Over the past few months, my social media presence has begun to overwhelm me. Maybe it was the election that pushed me over the edge. Maybe it’s because I’m on sabbatical this year and have more time to casually read my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Maybe it’s my growing attention to slowing down and the slow movement.
I don’t really know, but my social media life has started to bug me. I’ve found myself less and less patient hearing sound-bite sized political commentaries from well-meaning and thoughtful friends. I have struggled increasingly to distinguish between earnest political commentary, humorous political satire, and absurdist memes, and I worry that people who share these things have begun to lose track too. I also don’t like the sponsored content that is just intriguing enough to tempt me to clicking, but not substantive enough to hold my interest. Finally, I have begun to question the relationship between social media personas and real world personalities. I always figured that social media was a bit like a crowded bar where everyone is feeling good and playing their parts, but I’ve recently offended some people and have slowly come to realize that social media personas might be real people. The earnestness I see in Facebook or Twitter posting might not just be the kind of faux-earnest posturing that we’ve all used to enliven a conversation, tempt a colleague into conceding a flawed argument, or as a form of mocking approbation. I mean, it’s pretty hard not to laugh when someone I barely know tells me to “check my [insert privileged expectation here]” or recommends that I read some “post colonial scholars” or “consider the lilies of the field.”
Anyway, over the past few months it has really bugged me. Not quite enough to ditch Facebook and The Twitters, but enough to consider alternatives. It just so happened that last week I got an invitation to join Ello. Positioning itself as an alternative to Facebook, Ello is a new social network that is not (now) supported by advertisement, it does not share your personal data, and, from what I can tell, is sparsely inhabited. The layout is spartan and black-and-white. The interface is simple. The features are almost non-existent. I can post things and maybe make comments on other peoples’ posts. I think I can maybe even share things, but I haven’t really figured that out. There are also two levels of relationships on Ello: friends and noise. The friend feed is more or less like Facebook, but less busy; people designated as noise have their posts relegated to a three column grid which somehow makes it easier to ignore.
The biggest advantage of Ello that I can tell is the clean interface complements an almost complete lack of activity. I can check it a few times a day and find nothing going on. No flame wars, no misunderstood posts, no pious statements of owning one’s private property that folks insist on posting in a public forum. In fact, Ello presents nothing at all.
I got to think about how much of our life is lived online and how our online personas serve as extensions of private lives, and I began to wonder whether it is time for a site like Ello that allows us a moment of peace, quiet, and reflection. The absence of advertisements, clutter, and, even, posts slows my day down just a bit and gives me a place for my online persona to catch his breath, refocus, and take stock. The first parallel that came to my mind for a site like Ello is Byzantine urban monasticism which presented islands of tranquil reflecting amidst the bustle of Byzantine urban life. The inhabitants of these monastic islands were engaged in the social, political, and religious conflicts in their day, but their homes in monasteries provided space of quiet reflection and safety from the chaotic outside world. I find, for example, that after a few posting on Ello (usually involving photographs of my dog) and a quick read of my virtually unchanging “noise” feed, I’m ready to return to the overwrought chaos of Facebook and reenter the fray.
So, for those of you who are getting overwhelmed by the ambiguity and clutter of Facebook or Twitter, I highly recommend Ello as a peaceful alternative. If you need an invitation, drop me a line. The only thing I ask is that you not disturb my quietude.