The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates
During the month of February, I tried to curtail my personal social media activity. As I explained in my previous post (some 32 days ago), I wanted to back off on my personal use of social media for an entire month — mainly just to see if I could.
I deliberately chose the shortest month of the year for my experiment. But 2012 being a leap year, February was a day longer than usual. So I took that into consideration as I launched this personal challenge. I also understood from conventional wisdom that it takes 21 days to change a habit, and I had become a habitual social media user. So I figured 29 days without social media would result in a new perspective, if not a new habit.
Now, I didn’t forsake social media entirely during February. I couldn’t. As one of the social media administrators for our campus, it’s part of my job to manage and monitor our university’s social media presence. But I tried my best to whittle down my time spent on personal social media.
I disappeared completely from Foursquare, and lost several mayorships as a result.
I declared a Facebook-free February but had to break it to post a “Happy Birthday” on my brother’s wall and to share that I was about to see Peter Frampton in concert on Feb. 27. I also posted some photos on Instagram that evening. (Even I cannot resist an occasional social media humblebrag.)
I didn’t blog. Also, I didn’t visit any higher ed blogs.
I didn’t ask or answer any questions on Quora. Which was no problem, since I never go there.
I am not on Path, Pinterest or any of the new next big social media sites, so I had no problem avoiding them.
Same with Google+.
My biggest hangup was with Twitter, my go-to social media milieu. I peeked in on Twitter more than any other site. But as you can see from the Twitter Counter graph below, my activity during the past month was far, far less than my usual.
Interestingly, the number of followers didn’t take that great of a hit during my semi-hiatus from Twitter. It did bottom out during the middle of the month, but is now climbing back toward the level of late January.
But what does it all mean?
A few people have asked me how this curtailment has affected me and my relationship with social media. Others have asked what lessons have I learned from this experiment. I don’t have any grand revelations to share. After all, I didn’t retreat to a mountaintop to seek enlightenment for a month. I just stopped doing certain things. Anyway, here are a few observations about my low-social media diet.
Out of the #highered loop, but not too worried about it. During my curtailment, I did feel like I was no longer in the know about the latest conversations in the higher ed social media sphere. Since I wasn’t checking Twitter much, and not reading higher ed blogs, I was essentially disconnected from my higher ed learning network.
I did receive occasional email notes from higher ed acquaintances sharing a link to something they thought would be of interest to me. Also, I continued to receive valuable e-newsletters focused on social media topics, and they tempted me with their links to current posts from the higher ed blogosphere. Karine Joly‘s weekly update always includes interesting and useful links, and every week I was tempted to click on a link or two. But for the sake of my experiment, I refrained. I feared falling down the social media rabbit hole. But I also wanted to see just how far behind I might fall in terms of my understanding of what’s new and current in higher ed. At the end of the experiment, I don’t think I missed much.
Missed opportunities to contribute, but my life is no worse for it. For such a short month, February is chock full of events that provide social media users with plenty of opportunities to become a part of something large and grandiose. Usually, these are entertainment events, like the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Oscars. As would any sophisticated marketing operation, the organizations behind each of these events incorporated social media into their promotions and the events themselves. Super Bowl XLVI’s Social Media Command Center was perhaps the most extensive and heavily promoted of these efforts to integrate social media into the global hive of big televised events.
Anyway, I missed out on all of it. I tweeted briefly about the Super Bowl just prior to kickoff, but that was it. Instead I watched the Super Bowl on one screen this year, not two. As for the Grammys and the Oscars, I watched neither. Being oblivious to the stream of social media posts seems to have had no adverse affect on me.
I did kind of miss the February Pancake Tweetup, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d missed it until the month was nearly over.
Not the first to know. When Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse died, I was one of the first to know because of Twitter. When Whitney Houston died, I found out a news crawler across my TV screen. I pulled out my phone to check Twitter, just to see how far behind the news on TV was compared to the news on Twitter. Many of my followers had already posted #RIPWhitneyHouston tweets — minutes before I even knew she was dead. So, instead of being one of the first to know about a breaking news event, I was one of the masses who learned about it minutes later. I’m not sure it matters, though.
A new sense of freedom. I’m not saying life got any less hectic because of my social media curtailment. I still had a lot of projects going on, at work, home, church, etc. But knowing that I had committed myself to not checking my social media streams, and not blogging, filled me a sense of liberation I haven’t felt in quite some time.
It soon dawned on me that, before going on my social media diet, I had created a self-imposed sense of obligation. I somehow felt that I had to blog, had to post on Twitter, had to wish my Facebook contacts a happy birthday. But no one had imposed these requirements upon me. I imposed them on myself. I could just as easily remove them. Once I got over the sense that I had to do something with social media, I found I could focus better on other, more important projects.
A social media housecleaning is good for the soul. Now that I’ve gone a month without using certain social media sites, I really don’t care if I ever use them again. I feel like I’ve done a bit of social media housecleaning. I lost five or six Foursquare mayorships during February. But who cares? Not me. I doubt I’ll become active with Foursquare again. Same with GetGlue. My check-ins on those sites now seems like a mindless and vain distraction. Who needs more mindless, vain distractions in their lives?
Some social media, I can probably never give up. I already mentioned that I found it tough to disengage from Twitter. I probably couldn’t completely shut down my Facebook presence, either, but for different reasons. Twitter is where I connect with people of like interests and professionals in higher ed. Facebook is a place where I tend to keep loose but important ties with family and old friends.
I think my habits have changed. It remains to be seen how much this monthlong experiment has affected my long-term social media habits. But I think I’ve changed. I don’t think I feel the same sense of obligation toward social media as I did before the fast. Then again, by this time next week I could be so heavily sucked into the social media vortex that I’m pinning stuff on Pinterest.
I beg of you, please don’t send me an invitation to join.