After I took a week off from social media, one of the first posts I came across on Facebook contained this video. The post was followed with a series of comments about the use of phones and our loss of connection with being ‘in the moment’. Prior to my break from social media, I would have agreed that the phone is the issue but after my self-imposed break, I discovered that without the lure of social media, I rarely reached for the phone. Instead, the phone lay dormant on the table attached to the charger for hours. My break from social media, indicated it was the lure of social connection and interaction that kept that phone close at hand.
I have come across a few articles recently, debating the negatives and positives of social media. One article highlight’s narcissism, and self PR campaigns, in the individual use of social media as a misconstrued need to display a sense of constant awesomeness. On the other hand, this debate in the New York Times points to the virtues of access to an audience, self publishing and instant interaction as presenting opportunities for individual growth.
Interestingly, being without social media is not all positive, just as being constantly connected is not all positive. A friend (from my social media world) joined me in my mission to abstain from social media for a week and we shared insights about the experience via SMS. He shared this article ‘I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet’. What is interesting in this article is how the writer chronicles his personal experience of taking a year off the internet concluding that the positive/negative divide is not straight forward.
I decided to switch off social media for a week, beginning just two days before New Years Eve 2013. Celebratory times often attract increased posting, so it was going to be a challenge. The decision was spontaneous and partly based around my perception that my contributions were tired and felt somewhat laboured in the month of December. You see, I had been online since the end of 2011 diving into many social media apps including; Instagram, Facebook, Momentage, Backspaces, Twitter, Vine, Picyou, Eyeem, taada, Streamzoo, Wattpad, lightt, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Pheed, Scoop.it…
and the list goes on…..
The majority of these apps were a process of trialling for evaluation purposes, so my presence was short lived. However, my presence on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Vine have been constant. I’m not certain how much time I spent online with my phone, but it was definitely daily and on all four platforms. I would check each app every morning and participate in conversations, contribute content, check events, click on posted links and read/view content shared, read collated stories from Zite, share to targeted and appropriate social networks and so on and so forth… I’m pretty sure that was just two hours in the morning. I haven’t calculated time throughout the day nor the relax time after the evening meal when the kids are in bed… To say the least, four hours of online engagement may be an underestimate….. if I was being honest… (jaw dropping to the floor in realisation!)
I was feeling socially exhausted and needed to retreat, to think and refresh. The need to question the value of my contributions, the purpose, my connections and interactions seemed quite strong both online and in real life. Even with interactions IRL (in real life) I often feel the need to retreat and gather strength so that I can be social again. I suppose the virtual world had reached that point too.
Without social media, it became apparent quickly how few my connections are. SMS, email and phone are definitely much less active and interactions come from fewer people. The world felt somewhat silent. On a positive note, I relaxed more and just took time out. I even finished a novel in one night (it was a short novel). My time with my kids was less interrupted and seemed more positive. More than anything, my kids loved how unhurried I appeared. As a qualifier, this was the holiday time so relaxation was on the menu regardless. I actually started to feel relaxed and recharged too.
I found my thought processes seemed less hurried and distracted. I could think about what ‘it’ is about social media that is positive and consider the benefits of social networks online. I certainly missed my interactions and conversations with people that I connected with online and was looking forward to the time I could interact again. I discovered finding articles of interest, with no-one to share, made the conversation and knowledge construction seem far less interesting and rewarding without the social media platforms.
Without social media, the web is very static. Just reading articles and not contributing to conversation and adding to knowledge is something I tire from quickly. I suppose, knowledge is constructive and involves conversation. Social media has enabled this. With the networks that are formed, based around communities of interest, we are able to obtain various insights and access to information that is pertinent to specific interest areas. This helps to build on our thoughts, triggering connections with ideas we have come across and prompting further sharing and knowledge construction. In my social media networks, my communities of interest have developed around street art, writing, information access, arts, filmmaking and activism. With these areas I’ve connected with groups and conversations specific to these areas. Not all the people I connect with are connected with each other. Instead communities exist as various circles of interest that sometimes intersect but mostly remain distinct. Ultimately, this is what I view as a positive aspect of social media alongside the possibility of extending online relationships to real life relationships and vice versa.
So in 2014, one of my key resolutions is to increase my collaborative creative efforts with people from my social media world with a focus on improving both online and ‘in real life’ interactions. It is this aspect of social media, over the past couple of years, that has provided the most rewarding experiences. Clearly, this is the ultimate positive enablement of virtual communities.
Another resolution is to take breaks from social media. After a week’s break, I came back feeling refreshed, filled with ideas and wanting to contribute again. I’ve identified social interaction in the virtual world as no different to social interaction IRL, in terms of the need for retreat to replenish… in my case anyway. Just as I need a break to recharge IRL I also need this in the virtual world. Otherwise, I start feeling exhausted and unable to contribute.