Yesterday I did a personal experiment – I decided to stay off Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Words With Friends, Dailymile… All of those things which take me away from my surroundings and into the world of online connectivity and social media. Also known as time suck central.
Why did I choose to “turn off”?
It has been a long time since I completely turned off my access to social media. I opened my Facebook account in 2007. It was a lifeline for me when I was stuck at home after elbow surgery. I opened my Twitter account in 2008. It has been a constant source of inspiration and motivation as I have become involved in triathlon.
But I have not turned off or deliberately stayed off of social media since March 2008. As a participant on the Rallyes des Gazelles, you are required to hand in your telephone. No access to email, calls, texts – for two weeks. It was refreshing. I found myself completely immersed in the moment – no distractions, and no time for distractions. It was a great feeling.
The closest I have come to that since was my “Poo Phone Incident” in June. I was without my personal mobile phone for a week, although I still had my work mobile and laptop.
The “Poo Phone Incident” reminded me that when I have my phone always out, it distracts me from “being in the moment” with those around me. I was out one evening in DC and as I did not have my mobile phone, I was really aware of how my friends were always checking theirs, half an ear to our conversation. I know they were listening to me, still engaged and enjoying the evening, but it got me thinking – with an eye constantly on my phone, am I missing out on things?
So I decided to “turn off” yesterday. At least with regard to social media. It seemed an opportune moment, especially as I am approaching a Twitter milestone: 40,000 tweets…
2 and a half years on Twitter.
912 and a half days of tweeting.
Approximately 44 tweets per day.
Assume 30 seconds to type a tweet.
22 minutes a day sending messages.
20,075 minutes tweeting.
334 and a half hours.
14 days dedicated to tweeting.
Assuming half of my days are not productive time…
That is roughly 3% of my total time in the last two and a half years given to the act of tweeting.
And that does not consider the time I am dedicating to reading my twitter account.
Over the years my usage of Twitter has changed. From starting as a way to read about celebrities and news as well as a way to keep in touch with friends, Twitter became my primary source of motivation and information with regard to triathlon. Just as my interests are wide and varied, my use of Twitter embodies and reflects MY LIFE. I use it for work, as a way to track events as well as to access just published industry information. I use it while cooking, asking for tips and information and ideas on how to use certain foods (see my Cooking with Carrots or Cooking with Kale posts). Twitter, rather the engagement I have with people who use Twitter, has become an integral part of my life. I have been able to connect with like minded people, helping me to train for the Bay Swim. I have met some great people and made some great “in real life” friends. And it has helped me to learn more about myself – what I can tolerate, and what I find distasteful.
Lessons and Tips after Nearly 40,000 Tweets
1. The more people you connect with, the more organisation you need to retain value from social media
I have grown from following and engaging with about 150 people to now being connected with about 3000 people. Of this split, I figure about 1/3 is passive (all of the news feeds I read for work, brands I follow, sports news and coaching), 1/3 are accounts that I really interact with (from triathletes to foodies to healthy living bloggers to interesting people who I “met” in the good old days when Twitter was not so huge and you could find cool people on the public timeline), and 1/3 may be people or accounts that I have not yet rationalised. Of the people who follow me, I reckon the split is the same except the last 1/3 is probably spam accounts or robot accounts.
How do I keep up with 1000 people? Quite simply – I don’t. I can’t imagine the time or emotional drain that would pose!
However, I do follow handfuls of people regularly. I actively use “lists” on Twitter to cluster people together by commoon interest (I have lists for my friends in real life, for people I talk swimming with, for London Food Bloggers and Restaurants). This means that even if I am not on Twitter all day, I can still find out “what everyone is up to.” Tools like Tweetdeck offer the columns feature which does the same thing – collecting groups of people together for easy reading and engagement.
For topical links, there are tools out there such as Paper.li that enable a daily list of links to be gathered and emailed to my account. I pull links from my News list, plus any links that have the tags #triathlon or #fitblog on them. Plus links from my healthy living blogger list, as this often has blog posts that I do not have in my RSS reader.
For the bloggers that tweet who I interact with regularly, I tend to also have their blogs on my RSS reader (I use Google reader and various applications such as Reader and Feedler and Flipboard) to keep up with their posts.
2. Decide how much you want people to see, and implement it
Just like on Twitter, I also have people grouped on my Facebook account, where I have again about 1000 “friends”.
In Facebook I have categorised how I know people, creating private groupings. I have then assigned each friend to each private group.
With this structure in place, I am able to decide how much information I want my private groups to see. For example, if I only know someone via my sorority network and we have not met in real life, do I want them to access and see my Facebook wall, to be able to post commentary there? With a list I can make that choice.
I admit it – I need to do a Facebook prune. I need to more aggressively manage my Facebook – and engage there more. But I have the skeletons in place to make this easier for me to do so.
3. Do you really want people to know where you are?
I admit it – I am a Foursquare user. And yes, I was really excited to be Mayor of all my local favourite restaurants at the same time, and yes, I was sad to lose my mayorship of my favourite swimming pool.
