Almost two years ago, I can’t believe it’s been that long, I reached a troubling point in my life of information overload. I decided at that time to take a social media sabbatical. It was one of those things where I was careful look at my issues, and not lay blame on something or someone. I felt that taking some time off from social media would help me focus and hone in on what drives my rather compulsive online, social media engagement. After three months, I made a return to social media. At the time, I felt like I had gained some perspective, and would be much better about limiting the time and energy put into services like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Buzz (now Google+). I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that I had concurred my demons, so to speak, but I had the intention of being more aware of time spent on social media, and even attempting to set up more structured patterns for my activity.
Fast forward to June 2012, and I feel that I am teetering between the same space I found myself in 2010 and a place that’s a bit further down into the rabbit hole. Like before, it’s not really as easy as saying that I woke up one morning with a glowing light bulb over my head. No. The impulse or desire to jettison social media from my everyday life has been building for a while. The drivers have been varied.
Perhaps I saw this coming. When I made my return to social media, I wrote the following:
I reached a burn out point with social media, and though I’m returning, it’s definitely with a cautious approach. I may, in the end, decide that the return only confirmed that my time off was the right thing to do, and I’ll just shut the whole thing down and return to calling and emailing my friends.
Here is my take on the social networks that consume way too much of my time and attention span.
Facebook has probably become the center of love/hate relationship with social media. I can’t, and don’t, blame Facebook for my compulsive check-in issue. That’s my stuff and I have to own it. What I’ve come to hate, though, is Facebook’s growing watchful eye and pervasive fingerprint on, seemingly, everything that I do online. Nearly every site, including this blog, has Facebook tie-ins. That’s fine, but what has really started to sour me on Facebook is the need to have a Facebook account to function online. There are a number of sites that require you to have a Facebook account to comment on article. The real kicker was Spotify requiring a Facebook account to join. The company says that it’s all about being social with music. I can see the benefit of wanting to share music I like with others, but Facebook should be an add-on, not a requirement. The only way I could see having a Facebook account to join a site is if Facebook owned the service — such as Instagram. I love that I am able to keep up with family and friends on Facebook, but I’ve reached a point where the benefit is starting to be overtaken by the negatives of the site itself.
I made a conscious effort to remove people that I kept up with on Facebook, namely because their posts were redundant. I have always viewed Twitter more as a news ticker, and less of a means to keep tabs on friends and family. The issue with news tickers is that, unless it repeats, you miss stuff when you’re away. Of course, I can always use the search feature in Twitter to find specific people and their posts. Likewise, I can create specific tabs within HootSuite to follow individuals or particular topics. At some point, Twitter because an interesting place to pop in, see what’s happening, click a few links, and pop out. The problem, however, became that I was not practicing the last part. I didn’t pop out. I’d keep Twitter open in a tab all the time, and click into it more and more.
Google Buzz was an interesting service, but it was a bit too one-off for most people. Google never really seemed to know what it wanted Google Buzz to be. A lot of early adopters jumped on board, but even we openly complained. It appears that Google took note, and used some of the elements of Buzz to develop Google+. In my eyes, Google is building something really compelling in the social media space. Google+ allows you, with ease, to share things with one person, a select group or groups (known as Circles), or publicly. Notifications are really well done, and you can mute posts if you’re tired of getting updates. The treatment of photos on Google+ is far better than on any other social platform. The Hangout feature is a great way to video chat with one or up to 10 people at the same time. Finally, for the grammar nerd in me, one of the best features of Google+ is the ability to edit your posts and comments at any time.
Google+ actually is the one place where I am going to make a caveat to my withdrawal from social media. I have been working to get all of my cousins, spread out throughout country, on Google+ so that we can do Hangouts and share stories and photos. We could probably do all of this Skype and our own website, but I don’t know if it’s worth it to reinvent the wheel. I may just “Uncircle” everyone except my family. Anything that I share will just be with family. So, in essence, we will use Google+ as our intra-family social media network. Maybe some may view this as a cheat or a fudge of my social media opt-out; but I’m willing to live with this exception.
