog-posts, and Facebook updates remind us of the journey. They’re mile-markers to tell us where we were on a particular day in a particular time.

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