The Buggles were right, way back in 1979, when they sang that videos killed the radio stars. As a child of the 80’s I can remember watching MTV waiting for the next “cool” new video to come out. Videos drove music sales, not the radio. We may have come full circle…I don’t know of many teens today that sit around and watch music videos, but that’s beside the point. The point is, we shape the tools and the tools shape us.
Social media has changed the way we view and interact with the world around us. From Twitter to Facebook to micro-blogs we have shaped tools that allow us to get information more quickly, more succinctly, and more frequently. Unfortunately, these tools that we have shaped to “help” us are now shaping us…with consequences we have yet to fully know and understand.
There are those vices, those addictions, whose consequences are easy to recognize…especially after years of observation. The smoker faces any number of cancers and/or respiratory illnesses. The gambler faces loss of career, possessions, and even family in some cases. The drug addict faces…well, you get the point. But what about the person who, in a quest to know more, read more, and learn more through the tools that power social media, is spending copious amounts of time in front of his/her computer? What happens to, and in, the person that is addicted to Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Even now psychologists do not how to label this type of addiction, much less how to treat it. With smokers you take away the cigarettes, with gamblers you take away the ability to gamble, and with drug addicts you take away the drugs. But what do you do with social media/computer addicts? Can you take away the computer? What will the person do to communicate (email), to book travel reservations, to do research? I’m being a little facetious, but I think you understand where I’m going with this. The computer has become such an integral part of our lives that it is almost inconceivable to contemplate a life without one.
Several weeks ago I came to the conclusion that it was time to honestly evaluate my use of the computer, and more specifically my use of social media. I loved Twitter and the 500+ people I “followed”. I found it extremely useful to find out more about the city I live in, to track releases of software, to understand more about web design. I loved Facebook…the perfect tool for keeping in touch with friends and family around the world. Flickr, Gowalla, blogs, they all had their use and I was engaged with all of them. I knew that these “tools” were impacting me more than they should when I began to feel that I was going to miss something important if I wasn’t monitoring them. When I worked from home I had Tweetie (my Twitter client) up and running the whole time. I checked email and Facebook from my iPhone right before turning out the lights at night and as soon as I awoke in the morning. It all became too much. Honest evaluation led me to realize that my marriage was suffering, my parenting was suffering, my friendships (now that’s ironic) were suffering. A change had to be made.
Here is a sampling of the changes I’ve made:
- No computer before the kids leave for school, except to check the weather forecast.
- No computer from 3PM to 8PM (kids get home at 3PM, go to bed at 8PM).
- No computer on Sundays (it’s a day of rest and family).
- I check Facebook no more than 3 times a day (morning, lunch, and bedtime).
- I dropped the amount of people I’m following on Twitter from 570 (2 months ago) to 182 today. I will probably drop another 80 or so within the next couple of weeks.
- Dropped my RSS subscriptions (blogs, etc.) down to 68, from well over 100.
- I only sit down in front of the computer when I have a task to accomplish. Editing a photo, replying to email, filing an expense report, etc. No more pointless browsing and fiddling.
Is social media evil? No. Are these tools evil? No. I think great benefits can come from the use of these tools. But have we as a society jumped head first into something with little consideration for the long term consequences? Yes, I think so. And while my solutions for handling my time on the computer may be a bit extreme for some of you, I would still ask you to consider, honestly, are the tools shaping you, or are you using them effectively?