A picture uploaded here, a status update there… social media began as a novelty in my life and grew into a full blown distraction. Waiting at the carwash, in line at the grocery store, before the kids get let out from school — those all used to be times where I could think or talk to someone. Crazy, right? Now, all that time is spent refreshing my Facebook page to see who responded to my latest observation, or who “liked” my last upload to Instagram. And when I look around, it seems like everyone else doing the same thing.
On the surface, it seems like social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have a noble goal — to connect us with friends, family and people who share our interests. And with over 800 million people on Facebook alone, chances are good that anyone you want to connect with is just a “like” away. But the urge to share can easily become compulsive. The results of a recent experiment conducted by a team from Chicago University’s Booth Business School suggests social media can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.
What? That’s crazy, I couldn’t possibly be addicted— wait, let me poll my Facebook friends and see what they think. Sigh. The behavior might be slightly less health-hazardous than the aforementioned vices, but the out-of-control compulsion to check in every few minutes feels a lot like addiction to me.
What about you? Do you crave the feedback you get from sharing your life online? Are you refreshing your page often to see how many people “liked” what you posted? Do you tend to make decisions (new dress, new job, new hairdo, new boyfriend) by committee? If you do, you’re not alone. It’s validating, encouraging, and really easy to indulge in the power that comes from broadcasting your thoughts to a large group of people. (Why do you think fame is so seductive? It’s fun to have a big megaphone to spread your message, and with social media, everyone has one.)
Okay, okay, so between Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest, I share many little bits of my life. Think about your social streams and the volume of your posting. Ask yourself some questions and answer them honestly. Are you sharing… or over-sharing? Was that “genius insight” really just a bout of late night insomnia? Do you really need to share a picture of every meal? Are you providing value, insight, or entertainment? If not, it’s likely that your followers would appreciate you more if you gave them a bit less. Also, how has social media affected your routine: Are your online friends being greeted before the person lying next to you? Are they the last people you speak to before bed? And do errands, projects and time with friends fall by the wayside due to chunks time lost to pinning, posting and tagging? Those are some red flags.
As with all things, the key is to find balance. It’s easy to become antisocial and less present in an attempt to be highly social using these new media tools. Consider taking a day off. A friend of mine “unplugs” every Friday and doesn’t post on or check in with any social space all day. (Hint: If that idea gives you hives, it could be a clue to a deeper problem.) A day away could help you connect more in real life and you may find inspiration for better quality sharing. Quality over quantity should be your rule of thumb moving forward.
As for me, I’m going to try not to shoo my kids away while I’m commenting on people’s posts anymore, and I’m going to work on fostering my real-life relationships more than my digital ones. And while I don’t think I could go cold turkey and unplug for an entire day, perhaps it’s time to restrict my check-ins to a few times a day, and resist the temptation to be ever-present online. At least, that’s what my support group says…