The word detox usually means to go without so that you can cleanse your body. Well I did a detox of sorts recently, a social media detox. This may sound like social media is a toxin that needs to be eradicated. Wrong. For me instead social media became an out of balance essential in my life. What I needed was to get back to a fresh start, reorient and repurpose my self in the way I connected on line through the various mediums.
I am still a huge fan and lover of the connectedness of all things social media. In my detox I also have had a chance to determine exactly what works and does not work for me. This post is therefore from my perspective and a sharing of this experience and insight. I do not sit here in judgment nor try to be prescriptive. Instead I encourage everyone online to regularly take stock, reevaluate their presence and then go back to basics to ensure that their use of social media is conscious and consistent with your own values and beliefs.
Being someone reading this blog I am also assuming that technically you visit the online world. I also imagine that you may have ventured into social media forums yourself. Some of you may even participate regularly. So this post is in the context of a regular user, not a person who is in the world of social media as a business. I respect that people legitimately work in this space and thus to me justify spending hours at a time online.
For me so far, social media has been an exploratory experiment. I have gone online in different forums for the experience. My approach has been evolving and ad hoc. Perhaps this is why my participation has been up and down and inconsistent. My exploration and participation online consists(ed) of the following:
- three Twitter accounts
- personal Facebook account
- Flickr account
- a few Ning groups
- one serious blog
- one photo blog
- one ‘just for fun’ blog
By no means is this list a long one. However I also found that as I joined each group or service then I would end up adding on other applications or links to each.
Intention to start
For me I had an intention for each forum. I know this may sound strange given the exploratory nature of my movements. However I started out with the following idea:
- Keep my facebook personal
- Use LinkedIn as a strictly business account.
- Play and explore on Twitter.
- Blog to express myself and help others.
Sticking to these intentions is not easy. Adjusting and evolving to match the changes in social media and the changes in me is what makes the whole experience still worthwhile. Yet having an intention allowed me to filter and make decisions along the way that to me felt consistent with my values, beliefs and interests.
Social media is a great teacher
My first observation is that on one level social media is a teacher. In the aggregate social media gives me a daily opportunity to develop and grow as a person. How? The online world of social media challenges me every day to show up as me. When I choose to engage (KEY PHRASE), I also have a choice to be me, reveal all of me or just show a part of me. Choosing not to engage is also a reflection of where I am at. Online is always about being real and self managing levels of disclosure.
Each time I do engage in social media I am experiencing a conscious exchange. I am offering up a part of me and then connecting to the offerings of others. What I share is the risk. How much? When? What? To whom? These questions start to bubble up to the surface. In an experimenting approach the answers to these questions change. One week I might try connecting to lots of random people. Other times to only a few I already know. Irrespective of these questions, choosing to engage means opening up to learning more about me and others.
I also gain from the sharing of others. Depending on who I engage with online, I open myself up to a myriad of motivating, inspiring, informative and real sharings. It is in the act of others also taking the risk online that I benefit from their sharing. I discover new websites, information, stories and perspectives to challenge and push me to expand my thinking.
Social media therefore on one level is about ‘me’. I learn. This is what starts the conversation ironically. Yet on another level it is about ‘we’. If we do not share the me there will never be a we.
Social media as a platform offers us the opportunity to truly help ourselves and help others. So social media is a teacher.
Yet despite the mutual learning experience of social media I noticed one question that stopped bubbling up and got lost - “Why?” It is so easy to be enticed, drawn into the various communities online or conversations. Being a naturally curious person it is like being drawn down the rabbit hole. Soon you are in another world and forget why you were looking in the first place. On one level it might be about the learning or sharing, yet without purpose these sharings lose their impact.
It’s all noise unless you tune in to what you want to hear
One of my biggest realizations during this detox is that information goes by us unless we choose to pay attention. The social media platforms are like a series of radio stations playing different types of music, talk shows on different frequencies. Unless I want to listen, I don’t turn on the radio. The same applies for social media. Unless I want to hear or read what you have to say I don’t tune in. Yet like the radio, I always know that there is something of interest to tune into when I choose.
I noticed that the noise factor can be turned up or turned down and that all of this decision making rested in one person - me/you. I have a choice when and how often I go online. I have a choice whether or not to have email notifications sent to me. I have a choice whether to have a app on my Iphone or not. I have a choice whether to get the noise sent to me or choose to go seek it when I want.
Interestingly until I am clear about what I want to tune into it is all noise. Static interference in my day unless turned off. Likewise the recipricol of this view applies for anyone tuning in or not tuning in to what I share.
