Why I unfollowed you

Please don’t take offense if I just unfollowed you on social media – because I also unfollowed my publishers, my agents, all my friends and members of my own family. There were no exceptions.

This was a personal decision. I’m not trying to set an example for anyone else to (un)follow. I just got tired of seeing the world through the lens of “Would this make a good post?” rather than “Would this make a good scene?” Tired of itching to pull out my phone whenever there are ten seconds of silence to fill. Tired of algorithms scrutinising my every click and selling my attention to big companies. Tired of feeling like everyone’s doing better than I am, even as I exaggerate my own successes. Tired of worrying that something I posted a decade ago will come back to haunt me. (In addition to unfollowing people, I’ve also been deleting my old posts.)

You probably don’t need me to list the drawbacks of social media. They’ve been well covered by better writers than me (and by the odd cartoonist.) I ignored them all for a long time, because I didn’t want to lose the benefits. Keeping up with friends. Being well-informed. But I’m starting to feel like social media only gives me the illusion of these things.

If I only see my friend’s public face, the side she shows the whole internet, and she doesn’t even know I’m seeing it… well, that’s not friendship. If I have two thousand followers and I make a post, that feels like interacting with two thousand people, but it’s not. (It’s not even really interacting with the hundred or so people who actually see the post.) And if I only read the opinions of people with whom I already agree – and who spend all their time on social media – then that doesn’t count as keeping “being informed.”

The greatest illusion of all is the feeling that by posting, I’m making a difference. Ten years ago, if I supported something, I’d donate some money. If I opposed it, I’d go to a protest. Now, I support or oppose things by posting about them on social media, which is easy, feels great and achieves nothing. No wonder governments and big businesses love social media. No wonder the problems of the world aren’t getting better.

You might ask, why not delete my accounts and quit social media altogether? Firstly, because I do want to be able to contact my friends, and have them (and my readers) contact me… but consciously and deliberately, when one of us has chosen to get in touch. Not when the algorithms have decided to put us in front of one another, surrounded by ads.

Secondly, because whenever I get signed to a new publisher (usually for an international rights deal) I’m always asked to fill in a “new author” form. The form asks, among other things, how many followers I have on various social media platforms. (The phenomenon of authors being expected to meet all their deadlines while also providing all their own publicity – unpaid, and with full liability for any missteps – is a problem that deserves its own separate article.)

Personally, I’m skeptical of social media as an effective tool for selling books, or for selling anything other than advertising. (In 2013 I made a Youtube video which went viral-ish, with 92,000 views. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a trillion views! Unfortunately, it did not sell books.) But publishers believe social media is useful, and to be fair, they’re better positioned to know than me. Either way, I’m not famous enough to get away with deleting my accounts.

So you can still follow @jackheathwriter, for now. I’ll even post from time to time. But if it takes me a long time to respond to your queries, I apologise. Hopefully that will be because I’m busy, doing something worthwhile.

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