Virtual Minimalism

Dave Pell must have been watching my online actions over the past few days when he fashioned his most recent post.

And we can assume that the Facebook definitions will ultimately impact if not completely replace the existing definitions of these words – unless Webster’s suddenly gets another 400 million users of its dictionary.

Maybe these new definitions aren’t so bad. For eight years after high school, I consistently referred to a former classmate as my girlfriend even though we hadn’t once seen each other since graduation. And today she’s my wife. A real wife, not just the internet kind.

So sure, let’s be friends. But maybe we should also come up with a new word that means what the old word friend used to mean. In the meantime, it’s back to fake limp.

via We’re Not Exactly ‘Friends’

I’ve recently begun to do a review of everything in my life and attempt to minimize wherever possible, for simplicity, sanity, and serenity. This new minimalism extends to my online life as well.

I began with a review of my RSS subscriptions and severely wiped them out. With only a handful of my most read sites remaining, it is a pleasure to read the articles when I have a free moment instead of dredging through thousands of irrelevant or useless posts just to get the counter back to zero.

Next came a cleanup of my iPhone. With reckless abandon, I whittled the applications down to a mere 34 — that’s two screens worth minus two. Those last two slots are to remain floating slots for testing new apps and determining the length of their usefulness on the iPhone.

Not only is the phone much snappier, but I also find myself “needing” it less as there are only applications for performing essential productive functions left on it. The one exception is Deep Green, a chess game application. I keep this on there so I can practice and improve my game when I get the urge to play a game.

For Facebook, I have removed all but family, friends (real ones that I have met in person), and a select few business contacts. Luckily, I did not have many “friends” whom I had not met, so this was an easy clean.

I am considering another round of purges to remove notorious Farmville spammers, but I may not need to bother as I rarely check Facebook now that the application has been removed from my iPhone. The mobile Safari version of the site works very well and ensures that I only check the site when I actually think about it, and not just when I see the big, blue ‘F’ icon on my screen.

For Twitter, I have done largely the same with the exception of my circle of friends and a select few people who post entertaining information. I thought that my Twitter use would not dwindle even with this purge, but surprisingly, it has. With less to sift through, almost all of the updates I see are relevant and can be scanned and read in a minimum amount of time, leaving me more time to do other things.

The odd part of it is that I feel less compelled to update my Twitter status as well. I look back at some of my past updates and now see that many were probably quite unnecessary. Twitter as a whole may be unnecessary, but it still comes in handy for those times when I do want to update friends, or even for those mass text messages so handy for organizing a meeting place for happy hour.

Back to Dave’s article, his experience is much like my own. While it is nice to use Facebook as a tool to re-connect with old friends and acquaintances, I’m just not into the whole gaming and advertising side of the platform (Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc.). I understand why they exist and why Facebook builds these platforms and APIs, but I don’t want to see updates about your farm or click on links to sites that link right back to articles I’ve already read.

I lived a perfectly social life before Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking tools, and when I (inevitably) stop using them, I will still have a social life that does not involve virtual crops and livery, and what I am doing right now (or what’s happening, as the new Twitter prompt appears to be) will be something that I’ll tell you over dinner and a drink with other friends. Or perhaps even right here on my own little corner of the web. After all, that’s what blogs are for, right?