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.)
I would like to see The King’s Speech this weekend. (I have been dying to see it for weeks.) I thought that I would mark my return to social media by seeing if I can drum up a group of people to see it together. A movie meet-up. It’s showing at a number of theaters around town, but the the Landmark E Street Cinema seems like a convenient central location. I’m flexible about theater, though, and we decide based on who wants to do the meet-up. The one catch, however, is that movies typically turn on Fridays, so I’m not quite certain that it will still be there. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in joining me to see the movie with me, leave a note in the comments. Hopefully, we’ll get a good group together. Maybe after the movie we could get something to eat or grab a drink and discuss the movie.
After three months, my social media sabbatical is officially over.
Interestingly enough, when I unplugged at the beginning of September, I was certain that I would be sitting in a corner like a crack addict, itching to post a status update. While I cannot say that I didn’t have something akin to withdrawal symptoms at first, the obsessive/compulsive urge to check in fell off rather quickly. To tell the truth, being away from social media was quite liberating. Without the benefit of Facebook or Twitter, I was forced to actually pick up the phone and call people if I wanted, or needed, to have a substantive conversation. Email is pretty much still my default method of communication, but it was nice to hear people’s voices — particularly the laughter. There is absolutely no comparing “LOL” to hearing the heart-felt laugh of a family member or friend. In fact, just last week my buddy Dotch and I shared something that, in the scheme of things, was rather mundane, but we must have laughed for five minutes straight. Had I made the joke in an email, text message, IM chat, or on Facebook, it just wouldn’t have been the same.
This exchange led me to question just why I was jumping back into the fray. It’s as simple as this: there are just as many people that I don’t get a chance to talk to during my time off and I miss them. Social media is a good way to keep up with more people than I have time to call. I think what I’ve learned from my sabbatical is not to lean to heavily on Facebook and Twitter for interaction with friends. It cannot serve as a substitute for a phone call, an email, or, more importantly, face-to-face time. The convenience of social media, at least for me, lends itself to the disconnect. I don’t think this issue is limited to me, but I won’t project.
As I suspected, the things that I did miss were different for each mode of social media. Facebook provided the more personal updates about friends, their kids, and family that I appreciate. Twitter had become my news ticker. Without Twitter, I found that I merely spent more time online scanning news sites and blogs. Google Buzz served as my outlet for engaging in substantive discussions and debates. This void was filled with forums and blogs.
As I mentioned in my piece when I signed off, I realized that social media was really the symptom — not the disease. I am easily distracted, and it was probably too convenient to blame social media for my persistent habit of checking in.
With that said, the time off was a great breather. If you log into Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times a day, I suggest that you try taking a break. For me, it helped put things into perspective. As I return to the social media sphere, I have an idea about how I plan to re-engage. Much like just about everything in our lives, there has to be boundaries and limits. I think what friends will see is that my engagement will now be much more predictable. No longer will I be dropping into Facebook throughout the day. Twitter is a little different, because I still see it as akin to peeking in on the news. The key is to peek in, do a quick scan and then move on. Google Buzz, which tends to require more of my attention, is something that will have be reevaluated. Even when I logged off, there was some discussion about its longevity. Perhaps time has resolved that debate. Google Buzz is either going strong or interest and participation is waning.
As I sit here typing, it occurs to me that I don’t really have anything too profound to share. I’m sure many of you have thought about, if not acted on, these this issue. 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. That’s actually my preference anyway. (I never understood why people sent me messages through Facebook when they knew my phone number and/or email address.)
I’m happy to answer questions, if you have them. Otherwise, that’s it. No great fanfare. Just a quiet reentry into the fold. So, without further ado, here’s where to find me in the social media space.
If you followed me on Twitter before my exit, you’ll need to find me again. Unlike Facebook, I couldn’t deactivate my Twitter account. It’s pretty much an all or nothing proposition. Google Buzz appears to have retained who I followed, and those who followed me.
A number of my friends use Posterous, the micro-blogging site that allows you to post easily from the site directly, or by email. Posterous has tight integration with a number of social media sites so users can share their posts. In case you’re not familiar with micro-blogging, think of it as if Twitter and a full-sized blog had a baby. Though some people use mirco-blogs for long-format posts, most use it as place to post random thoughts, pictures, links and other miscellaneous things that occur in the course of their daily lives.
I’m admittedly a bit partial to WordPress, but I did kinda-sorta try Posterous. The same goes for Tumblr, a competing micro-blogging site. It was, however, at a time when I was working on contracting my digital presence, and I just couldn’t take on posting to another site. The funny thing, though, is that Posterous and Tumblr are probably ideal for the type of random thought blogging I sometimes do. There are a lot of great bloggers on Posterous and Tumblr. To get a glimpse of what people are doing on Posterous, check out this link. Likewise, check out the creative stuff on Tumblr. (
Visit the mobile section of the Posterous site to get an app for your iPhone or Android device — which was just added today — so you can post on the fly.
Even though I am in the midst of a social media sabbatical, I still keep up with what’s happening in the tech side of social media. When it comes to Twitter, I think that Seesmic is one of the better clients out there. (desktop, web-based and mobile)
In the mobile space, Seesmic for Android just got a lot better with some recent updates, including an improved user interface. Check out the video to see the improvements.
If you’re on Twitter, what is your preferred way to access Twitter on your computer? Native Twitter? TweetDeck? Seesmic? HootSuite? Brizzly? What Twitter app do you use on your smartphone?