Withdrawing from social media

Recently there’s been a trickle of articles about people who don’t engage with social media – about not using facebook, about the need disconnect from the twitterverse, and how smartphone use stimulates obsessive compulsive behaviour.

The subtext is of course ‘this stuff rules our lives, how do we deal with it’ and of course because it’s new people ascribe it more importance. For example, we recently had some rather breathless coverage because a security guard at a detention centre for illegal immigrants posted some racist comments on his Facebook page. In fact the behaviour is no reprehensible that if he said it in the bar, or took to wearing offensive t-shirts out of hours. It’s the message, not the medium.

Certainly all this social stuff is ideal for giving the idea of useful activity and engagement, just as in the old days exhaustively reading usenet news postings and listserv digests was classed as ‘work’.

There’s certainly a component in surfing RSS feeds and twitter to keep up with what’s going on that’s definitely work related but there’s no need to be obsessive about it. Once, perhaps twice a day is enough. Life doesn’t run at warp speed

Now, maybe I’m odd. I’m more than happy when the phone doesn’t ring. I don’t use facebook – yes, I have an account ,but that’s not the same as using it. Yes I use email, but I don’t deal with work email at weekends, and yes I use twitter to track what’s going on, just as I use RSS feeds.

The only problem I have is that, living in Australia, we’re 10h ahead of Europe and 19h ahead of California, which means that there’s sometimes stuff to catch up on on a Saturday, but in practice most of it can be ignored. If it’s important, you can guarantee that at least one person will ask you ‘did you see X?’ on Monday and send you a link. Same way, as if you’re back from vacation you can safely just skim the subject lines and mark 95% of the content of your mailbox as read without looking at it. If they need you to do something you’ll find out soon enough

If it wasn’t for the Calfornia problem I’d invariably make my weekends social media free. It could of course be argued that I am an antisocial introvert that would be happy living in a cave in the bush, and to an extent that’s true. While I enjoy talking and working with people I’ve never been a highly social person.

And this perhaps has given me a sense of reality about this. For example, salespeople and account managers are not your friends, but you build a working relationship with them during any procurement and contract management exercise, purely because a bit of chat makes life more pleasant, but at the end of the day it’s just business. Same with Facebook ‘friends’, or work colleagues or whatever. You are pleasant with them because you share some goals or interests.

Now of course you may genuinely be friends with some people in these categories, but they’re definitely in the minority.

Twitter, RSS, even email is different. Basically you actively select sources of information that may be valuable (or interesting).  There are people who might be funny and engaging in real life but whose twitter postings are the equivalent of “I’m on the train” and truly uninteresting to 99.9999% of humanity. They’re broadcast mechanisms. If you want to tell someone you’re on the train use a point to point service (text message, IM, email).

In no way however am I saying ‘a pox on your social media’. Over the years I’ve found Skype, email, and microsoft messenger invaluable for maintaining relationships when you are away from home, in just the same way that in the pre electronic communication days a postcard or two, or a letter was invaluable.

And in fact, being part of a family spread about several continents they make it better because it’s more immediate.

However, social media is a tool. Only a tool. It can be used for good or bad, it can enhance your life or you can let it rule your life, but whatever it is it’s not a substitute for real life.

And you can prove it for yourself next Sunday. Sleep late. Read the papers or a book, go to a cafe and meet up with some real people, go to a gallery or walk in the park. Do some stuff. ride your bike or whatever.  Sure, if you want to make a cake and don’t have a recipe, google for it, but otherwise, no phones, no email, no twitter, no facebook.

And on Monday ask yourself ‘did I have a good time, and did I miss anything really really building burning down important?’



About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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