Initially I let anyone who I was friends with on Twitter or Facebook access my Foursquare whereabouts. To me it was an extension of my social media presence.
But then I had second thoughts. I thought about what information or tracking people could do from my locational check ins, and decided that I did not want “just anyone” to be able to see where I was. That I actually only wanted people who I had met, in real life, and people I decided I could trust, to know where I was.
So I undertook a big pruning exercise. I revoked access from anyone who was not a “real life” friend, and changed the way I use Foursquare.
Now, when I don’t care if people know where I am (LCD Soundsystem gig at the Brixton Academy with hundreds of other people, ok I am lost in a crowd), I choose to make that check in or locational information available to my Twitter or Facebook accounts.
4. Realise that not all information you read is true
Just the same way that the Fox News Twitter account was hacked on July 4th, with its tweetstream announcing the assassination of Barack Obama (NOT TRUE), it is important to realise that not all the things you read or are told on Twitter are true.
This is especially true when you start to use Twitter and word searches to get “real on the ground” views of what is happening – very pertinent to my job. Earlier this year a colleague of mine forwarded a tweet link to demonstrate how there were no problems with the Suez Canal during the Egypt demonstrations – which was true. However the source he relied on was *not exactly* reliable. Read the information you receive with the appropriate filter – know that it may not be verifiably true in all cases.
Also the same holds true for the people who blog or tweet a lot and claim credentials or to be experts. Just like you would do in any other environment, use the same ways to verify credentials and source information. I mean, remember the “A Gay Girl in Damascus” blog controvery earlier this month? Don’t feel guilty asking people for their background – if it helps you to understand what you are reading, say so. And, remember that not everyone is who they claim to be – rely on the same values and instincts that you use to trust people in person when you decide to do the same on Twitter. If something reads fishy, just because it is on Twitter or a blog does not make it true. If someone seems off base with their information, check it out.
5. Communication is only 20% words on paper – the other 80% is the feeling or interpretation the reader gives to it
I have also had some truly bizarre interactions on Twitter. After what I thought were inocuous tweets in February I was accused of libel. Whoa.
My friend Elna commented on my Facebook status that only 20% of communication is what is written – the rest is the interpretation of the reader. I thought this was really interesting, and it makes intuitive sense to me – for example, why certain books resonate more with one person than another, or how when we read books we often relate the scenes and situations to our own experiences, sympathising or empathising with the characters.
After my bizarre “libel accusation experience”, I definitely became more aware of this. In a medium that I tend to treat as a stream of consciousness “quick chat” method, now I find myself thinking about my words a bit more carefully. No bad thing. And when my stream of thinking can be misinterpretted, I apologise, because goodness knows I am not out there tweeting to offend people or to libel individuals. That’s just not me!
I think I still need to develop a thicker skin for the intensity of discussions and comments that can happen… I have never been one known for thick skin so suppose I need to just remember – it is Twitter.
6. Remember – it is your stream, your social media experience
No one else sees what you see on Twitter, your Facebook news page, your Google +, your Tumblr … Each of us creates a collection of voices that we listen to, go to for information, to find inspiration.
So, when you find that there is a voice in your stream that is not giving you what you want, don’t feel bad if you feel like you need to cut it out. There are lots of way to do this – by using the Mute feature in Twitterlator, by zipping up key words in TweetCaster, by removing people from your feed in Facebook, by unfollowing people who are just not enhancing your happiness. Social media is not about creating self guilt – you need to take value from it to participate in it. Just like we evolve as people, I believe that the people we interact with will also change and evolve over time. This means there is a natural ebb and flow of relationships on Twitter. Again, no bad thing, just a reflection of life I suppose.
I constantly list, regroup, unfollow and move people around lists depending on how I have changed and what has become more important or of lesser value to me. The first time I started to get really active with doing this was last autumn. I tweeted that I was doing it and got a lot of messages of encouragement and thanks. Apparently lots of people felt guilty doing the same. I replied that I found it liberating and that by doing so I was retaking control of what I was reading, and how it was making me feel, and how I had rediscovered the positive value I could find in Twitter by allowing my account to evolve with me.
Don’t feel guilty about shaping social media and the way you use it to match you – evolutions and all.
Whither My Twitter? My Social Media Day Off
Taking yesterday off definitely gave me the space to ponder this post. (I had about 30 minutes of extra time from not tweeting, if you take my 3% rule and apply to my waking hours, not to mention the time from not reading tweets!)
Rather than my head down, fiddling with my phone, I found myself admiring the things around me more actively.
I was more present in the moment and with those next to me (translation: more undivided time with DH, which was awesome).
I felt more focused.
All in all, I think the social media down day was good for me. I am planning to take one day, once a week, just to take a break. I love using social media, but I think the mandatory day off was… Healthy.
I am thinking Wednesdays—Wordless Wednesday—to coin a blogger phrase but use it in a different way.
Who wants to join me?