Ronni Grapenthin - Notes
(he / him / his)
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Geophysical Institute
2156 Koyukuk Drive
Fairbanks, AK-99775

No More Social Media

Published: 2017/06/09

I stopped using social media. Sounds a bit like "I'm off meth" and that's likely not too far off. But, I wouldn't know -- "Not even once." Anyway, I quit facebook a while ago, but then got hooked on twitter. Here's why I stopped.

For Science

Science twitter is interesting, sometimes riveting, makes you feel "in the know" ... part of the story. But at the end of the day, it's a bunch of speculation, rapid fire, some cool figures if you're lucky (rarely anything original, though - loads of retweets) I benefited from social media after the 2011 Tohoku-oki earthquake when my animations of the ground displacement made the rounds. People keep telling me they still use it in talks and lectures. Great! It's a useful outreach tool, I think. As far as twitter itself is concerned, however, I doubt a bit the actual reach outside of the science bubble. A recent conversation of someone heavily using facebook, twitter, and instagram noted that most of the non-science folks come through instagram. Anyway, if I ever make something like that again, I hope that an email campaign towards colleagues can get the ball rolling and direct folks to wherever the product ends up. In the meantime - I've gotta focus on work and that's not happening if any old road block results in checking what's going on elsewhere. It's pathetic that my brain works that way, but it is what it is. If you can't turn off the TV, throw it out the window.


I've come to think that social media is, in fact, like smoking: everyone wants to stop, but few do because of the looming prospect of public failure (I do know a few things about that...). I certainly feel a new sense of freedom after deleting all my social media accounts (following a period of withdrawal). Why? I believe it's three things (Of course, it's three. It's always three):

  • Science twitter is full of anxiety, and it's contagious.
  • Social Media fosters obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • I'm not real-time funny.
  • Science twitter is full of anxiety, and it's contagious.

    The job of tenure track faculty at research universities is to attract funding, publish on generated knowledge, educate students, and serve the university and broader science community. All of these categories offer lots of opportunities to get rejected: proposals not funded, papers rejected, grad students going elsewhere, lectures not appreciated, stagnant committees. That doesn't even include the bleak outlook the current U.S. administration provides on how society values science. While frustrations about this need to get vented, that alone won't make it any better, yet social media tends to create the often quoted echo-chamber. This tends to make things look worse than they actually are. There's still funding (it's more competitive, yes), papers still get published (and it is better to aim for high-quality journals and risk rejection), grad students will come, I know for a fact, that at least 1 of my lectures was appreciated, and some committees can actually be a lot of fun (others, not so much, oh well). I've resigned to the fact that a lot of science (funding, publishing) remains subjective and somewhat arbitrary. Most of the criticism I've received in the form of various reviews was constructive. Albeit painful to read, ultimately it improved my science. It does help that I have a very supportive tenure committee, and the anxiety propagated through social media channels just doesn't reflect my reality.

    Social Media fosters obsessive-compulsive behavior

    That's an easy one: You run into an obstacle / tough question and suddenly checking on twitter etc. seems much more attractive. It's surely how my brain works. For me, there's no longer a point in trying to willpower around that problem. It's draining my reserves. Furthermore, the slot-machine-in-your-pocket" analogy with easy instant rewards (when there's an update of sorts) Cal Newport describes surely holds for me. So we're not gonna do that any longer.

    I'm not real-time funny.

    Writing this took a couple of weeks. And it's not even THAT funny - yet I am trying really hard. Imagine how pathetic that would be in rapid delivery!

    Why Social Media in the first place?

    I deleted facebook a while ago, because it had become a time-sucking machine. It's great for staying in touch with friends afar, but I became exhausted by trying to keep up with the minutiae of everyone's lives. However, I wanted to keep a public social medium through which to stay in touch with the geo-community during earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and so forth. You know, the stuff that I got into this business in the first place. Also, I wanted a conduit through which to blast my tenure-track wisdom in form of tweets or blog ads.

    Well, during that time I wrote at most 4 blog-posts that attracted maybe 4-5 of my Twitter followers (I didn't have many, but surprisingly few actually seem to click on stuff; certainly not my stuff, which admittedly may just be my own fault). I honestly also don't have much wisdom to share about the tenure track that's not already well-known: teaching is hard, teaching the second time is easier, some reviewers really need to get their act together, others are awesome, don't do this for the money,

    But then, I also don't have it as bad as seemingly half of academia out there. While, as a German I could complain a lot, many of the things I would complain about are more first-world complaints than real, career-threatening bits. And the juicy career-threatening bits, I can't talk about. So. I was left with politics. And that got old really fast over the last few months.

    To those that may argue that there are good things that can be distilled if only the streams are curated well: I am not interested. This stuff is designed to induce the most anxiety possible because we are still acting following traditional social norms in a space that's designed to suck our attention (mine, for sure). The level of meta-anxiety unfriending/unfollowing etc. produces is maddening, I don't have the patience to deal with that. Cold turkey is what it became.

    rg <at> nmt <dot> edu | Created: 2017/06/09 | Last modified: March 12 2019 15:13.