I’ve developed a theory that if people can’t sit through a 30-minute meal without touching their phones, they are OSDs (Over-Stimulated Disturbances). Sounds a little like LSD, and appropriately so; our phones are quickly turning us into walking drug addicts.
But who am I to quip? I’m constantly responding to emails on the fly, tweeting, connecting – it’s a part of work, daily existence.
Connection is a loaded word these days. Social platforms tout it as part of their mission. But what does it mean to truly connect? On Twitter, it means favoriting bursts of 140 snippets. In person, it means having the patience to listen to long, circuitous babbles that are often far less witty, relevant, or sharable.
It’s much easier to fall in love with the former.
One question I’m tackling at work is how to effectively use social media to enhance connection with an audience. Sounds nice in theory but in practice, virtual connection entails something entirely different from a meaningful in-person relationship. Just because I like Red Cross on Facebook doesn’t mean I will spend a dime or a minute of my time volunteering for a cause.
So, I’m going out on a limb and positing that the greatest function social media can serve is to get people away from social media, offline, and into the actual lives of others.
What I mean is that social media should spur offline activity. A company’s goal shouldn’t be to stick people in an unending spiral of Twitter-Facebook-Instagram-YouTube, repeat 100 times until dizzy. That quickly creates obsessive, neurotic, OSD mental cases (raise your hand if you’re one already – – me!).
From a business perspective, it’s no use to Oreo, for instance, to get people to watch its Daily Twist campaign 50 times if no one ever actually buys a box of Oreos. But by showing the social value of doing so- rewarding users who buy a box and snap a picture of them consuming it in fun ways- Oreo creates a win-win situation. They make money, and you’re presumably happier because now you are having fun with friends. That’s real social mixed with virtual interplay.
So, is this the modern-day version of connection? Virtual and physical worlds feeding one other, transposing offline activities to the online world, and vice-versa? I suppose so, since these days “it never happened if it’s not online”.
I say this with a bit of cynicism, but the truth is, it’s unrealistic to go anywhere these days without a phone notification calling our name. Like it or not, our new definition of connection needs to take into account the ubiquitous gadget in the room, while finding a way to channel its use in a healthy way.
Social media is the digital version of junk food. It’s created a habit of mindless consumption. “Once you pop you can’t stop!” But no, we must stop. Lest we further descend down the rabbit hole and emerge into a society disconnected from our most basic human existence.
Set aside a phone and connect with reality. It’s about balance and there lies our challenge.
How do you use social media to enhance connection? Have you found it an effective, or distracting, tool? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
I’ve been on a “social media cleanse” since Monday. Not a full-out purge, just a mini-cleanse to rejuvenate. (That person on a juice cleanse…at the bar? That’s me.)
I’ve removed the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone. It means I’m still able to go on these networks via desktop but also removes the temptation to compulsively, incessantly, maniacally graze through an unending stream of (mostly) uninteresting updates on-the-go. It’s a small move, but proven immensely helpful.
My cleanse lasts a week. On Monday, I’ll be back on the social grid, starting at NYCEDC as manager of social media and content. My task is to develop their social media, blog, and content marketing strategy, which will require full immersion in these platforms.
Though I sometimes decry the impertinent nature of social media content, I do believe in its value. The problem is I can never explain it. Does its primary value lie in the human capital that powers it? Its technological ability to surface interesting content? Its power to connect?
My real reason for disconnecting this week is to determine the void social media fills, if any. As I pull back the curtain and prepare to step behind the scenes of the grand social media production – taking on the “voice” of a 500-person organization – I’d like to know what exactly it is that people get out of their feeds.
So, I’m curious:
- What gets your attention online?
- How do you interact with social media? Do you use it as a discovery engine, an address book, news source?
- What conversations/stories are relevant to you? (Particularly about your city?)
