By Lynn Paris
Overload: Facebook, Twitter, Blogs . . .
and American Idol
I used to think there wasn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything I needed to accomplish. There wasn’t. And, that was BEFORE I backed down and joined Facebook about five months ago. Months before that I’d joined LinkedIn, at the invitation of a colleague, and that hadn’t required any of my time. It really doesn’t, unless you’re heavily into professional networking or job hunting. Then, I was encouraged to join Twitter because we’d be using it to communicate at my job. No one really communicates with me, but I joined. Just in case.
The Facebook experience is pretty universal. First you join, have very little idea what you’re doing, and get all excited about how many friends you have. After a few days you’re a pro; you know your way around. And you’ve noticed that while you’ve been thrilled to acquire 30 friends, there are people who have amassed four hundred. What the heck? NO ONE has four hundred friends! You are resolute; you will only allow people with whom you have had a meaningful relationship to be on your wall. In other words, you refuse to be a friend collector.
About a month after that you’re addicted. You check FB at least two or three times a day. You have to, because you always have FB messages in your email that must be responded to. And, you’ve lowered your standards with regard to friends . . . if you knew them for a little while at some point in your life they’re fair game. No, that still doesn’t include your kids’ friends from high school. But it does count people who are out of your life, and would always be, had FB not caused you to reconnect. Usually this is a one-night stand. You connect, take a look at their kids and check out what they’re doing with their lives. You exchange a “hi; it’s great to see you . . .I can’t believe how grown up Susie is” and that’s the end of that. Those are the inactive friends. But they up your friend count to a respectable hundred.
But there’s also the core group of friends that you spend quite a bit of time interacting with. You check out their status, go to their links or join their groups, take the quizzes they recommend, make comments on their photos or on their comments. Often you do a status update or make random comments just to stay engaged; you enjoy it. That’s called the time-suck. And if you’re really fortunate, you might find someone who’s been “lost” to you for a very long time with whom you can reconnect because it’s safe. Sending a friend request on FB is not nearly as courageous an act as picking up the phone to call someone you haven’t been in touch with for ten years. And the result can be immensely gratifying.
Then, suddenly, two or three days go by when no one contacts you. It’s like FB stopped, except it didn’t. It just stopped for you. And you feel abandoned. Rationally you know that the activity will start again, that people are just busy with real life, or busy connecting with new people but for a split second you feel unpopular—like the wallflower at the high school dance. Oh, sure, you do finally get asked to dance again, but it gives you a frightening insight into just how important Facebook has become to you. You will need to wean yourself away from it, because you can’t let that happen again.
But while this has been going on, all the other forms of social media have also begun to kick in and compete for your time. You don’t really “get” Twitter; no one seems to connect personally with you there. But you go to the page of someone you respect, and decide to follow the people they are following. Eventually you get caught up in the followers and following bit . . . and before you know it, this is what happens.
You get an email notification that PRWriterChick is now following you on Twitter. Well, you just can’t let any old person follow you; you have to check them out. When you do, you discover that PRWriterChick is really quite talented; she’s written some terrific blogs. You know that because you spend a half hour reading them. Then, you figure that whomever she’s following must be pretty interesting too. And some of them are. In fact, after you follow several of their tweets, and then go to their tinyurls, you have taken in so much new and fascinating information that your mind is reeling. And, an hour later you’ve found two or three people you just have to follow.
As if that weren’t enough, you’ve now been identified as a writer on both Twitter and LinkedIn, which are both more about what you do than who you are, so you start to receive invitations to join specific groups. The groups center on your occupation in two ways: what you actually do, and for whom or what you do it. And when you investigate them, you realize that they contain up-to-date news and vital insights into your profession; clearly, you HAVE to join them.
Consequently, you now get daily newsletters, all of which contain at least six or seven separate blogs, each focused on communications, writing, speechwriting, public relations, higher education, or any combination of same. You get one from Writing Mafia, one from Podium Pundits, one from Quintilian Speechwriters Group, one from Public Relations and Communications Professionals, one from Vital Speeches of the Day, one from The Chronicle of Higher Education, one from Inside Higher Education, and one from Ragan Communications. And that’s because you’ve been very selective; you’ve narrowed the list down to a special few.
And although many of the articles—sorry, blogs—don’t intrigue you, many do, so you can’t help clicking on them and reading what bits of wisdom they have to impart. Often, this results in following several links within the blog, because, after all, this is the internet . . .designed intentionally to take you further and further afield from where you started . . . exposing more and more pages on more and more sites, presumably ad infinitum. You follow the provocative links until you suddenly realize that another hour has slipped away and you could do this forever. You could simply continue to learn about what everybody else is doing and thinking, or what their status is, or what they just accomplished . . . until it hits you that YOU haven’t accomplished a thing.
There’s your job, of course, that takes between eight to ten hours a day. There are groceries to buy, the dogs to walk, the book you’re dying to finish, bills to pay and dinner to cook. You have to wash your hair, the laundry’s piling up and you need to make those phone calls you keep putting off. You have family and friends, close ones, who aren’t on FB; you can’t neglect them. And, some time within the next ten days, you’re going to have to write your column (should you start calling it a blog?) and do your taxes. And that doesn’t even take into account the things you know contribute to your overall wellbeing—prayer and exercise—but on which you’ve fallen short lately.
In fact, you’ve fallen short on a lot. It’s 80 degrees and sunny and you haven’t been out for two days, except to scoop the poop. You’ve become the computer nerd you never imagined you could be. You’re life has run amok, your priorities are upside down, but it’s not too late to fix it. You’ve kicked worse habits before. You vow to get back to basics, to reward yourself with one hour of social media only after you’ve done the things that really matter. You need to be a disciplined person. You ask God to help you with that . . . see, you’re already back to praying.
You decide to get dressed and go out and enjoy the weekend away from the computer and you feel cleansed, renewed, determined . . .but wait! Just one more minute to check out your online bracket challenge because you’re really into March Madness and you have to know where you stand . . . and then you can get on with your life.
Or can you? Your cell alerts you to a new message and it’s time to start texting, because yes, you’ve finally become a texter. You’re trying to get it all together so you can go out to do some errands when a friend calls on your land line and you give her twenty minutes because she needs you . . .and now you’re behind schedule. OK, where were you? Oh, don’t forget the stuff you need to take to the cleaners . . .you’re almost on the way out but then there’s that check you should deposit at the bank . . . so you sit down and fill out the deposit slip and now you’re really behind so you’ll have to put off two of the items on your To Do list. Three . . . because you forgot to program the DVR.
And as you’re wondering how in the world everyone else does it, you’re forced to admit that if you didn’t give in to that other huge time suck . . . the American Idols and 24s and Grey’s Anatomies of the night, you just might be able to fit it all in. Except, you refuse to relinquish that glorious, mindless downtime. You can’t be productive at night anyway; your mind has turned to mush. So you lie on the couch and fast-forward through the commercials to take in as much as you can until your eyes are like slits. Get up, check your email one last time, shake your head at the mess your office has become, and add one more thing to your To Do list. And as you crawl into bed and hit the pillow with a grateful thud, you have your final fleeting thought. There’s always tomorrow.