Earnest Pettie, comedy writer
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to admit to myself was that I was spread too thin. I had too many accounts with too many different online services. For years, I wore all those accounts as a badge of honor. I felt proud that I’d forgotten usernames to more accounts than most people had ever logged into. Over the past year, though, the attention I was spending being connected to all these different services had taken its toll on my ability to be productive. This was especially problematic since my job required me to be connected to the web all day, unlike most people’s jobs, which often do their best to keep their employees from scrounging around online. I needed to cut back.
Let me illustrate the problem for you. I had seven different services hosting photos. I’d used three of them in the past two years, often duplicating my uploads to Flickr, Facebook, and Picasa. Sure I had my reasons for maintaining the separate accounts: Flickr was cool, Picasaweb had tons of free storage, and Facebook was the service everyone I knew used. Uploading photos to all those services was a waste of time and effort, and last weekend, took the bold step of deleting my Flickr accounts and vowing not to use Facebook as my photo hosting service, sticking only to Google’s Picasa.
What was going on with my photo hosting services was indicative of what had become of my whole online existence. Email addresses upon email addresses, superfluous IM accounts, and long-outdated social networking profiles had dilluted my online existence, making it too difficult to actually optimize my usage of any of them. I needed to act. My first goal was to pare my social networking profiles to the vital few I actually used: I saved Facebook, Linkedin, and Myspace (I use it for music), and I cut every other social network I’d joined in the past seven years, finally divesting myself of Friendster and scores of other services you don’t remember. That felt great, but it didn’t do much to alleviate my major problem which was that my attention was being pulled between too many things when I was online. I needed to go deeper. I needed to cut E-mail accounts and IM accounts.
Cutting IM And Email accounts was a little more difficult than I’d imagined it would be– mainly because the two are so intertwined. I wanted to delete my Netscape/Aol account, but the company I work for used AIM as their primary IM service. That left three other major Email and/or IM services that were always tugging at the edges of my field of vision: Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. I was always logged into all those accounts simultaneously (with Twitter, too) through my chat client, Digsby. As a result, I was always seeing status updates, people coming and going, and new chat boxes opening. I had no choice but to make cuts. For me, Yahoo was an easy decision. I’d long since stopped using Yahoo for anything important, and since I’d killed my Flickr account, I no longer needed the Yahoo login. It was cut. That left Google and Facebook. I couldn’t get rid of Facebook, but I could log myself out of Facebook chat and never log back in. After all, did I really need to talk to the guy who rode my bus in third grade and was interested in reconnecting? Probably not. Unless he still had those cool toys. I slammed the door on Facebook chat, leaving me access only to Google Talk and AIM with occasional Twitter updates.
Those cuts returned to me a full hour of work time. I was no longer logging into a million different sites throughout the day, chatting with a million people, or being distracted by status updates every couple of minutes.
I’m happier now that I’m not checking in on a million different accounts. I think there’s another benefit that I’ve gained from this exercise, which is that my online identity is more concrete. If someone wants to contact me, or if they are searching for me online, there are fewer options– more importanly, fewer bad options– for them to try. If someone wants to see my photos, there is one place. If someone wants to see my resume, there is one place. If they want to email me, there are still a few options because I maintain a work, private, and professional (for writing) e-mail addresses, but they should be far less likely to email me at an address that I simply never check. Another unintended consequence is that I have more time to enjoy the web. I can spend more time reading blogs and exploring new sites because I’m not keeping up with all the sites/accounts/and emails that were anchoring me down before.