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Try reading 100 pages a day and also find time to sing, learn a language and exercise. Photo: Cancan Chu/Getty Images
Try reading 100 pages a day and also find time to sing, learn a language and exercise. Photo: Cancan Chu/Getty Images

Aakar Patel | Why I’m not on social media

It is for those looking to be distracted by an inexhaustible supply of material and not those for whom reading is a serious affair

I admire those who can use social media without the thing disrupting their lives. I find the idea of Facebook and Twitter far too seductive to be able to use them in moderation.

This is of course because of their quality: Both are ideas of genius, and combine very good technology with great usefulness. They link individuals to the world in real time and in that sense are the highest expression of the Internet. All this is aided by some beautiful devices, and my friend Kumar Ketkar got it right when he described the iPad as “crack cocaine". One can spend hours on it without noticing.

The question is whether the user is able to dip into social media without succumbing to total immersion. Those who can do this are quite disciplined, and I admire them because I’m not and this is why I am on neither Facebook nor Twitter. There are other reasons.

As a writer, I personally find social media off-putting and not useful.

Writers must be insulated from feedback, particularly of the immediate kind. One has no option but to be exposed to this on Facebook and on Twitter, and such things always carry the expectation of a response.

The artist David Hockney uses an iPhone or iPad app to make paintings (can they be called that?) that he mails dozens of people, all of whom receive an “original" that they can appreciate and give their feedback on.

This is voluntary from the artist’s perspective; the writer, however, is confronted with the comments section. This is meant to be a conversation, and I accept that at times it is an intelligent one. But having comments on your work published alongside it is the equivalent of talking from atop a soapbox at Hyde Park.

The hooting and the cheers and the heckling is all on display, and apparently for the benefit of the writer. All of this is fine, and legitimate I suppose, and certainly it adds to the reader’s experience. But why subject yourself as a writer to it? Unless the idea is to bask in your popularity or infamy, there is little point.

I find this to be true particularly of comments by Indians, which tend to be tangential, personal, often abusive and mostly irrelevant. I must also say that the quality of the comment is poor and that of the writing poorer. This is an anecdotal observation, but you know what I mean. It infects the other strain of social media, which is user-generated reviews. I don’t think it is wise to pick a restaurant here through what people have written about it on the Internet.

Then it is as a reader that I have the biggest problem with Facebook and Twitter.

This might seem ungrateful from one whose pieces are often spread and read through links on social media. But along with the things that you want to and should read, a lot of other material is out there enticing you.

Websites are brilliant at pulling you in through a seductive headline, and this is something called “clickbait", passed around through links. Again, I think this is fine for those who are looking to be distracted by online pieces. For such people, trawling through social media (or rather filtering stuff as it comes to you) is a good way of finding interesting things to read.

But there is an inexhaustible supply of such material. One must draw a line, and I have drawn mine.

This is the third year that I have been writing and reading full time, and for me the reading is a serious and educational affair.

I have a pattern of reading where the broad subject is determined at the beginning of the year and the books on the list, already large, grow till it is all but unmanageable.

On a good day, I go through 100 pages of a book. Why take away from this at the expense of a few hours of daily distraction, exchanging messages with acquaintances and strangers? It is hard enough to find time regularly for singing, learning languages and exercising. If I were to be on Facebook and Twitter I would rarely be able to.

It used to be said contemptuously of newspaper editors that they lived in ivory towers. Meaning that they secluded themselves from the real world (the essayist Michel de Montaigne was the first man to do this) and lived among their books. I find this life greatly appealing.

And one final reason for eschewing Facebook and Twitter. I don’t write where I’m not paid.

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