Thursday, August 9, 2012

Social time off – what it teaches

 Note to blog followers: This is my first post is some time because a serious health issue with a family member meant I had to take some time to help them. This time off blogging and other social platforms inspired this post. 

In 6+ years of active participation in social media I’ve wondered, as I’m sure many do: Does all this social media stuff translate to my real and personal life? Recently I had a chance to find out. 

My Mum received a sudden and serious diagnosis. She needed immediate chemotherapy and might need help during this time. My good fortune is that I teach college and so the summer is a time I can easily (unlike my siblings) take time to help out. 

Off I went and for nearly six weeks my real life – and the prospect of someone I love perhaps losing theirs – dominated my time. My time on social media plummeted to almost nothing. Here’s what I learned from this time:

The good: 

Real people are genuine no matter the venue. Although I’m connected to more than 10,000 people across various social platforms there are just a few dozen who picked up on the various signs in social media and asked such things as "Is everything OK?" or "What’s going on?" And when I explained, were quick to offer help, both virtual and real, and support. 

Some people really are "better than advertized." Because I was traveling overseas I had mentioned to those who suggested that a meetup may be possible right before I returned to the United States. Because of the chemo schedule I was not sure of the exact date of departure and therefore a day to meet folks in real life. But at very short notice two people I had previously only known via Twitter and Facebook made room in their schedules to meet and one even introduced me to two other academics in my field of teaching, communication . Not only did I spend some time with these folks, but I came to appreciate them as truly exceptional humans. 

I feel a lot less connected with the world when social is not part of my daily routine. Yes, I read a newspaper or watched TV news or checked in on email when time permitted, but I did feel a lot less aware of the world at large without social media in the mix. This IS good, because I now know for sure that my time on social has this daily (and very important) payoff. 

The not-so-good: 

Shallow people really stand out on social media. A very few people, without asking why, decided I was "taking time off" from social and was committing a kind of "social media ranking suicide." One comment went something like this: "You do realize that an extended time of almost no activity on social media will KILL your Klout score." And if such things were life and death for me perhaps I would have been concerned, but they are not. (FYI: My Klout score dipped from 52 to 49, in case you’re wondering.) 

The vast majority of social connections are superficial. We all "know" this, but perhaps, nothing more starkly highlights it than being "gone" for an extended period and having the majority of your followers, fans, connections not notice. Does this mean the majority of social media is a waste of time? Not at all. (See Nos. 1, 2 and 3 above.) But it does help put it all in perspective. 

What do you think? Have you ever wondered what would happen in a personal crisis or enforced absence from social media? Has this happened to you? What did you notice? 

Further reading:
3 Great Ways to Take a Social Media Time-Out by Jorgen Sundberg.


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