Please share your thoughts! I may be on a cleanse but ultimately, I believe that social media’s *nutritious* value is just waiting to be revealed. (sad food pun, sorry)
Food for thought:
“You have to get offline. I’ll say it again. You HAVE GOT TO GET OFFLINE. YOU HAVE TO GET F***ING OFF F***ING LINE.” – advice from legendary E. Jean Carroll, of Ask E. Jean, America’s longest currently running advice column
Better advice could not be more emphatically expressed. I took it to heart for 4 months. 4 months of purposeful separation, living life offline, unplugged…or at least as unplugged as life can be when you have a smart phone and still tweet and email and you know, do almost everything except Facebook + Instagram. Still, give a girl some credit: pulling the plug on Facebook was a big deal, kind of like moving to a desert island. I even wrote a goodbye letter. (melodramatic twentysomething)
I remained pretty social on the island. Before I knew it, 3 months had gone by. One night I thought about the social network and tried to log back in. There were several tell-tale signs I had been gone for a while; for one, I couldn’t remember my log-in. My web history was clogged with news articles instead of the usual Facebook photo albums and in fact I momentarily forgot who some people in those albums even were. Months before, merely typing www—>> triggered automatic completion of “site-thou-shall-not-be-named”.com, and now… LinkedIn has replaced it as the most frequently visited site. If ever there were a sign of professional maturity (or boringness)…
Upon sailing Home a few days ago, Facebook almost seemed foreign, like returning to college after being abroad for a couple months. Soon, though, the falsely jolly, slickly disingenuous first-world details that had ceased to exist during my time away came trickling back into consciousness. Bloop! There went the little red notification. And here we go again…
Ignorance is bliss, I had told myself. But what I’ve realized is that the problem was never really about Facebook or the technology or all the obnoxious statuses out there; the problem was me. I needed to clear out my own cache of judgement.
I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts on 12/12/12. Since it was supposedly the end of the world, I decided to enter the ‘new’ world with a clean slate. I wanted to return to the root of being social without the distraction of a buzzing phone, without feeling compelled to take pictures of my brunch, and without the aid of a red Facebook notification to alter my serotonin level. I entered detox mode.
My primary justification was personal. I thought that my personhood – the very root of my identity – had been reduced to a set of data points on Facebook. I was living my life out online. How could I allow a single website to simplify my life to a bunch of photos, text, and information? It was naval-gazing for sure, but I couldn’t shake it. So, I left to return to my offline roots but not before posting a status on Facebook asking people to send me their email; I would write occasionally with life updates, philosophical meanderings, and other angsty Thought Catalog-like topics. Several people did reach out and I was happy to keep my social network limited to these newfound thought followers, family, and close friends. It was my way of keeping in touch.
Life offline was revolutionary & simple. It gave me greater appreciation for things beyond the digital realm such as parks, museums, and coffee shops with no wi-fi. I spent a month at home in Tennessee, a month in San Francisco, another month eating a bunch of really really good food for my job back in New York. Normally, I’d be sharing & posting like it was my job but I restrained. I just ate, just observed, just explored. The ‘justs’ were more than enough. No one was validating the awesomeness of my adventure, so I could focus on the actual act of exploring. It was great. There were moments when I wondered if I was missing out (and for sure, I later found out there was A LOT) but I was aware of the really important things. In fact I remember secretly gloating that I knew about the new Pope before some of my Facebook-hounding friends did. (Twitter – 1, Facebook – 0)
Ultimately, however, I discovered a glaringly simple truth through deeper offline conversations : we’re lonely. Some more than others, but at the end of the day, it’s a large reason why social networks like Facebook and Twitter have taken off. Introvert or extrovert, we’re all searching for some form of connection.
Yet connection is thrown around like free lunch these days. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook mission, “to make the world more open and connected” is noble. But just like lunch, real connection never comes free. You don’t amass friends and spit stuff into the never-ending stream of content and expect connection to magically appear. (You also don’t sell that information to marketers, but that’s another topic for another day.) Facebook is not the magic ingredient. If we truly want connection, we must first change ourselves.
When I logged back onto Facebook a few days ago, updating my profile with an affirming Facebook status “They always come back”, I found myself digging back into connections – weak, strong, and the many in-betweens. While catching up with the lives of those I had almost forgotten about, I was reminded of life’s continuous march. Over the course of our lives, things happen, people change. In this digital age, social platforms are there to document it all. While I traveled coast to coast, going from San Francisco to New York, life for others did not stop and wait for me to press ‘play’ to be reenacted. People continued to post, comment, like, and tag whether I was there to participate or not. I had missed a Canadian friend’s trip to New York with her band. I had missed lovely photos from an acquaintance’s wedding. I had no idea the company I worked for had uploaded and tagged an embarrassingly hilarious video of me. (Self-scrutiny commence.)
Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that my view of personhood must evolve like the times. I am nostalgic for a Web that no longer exists. I’d like to think of myself, as author Zadie Smith puts it, “a private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and to herself.” But I am naive. I’ve taken 4 months time (and an entire Facebook timeline of inner sciamachy) to set aside this identity crisis. I come back because I want to write. Truthfully. Part of that means knowing people. Social media is a way to be part of a conversation you’re creating together with fellow beings. For all its clutter, social media can be rich and multi-faceted. On other days, it can be also be self-glorifying, artificial, and so damn annoying that I wonder if I should just disconnect again.