So it is in this context that I started my detox. I decided to go cold turkey. Firstly I chose to classify everything coming at me or going out from me as noise, irrespective of my original intention. This may sound drastic but I wanted to be untainted. You know, eliminate all the noise. I chose to disconnect. I chose not to go online to social media sites. I chose to stay unengaged. I chose to not listen to audio programs, engage in online conversations. Read newsletters. You name it. I turned it off.
At first it was really hard. It was like giving up coffee and having withdrawal symptoms. I wanted to check my phone, I wanted to see what my online contacts were doing, I wanted to read the motivational quotes from people I followed.
Yet I remained fully aware and conscious of these feelings and thoughts. By being aware of them I processed them and then made the choice to stay with the detox.
Then I got enticed. I forgot to change my mail settings and next thing I know I am getting emails about messages and updates from conversations I was still engaged in. This would not do. So I had to go online and change my settings. I realised as I did this that the control again is within my hands. All I had to do was check the boxes or undo the feeds and walla I had no more noise.
I had a couple of other moments where I 'needed' to go online. Just had to. At one point in this detox I got really sick, bad flu, bedridden. Not happy. Sometimes bored. So for the fun of it I chose to go online. But to where? In my self imposed limited time I chose to go to the place where I connected with the most meaning and reciprosity. I realized that for many of my friends who are not local I really value the updates that they make online. I really do enjoy reading what they are up to. I also got feedback from those friends who read my updates that they missed me writing what I was up to. Interesting.
Yet mostly I had freedom to redirect my energy elsewhere. My phone was absent of updates. My computer was no longer a distracting temptation. I was newly inspired and focused on creative projects. For the first time in awhile I had free time on my hands. All of the sudden I was immersing myself in the other projects. Time I would normally spend online suddenly was reallocated.
What was it like? At first it was strange. At first it was actually unsettling. I felt quite disconnected, alone and unsure what to do. Yet as I stayed in my discomfort I started to reconnect to me. I started to remember me.
Yes this may sound all new age like and strange but I found me again. This person here has thoughts, feelings and beliefs that were being neglected, diluted and diminished. By taking the time out I got to reconnect to me.
Then another thing happened. I started to connect again with people by phone and email. Ok I did this before, but it also seemed like a good thing to ramp this up. I also connected more with my family.
I also managed to be productive. Well productive in terms of creative output. One project I had put off was creating a new website. I was able to focus on this project and just enjoy the creative project and explore ideas, directions and express me. In fact staying offline during this time helped me collaborate well to create an original expression of me rather than a copy.
Who is online matters
There are two groups of people online - those you personally know and those you don't. Depending on the service and level of public vs privacy of the account, the balance will be either way. It is also a matter of choice. I like both. I like the openness of some forums for random discovery of interesting and inspiring people. I also like the privacy of other forums to mantain a circle of close friends and connections with whom I can stay in touch.
In these groups of people I noticed two things. Firstly, almost all the people I connect with personally and socially do NOT use social media. In fact even though I have coaxed and cajoled my close friends to go online (still many not online even now) only a couple ever really post anything. I found that as I was offline, catching up with my friends in person or by phone was much more gratifying. We had meaningful unfiltered exchanges.
Secondly, I have connected with some truly interesting people online. I would not have had the chance to learn about their business or contribution to this world if not for the connections afforded through social networks.
Yet ultimately whether I like or love the people I connect with I only have so much capacity to connect, communicate and develop relationships. So then it again becomes a matter of choice.
So I am back to being conscious about who I connect with as a matter of time and purpose.
Redeemed as a connector
So this is what I came to realize. Social Media has a purpose. It has a place in all of our lives. Social Media is the connector. Yet ultimately meaningful relationships do not exist in a public forum online for the world to see. Meaningful relationships evolve offline through true, open unfiltered exchange. It is in the phone call or the revealing email/letter, or the face to face meeting over coffee that the emotions come forth, that the true feelings get expressed.
So with this in mind I went back to look at why I am online. It is to still connect, share and learn. There will always be interesting and amazing people to learn from and gain from in connecting. Yet in this context I realise that I only want to share what I feel is right sharing. I only want to open up to the extent that I feel right. I don’t have to share every single little detail all the time. I also learned that for me it is about being true to myself, whether it means engaging one minute or tuning out another. Sometimes sharing trivial, mundane works and other times I get more satisfaction with the meaningful and deep. There is room for all because it is up to me how much I choose to take in or share.
So though ironically I am writing this post and contributing to the furthering of my social media presence, I am choosing to be in balance. I continue to rethink, reevaluate and recheck what online connecting means for me. Yet no matter what I will always be me. By doing so I have the hope that I will continue to discover and learn from other inspiring, interesting and meaningful connections - whether online or offline.