Dealing with social media addiction

The internet is silting up with ego-driven dross. It’s little wonder that the anti-network-neutrality brigade would like to turn it into freeways and side streets, depending on willingness to pay. And, equally, it’s no wonder that the network neutrality supporters want everything to stay the same and for the pipes to be fattened ad infinitum.

With limitless capacity and fixed price access, anyone who can afford a few dollars a month is able to promulgate whatever they want out to an unsuspecting world. They could do it with blogs, podcasts, videocasts, social networking sites, Second Life or Twitter.

It doesn’t matter that most of the utterances are ignored by most of the world. For most people the joy lies, I suspect, in the uttering. It’s like vanity publishing. Everyone has a story and this is a way to get it out.

Most people like making connections and ‘friendships’. By participating in a social site like Twitter, they can delude themselves about their connectedness. Enough of the digital glitterati hang out there to make it worth dropping by and picking up what these A-listers are up to. Even if it is as boring as ‘stuck in traffic on 101’, or whatever.

If we were able to really restrict our appetite for social media consumption to our genuine friends and work colleagues, for example, then we’d probably derive a lot of value from it. I wouldn’t mind knowing what my four analyst colleagues at Freeform Dynamics were up to at any time although I really wouldn’t welcome a continous stream of the stuff.

And this is the issue really. If you get involved in any big way with blogs, podcasts, videocasts and social sites, it can be like a drug. But this drug doesn’t so much mess with your head as mess with your time. "I’ll just see what [name your own guru] is up to at the moment" and that’s another chunk of your life thrown away, never to be recovered. It’s even worse with videos, which are becoming all the rage in Twitterati circles. A bit of puff and a tiny URL and, if you’re not careful, you end up watching some nonentity on an ego trip.

I think we ought to start accounting for our time in the same way that lawyers do. And then measure the value extracted from each social media engagement. Did it entertain? Did it educate? Did it inform? Choose your own criteria and monitor your online activity. If you’re dissatisfied with the outcome, ask yourself what else you would have spent that time doing. If the answer to that is ‘something better’ then you have a problem. Only by recognising the consequences of the addiction can you form your strategy for beating it.

PS For social accounting purposes, that probably took you 135 seconds to read.

6 thoughts on “Dealing with social media addiction

  1. Well written, but I can’t say I agree with it really.
    I’ve gained a value at Twitter that I didn’t find at other social media sites like Facebook or the like.
    I think maybe Scoble pegged it when he said that if you are talking more than you’re listening on Twitter, you aren’t getting out of it what you could be. It’s true there’s the vanity posters – and the Cereal Twits (the ones who take ‘What are you doing?’ literally) – but there are also connections being formed, and information being passed.
    I have learned much in the past several months on Twitter that I wouldn’t have learned through another medium. Certainly, I could’ve spent a ton of time skimming sites and news headlines and tried to find the same information – but it would’ve wasted MUCH more time than following someone who has knowledge in a given arena that can point me to useful information who links such things on his/her Twitter.
    Whether I’m ‘wasting my time’ by reading those tweets? I suppose that’s a value question. I don’t believe I am, or I wouldn’t bother with it at all.

  2. David my dear fellow – if you start accounting for your time like a lawyer then I guarantee you are falling for the Marxist labour theory of value. Since value is what we need derive from these toys then time doesn’t come into it. It sure doesn’t come figure into what my customers pay me. I’m not a mechanic or a plumber. I’m a person that has certain skills and knowledge that has a value in which they wish to participate. Nothing to do with time except to the extent that I have invested (and written off) in acquiring.
    I note you use the term ‘social accounting’ – not sure if that was conscious or not but it is one I coined a few days ago (shall I send a cease and desist? ) – but no, I use it in the context of social objects around which I can assemble a crowd of people interested in what I am doing, talking about, selling, whatever. In my case, GetSatisfaction, where our customers tell us what we need to do, the things we should be thinking about and generally helping us get smarter. They are a lovely bunch of people, polite to a fault and always worth engaging. They never waste my time.
    As to Twitter – value comes from how you use it. It’s proven itself time and again to the point where some folk you may know have taken the metaphor and are developing a version for business. It takes the best of Twitter and makes it better and more relevant to those environments. I doubt it would be getting the investment if the powers that be thought it a waste.

  3. Dennis: I had no idea you’d coined ‘social accounting’. I agree totally about social objects.
    I don’t really have much argument with what anyone’s said. My problem is/was following too many people – I started reciprocating followers which was probably a bad move.
    Michael – yep, joyless maybe. But compared with spending time with family and friends in the flesh, the latter trumps Twitter every time.
    vndygo – I have found some useful things. Would have found more if signal/noise had been in better balance. Elsua and I are meeting at Lotusphere as a result of Twitter.
    In the end, it’s about balance. And I still don’t think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Even if I contributed masses of useful information the chance of it reaching anyone who’d benefit is vanishingly small. And, perhaps this is my years in journalism coming to the fore, I really don’t think anyone gives a toss about what I’m doing at any given moment.

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