But that’s life. Life is not always beautiful. Take it or leave it; I choose to take it. Not being on social media means I will simply know less about what is going on with other people. That is not a bad thing. But even so, I firmly believe humans are not made to be fully removed from each other, whether that is physically or virtually. Do you want to participate and steer the conversation toward good? Yesterday’s Boston Marathon terror serves as an example. People gathered updates and news real-time to help those in need. Coverage through social media was a mix of qualitative and informative, creating a complete (while heartbreaking) picture of the unfolding scene. The Internet, if we choose, really can be a useful tool for good.
For all its good, though, we must be reminded that the data points we generate can underrepresent reality. Living offline is messier and more complex. Walking away from social media, at times, is not necessarily practical, as we live in an age where many of our communities and lives are built on these platforms. So what I’m granting myself is an approach, a mindset: one of connection rather than comparison. It’s easy to look at the filtered photos and artuflly written statuses as gunk that clogs our news feed. But lighten up. On the days you peer into the screen of your laptop and simply can’t find any semblance of relation to your perfectly posed fellow human beings, just remember that what you see is a mere half-reality and carefully selected portion of life. Life isn’t simply the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s merely one of many.
This is my relapse. I’m back to listen, contribute, and document the evolution of our virtual selves. This time, I realize I am not above it all. While I can’t promise zero judgment, I welcome your sharing. In a sense, I agree with Zuckerberg: our selves evolve and like it or not, it’s a story worthy capturing.
After Wednesday, I will be off the Facebook hook for good.
This is landmark. If this was a status, it would say: END OF AN ERA. After all, this will affect 1,823 “friends” I’ve amassed since senior year of high school!
How it will actually play out: A small percentage of friends will notice a reduction in friend count but likely won’t be able to pinpoint which scumbag dared to de-friend them. Realistically, my “disappearance’ will be just one less data point on the marketers’ social graph.
Friend count and marketing tool aside, I am still somewhat sad. Not because I’m losing 1,823 friends and therefore getting less popular (although that is a very real concern as well). It’s sad because in a small trivial way, I will no longer have digital proof of social status. Sure, I’ll text and send emails and randomly publish works on my blog but that’s all so…boring. Where else on the web can I find photos of my underage drunk out-of-my-ass self wearing a pirate costume, shouting that I want to barf into a cake box? Where are those mushy gushy high school wall posts from my current big-time dental school friend telling me she misses me soooo much and that I’m the bestttt and “omg I love you!!!!!!” (sorry Anne <3<3 <3) Where else can I surreptitiously look up an office crush and get the real dish on his dealings outside of the cubicle? Hard to find on LinkedIn or Gmail.
Oh voyeurism. How I crave juice and junk. Facebook has filled that need. But now it’s time to get healthy.
Heretofore, my primary reason for remaining on Facebook has been to keep in touch. It’s been my visual Rolodex of contacts- 5% kindred souls, 83% lukewarm acquaintances, 8% stalking bait, and 4% ‘wait-who-are-you-again?’ Furthermore, recently when I started managing social media for companies, I was given a professional reason to be social. “You can’t be a real business without being on the network” “post relevant content” “engage” “meet the users where they are” blah blah blah.
I get it. Facebook is important and I’m going to lose digital klout. But I’m willing to sacrifice that in return for…competence. I entered college without a facebook: very focused, undistracted, and with fewer friends. I graduated college with a busy Facebook: many friends, greater social acuity, and…a distracted mind. Which is better?
I’m at the age where I need to focus on honing skills and contributing to the productive half of society. Facebook was and is good for validating the importance of socially undeveloped people, which I very much was. But I’d like to think I’ve grown up. I’m realizing that just because people “like” my filtered, artfully-taken vintage photo, doesn’t mean that I have accomplished anything meaningful.
Still, I am grateful. Over the course of 5.5 years, those likes, comments, and flood of birthday wall posts did wonders for my ego. That red notification symbol meant so much more than an additional like. To a 20-year old, it was validation that people cared, that something I did mattered, that I was someone worthy of liking (even if what I posted was actually a quote I copied from Tumblr). And yes, the fact that my old high school crush liked it meant that there totally was hope for us getting together.
Pathetic as it sounds, that’s life. Ultimately, not much changes from the old school yard. What we want is to simply feel included. Facebook facilitates that, however superficial, in a remarkable way.
So, why am I leaving? I have a life to live. I feel included enough. I can keep sharing more and more. Here I am — the posts and pics say — a being not anonymous but alive. I overshare therefore I am.
Or I can simply be.