I’ve mentioned before the problems I’ve had with various social media sites. In an attempt to see if I could improve my experience, I started using Google Plus and ADN, but neither of those could replace Twitter or Facebook…so for the past few weeks I have been using four social media sites instead of two.
This is a huge time suck, and I’m not sure I’m really adding much value to my life.
I’ve mainly found Google Plus to be a decent place for news links, but I’m flummoxed by the lack of a “send to Instapaper” button. I despise having to open the link in Safari, copy it there, and then paste it into Instapaper. There are also occasionally some interesting discussions on Google Plus, but I don’t have enough people in my Circles for this to be a frequent occurrence.
ADN is a different animal. There are plenty of interesting people there, but a lot of the ones I’ve interacted with seem to have a lot more time to dedicate to ADN than I do. I tend to dip in and out; they’re there for longer blocks of time, holding up numerous conversation threads with sometimes dozens of people at once. ADN sort of feels like a microcosm of a party, where the extraverts are flitting around happily and I, the introvert, am observing, trying to interact, feeling overwhelmed, and ducking out early. I often feel like I’m missing everything, that I am not “cool” enough for ADN. Sometimes I attempt to broach what I consider to be important topics there, only to be either ignored entirely, or briefly engaged and then ignored. I guess I wouldn’t say that I have made any real friends on ADN. There are a few people I enjoy chatting with, to be sure, but for the most part it just feels really hard to interact on ADN.
I do try to keep in mind that it took me many years to get Twitter and Facebook curated such that I was comfortable with them. At first I would just follow anyone on Twitter who seemed interesting, but after awhile I would feel left out because these interesting people weren’t following me or talking to me. Eventually I learned to follow people who would actually interact with me, which made the experience much better. I also learned to temper my expectations, so I could follow bigger accounts and know that they have so much interaction to deal with, there’s no way they could respond to everything people said to them. I kept my following list as small as possible, so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing the party. I have a sort of balance on Twitter that gives me information and interaction. I have to remember how long it took me to get there.
Facebook is a different animal. I use it to keep track of actual friends: people from school, people from IRC, people from the AMRN, people from work, and family members. These are people I actually want to keep up with, not just random acquaintances. I use Facebook as the contact list for my personal life, essentially, which is why it is always distressing when someone decides to close their account, and why I have so much trouble with the idea of closing mine. The archivist in me loves that I can collect information about myself and my friends all in one place, and this built-in need usually wins out over my privacy concerns. I realize this is probably bad, but I don’t know what else to do. There is literally nothing else out there that can replicate what Facebook does for me.
I’m starting to wonder, though, if there isn’t a way I could try and quantify the benefits of the various social media platforms vs. the drawbacks. As I said, checking these four services takes time. What might I be doing with that time otherwise? Couldn’t I use my blog to chronicle my life, rather than depending on Facebook? Couldn’t I create an address book of the people I care about and contact them in other ways? Couldn’t I use RSS feeds to read news? Would these things save time? Would they free my mind for creative endeavors?
I have a few options for evaluating my social media use. I could stop completely for a given amount of time and see what happens. I could limit my use to a certain amount of time per day and see what happens. I could continue as normal, but track my time on social media the same way someone evaluating their diet would track food. That last would be the hardest to implement, but it might provide the best data.
Ultimately, I think social media has become habitual for me, a way of having something to do when I’m not sure what to do next. (Chores are also like this for me.) It may be distracting me from achieving goals, because working towards something is harder than taking a routine action. To achieve a goal you have to come up with a plan, and you have to break it up into steps, and you have to constantly figure out what the next step is. With habits, you just do it. No wonder habits are so hard to break. You feel like you’ve accomplished something, even if you haven’t.
Maybe instead of focusing on social media, I should focus on my goals. As I invest more time into achieving goals, the unimportant stuff will start to fall away naturally.
Regardless of how I change my social media habits, I do know this: things can’t stay the way they are now.