There are other networks that have, intermittently, captured my attention. One network in particular, though, has become a burr in my saddle.
Some people my debate whether LinkedIn is a social network, because it brands itself as a professional networking site. That’s find and I get the qualifier, but in my mind it’s still a social network. I am not short-sighted about professional networking, even if I am not looking for a job; but I just don’t see, and have not seen, any tangible benefit for my presence on LinkedIn. The majority of people that want to connect with me are looking for an angle or connection into where I work — a federal regulatory agency. Most of the connection requests are transparent, and offer no substantive value.
Starting sometime between now and July 1st, I will be deleting my profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flikr, Last.fm, Spotify, and any other sites that I have failed to mention. Now, fully expect a number of people, reacting to my withdrawal from social media, to say something like this,
Why do you have to leave social media? Why don’t you just check in less?
My knee-jerk reaction is, “It’s my decision. I’m not judging you for staying, so don’t judge me for leaving.” The more measured and thoughtful response is that — and I, in no way, want to trivialize what alcoholics or drug addicts go through — I feel like I have to treat social media like an addiction. Trying to reduce my intake is not working. I have to step away completely. Chalk it up to my personality or the way my brain is wired, but I just don’t feel good. I am tired of constantly checking in, and then feeling guilty about all the time spent engaged in that activity. In the end, there’s a difference between going online and living online. I’ve spent way too much time doing the latter, and social media is the primary reason. I’m tired, and I need to pull off of the road.
Beyond the the general push-and-pull pangs of guilt over my time spent on social media, I feel like I have mastered the art of having knowledge of things that is a mile wide and an inch deep. I don’t spend any time getting to know more than the surface of any particular thing. My knowledge is cursory. To be honest, I like feeling knowledgeable and being able to engage in a conversation about many things. The problem, however, is that once I get past the surface knowledge, I resort to intelligent speculation. While I’d like to think that I am quite adept at tying things, even disparate things, together; there’s a nagging lack of satisfaction knowing that I am only scratching the surface of issues discussed.
To that end, want to focus more of my time reading. I feel as if I need to actually train my brain and body to sit still and read. Be it books, long-form works or short articles, I am out of practice of keeping my eyes glued to something longer than minute at a time. Carla and I were out walking on Saturday, and we passed the neighborhood DC Public Library near our house. I mentioned to her that in all my years in the neighborhood I had never stepped foot inside that building. No sooner did I speak those words than I decided that I am going to go in and get a library card. Talk about a throw-back concept. I also subscribed to the daily print version of The Washington Post and Sunday New York Times. I was encouraged that everyone in the house seems to be enjoying the paper. It makes me smile to walk downstairs and see Noah sitting on the couch reading the paper.
An editor for one of my favorite tech websites, The Verge, is taking a year off of the Internet. You can read his post about leaving the Internet here. I must admit that I first saw Paul’s move a tad self-indulgent. However, I have grown to admire what he’s doing, particularly as I have started to think about the growing sense of being overwhelemed. I read Paul’s articles about life without Internet with some interest (click here to find his installments), the prospect of opting out of the Internet is just a non-starter. Not because I don’t think that I could survive, but simply because my job requires access to the Internet. The same can be sound about the background stuff that I do for Carla’s business (websites, Google Apps & e-commerce). Additionally, I rely on the Internet for streaming video content, and without cable, I’m not willing to give that up.
I will continue to write on this blog — hopefully more. There may be some people who will ask, or want to know, why I have the two rows of sharing buttons below each post. My answer is simple. I am leaving social media, not you. If you see something you like doesn’t mean you are. Share away.
In the next couple of days I am going to delete the social media icons from my contact page. One thing that will remain is my email. Feel free to contact me. If you know me well, you have my phone number. Please drop me a line anytime. (Well, within reasonable. I typically don’t answer the phone before 10 am or after 10 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.)