Confessions of a social media addict

Admitting you have a problem is the hardest part. Or so they say.

“Hi, my name is Ben, and I am addicted to social networking”. Okay, so I’ve never actually stood up in a room and said that but I often feel that I should. You might say that my ‘problem’ started in 2004, when I became fascinated by social media. First it was MySpace, then Facebook, then LinkedIn (strictly for business, of course). Then came Twitter.

Now for me in 2011, a regular day sees me tweet at least five times, have a couple of discussions on Linkedin, and liaise with friends and family via Facebook. Typically at least two hours of my day is spent doing online ‘social networking’ – that works out at a staggering 832 hours or 35 days a year!

I know I’m not the only one with this problem. I communicate for a living, so I have an excuse for being an early Twitter and Facebook adopter. But whole groups of my friends only ever communicate with one another via social media. We are the social media addicts who, whilst in the pub, at a concert or at a party are thinking about how to describe said event in 140 witty characters. I think the time has come to make a change…

Is there any way back from here?

There are many reasons why social media has become so popular. For me, it provides a way to stay in touch with a variety of people with a minimum amount of effort. In just a few clicks I can post photos of my life or make a quick comment to a friend. It’s much easier than picking up the phone and actually talking! But where social media really comes into its own is that it allows me to keep in contact with people that are spread out all over the world.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Sciences at MIT, recently published a book – Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Professor Turkle looks at the impact technology has had on our daily lives and how we need to use it to actually empower relationships, rather than harm them. Sherry notes that technology “makes it easy to communicate” but also to “disengage at will”. She cites real examples of mourners sending text messages during a funeral – such was the grasp that technology had on them.

This is where the challenge comes in – to use social media to enhance relationships and not detract from them. I know that I’m guilty of tweeting, posting, or trawling through status updates when I should be engaging with a friend or family member face-to-face. Although I’m there in person, I’m on my Smartphone in my own little ‘social media land’.

With Twitter, things are taken one step further. The sheer speed at which one’s Twitter timeline updates itself makes me feel like there’s a danger that stepping away from the monitor will mean I miss an all-important piece of information that could transform my life! I know I need to cut down, but going ‘cold turkey’ simply isn’t an option. Working in PR means that social media has become a key part of what I do.

According to Mark Shaw, the UK’s Twitter expert, I should try to have clear aims at the outset whenever I use social media. In his recent book, Twitter Your Business, he explains that Twitter can be beneficial to business only when used in a clear and disciplined way. I like what he says and so I have set a challenge for myself – ‘less is more’.

This is my challenge: I will pledge to limit my time spent online and to be in control of it, rather letting it control me. Taking the lead from Mark, I will clearly determine why I am using social media and not get distracted by all the ‘noise’. I’m going to endeavor to use this technology to engage and build relationships with the right people and have the right conversations. I will look for ways to add value to online conversations.

So if you’re like me and have been suffering from similar symptoms – why not join me in my challenge? Let’s try to use social media to enhance relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

That’s what it’s supposed to be there for, after all.

guru_front_page-213x300The above article was originally published in Issue 1 of Guru Magazine, a digital science lifestyle magazine that is now supported by Wellcome Trust. 

Guru is a world first – a ‘science lifestyle’ magazine – offering compelling content but without the ‘geek’ factor you get in a regular science publication. It’s authoritative and everything is presented in a light-hearted and fun style. More like a lifestyle magazine really…