An Unexpected End To My Social Media Experiment

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As you probably know, on January 1st I announced I was taking a year off social media. My goal was to use the time to slow life down and focus on building more meaningful relationships with the people around me. Well, after 222 days of no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Google+, I’ve decided to end my experiment.

Here’s what happened…

The first few months were great. I even wrote a post about everything I’d learned and how well it was going. Shortly after that, however, things started to take a turn. Work got crazy. I was doing a lot of traveling. I was trying to help organize the Nashville WordCamp while juggling other personal projects, and the changes I made in my diet were starting to zap what little energy I had left. As a result, I got tunnel vision and let my friendships slip. I was going weeks at a time without investing in any relationship other than my marriage (thankfully I didn’t start neglecting that one!). Not only did this defeat the point of my experiment, it made me feel increasingly isolated and depressed. Not fun.

Finally, it all came to a head when I started secretly planning my Amy’s 30th birthday party. I needed an easy way to coordinate with my co-conspirators, so I created a fake, temporary Facebook account. I quickly realized that not only was this ridiculous, it still didn’t help me much because I wasn’t FB friends with anyone I wanted to invite to the party, so I gave up and reactivated my FB account.

A healthy dose of reality

When I started this social media experiment, I had grand expectations for the profound, life-changing insights I’d gain and all the creative ways to replace social media that I’d be able to share with everyone. As usual, I had to give myself a reality check. First of all, I’m not particularly profound or insightful 😉 Second, social media plays a much different role in my relationships than I originally thought. It was easy for me to blame social media for my inability to invest in other people, but the truth is I’m the one to blame. I took social media away and I was still bad at relationships. I’m very task-oriented. I often get consumed with everything I need to get done and can only see what’s right in front of my face. Because of that I have to work harder at relationships than some other people. In this regard, social media actually helps me be a better friend because it periodically brings people back into my field of vision. I failed before because I didn’t take the initiative to reach out to people when I was prompted—I became content to let social media replace my relationships instead of supplement them.

Finally, I never came up with any real solutions to fill the gaps that turning off social media left, and the longer I went the less time and energy I had to find any. In the meantime, I was sinking into a social black hole. Even though I knew I could make it until the end of the year through sheer stubbornness, I started to wonder if it was worth it. I would just be doing it to say I did it, but my friendships mean more to me than my pride. We created social media for a reason. It met a need that couldn’t be met through existing means. I’d spent so much time focusing on its pitfalls that I glossed over the ways I could leverage it to enhance my life, and the lives of those around me.

Haters gonna hate

How many times have you heard someone say, “I hate Facebook”? How many times have you said it? My experiment sparked a lot of great conversations about social media, and every single one of them included that statement in some form or another. At first I used this as a common ground to start bashing on social media and talk about how much I hate Facebook too. However, the more the topic came up the more I started digging a little deeper. When I asked them why they hated Facebook, they would talk about all the “crazy people” on there, the drama, the hurt feelings, the whining, the comparisons, the reductionist/arrogant/ignorant declarations of how the world should be and how they should be living their life. Gradually, I realized it’s not Facebook people have a problem with, it’s the people on Facebook. That may seem obvious, but the semantics here are important because it shifts the focus from the platform to the people. After all, what is Facebook without people?

But wait, what people are we talking about here, exactly? Are these some faceless masses out there in the ether? Are they some anonymous deviants whose one goal in life is to force feed us nonsense until we go mad? No, these are people we call friends and family. These are people we know. They’re our people. What’s more, do you know the one friend that every person I talked to had in common? Me. I am one of their people. And they’re one of mine. We can talk about how we hate Facebook all day, but if say we hate our friends and family it becomes a different conversation entirely.

I plan to write a post soon that delves into this further, but in the meantime I’d like you to consider this statement for a minute: You are Facebook. You’re what makes it great and you’re what makes it drive people crazy. So am I. So are all of us. Every time we type into that little box we’re either adding value to the world or detracting from it. The choice is ours. I think we have a lot more power than any of us realize. And as I learned from my favorite childhood superhero, with that power comes responsibility. Let’s remember this each time we choose to engage.

Failure = Success

Even though I’m not finishing out the year, I learned a lot about myself and how social media affects me. My original reasons for turning it off are still valid. I let it create too much noise in my life and take up too much of my time. Turning it off for a while helped me gain enough perspective to appreciate the benefits of social media while maintaining awareness of when it starts crossing the line of doing more harm than good. In the end, I consider the experiment a great success. Thanks for following along with me on this journey!

 

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