This post was first published on PandoDaily.
It seems like every week there’s a new study or article published bemoaning our hyper-networked existence. Social media, and Facebook in particular, makes us lonely, fuels FOMO (fear of missing out), and turns our lives into continuous digital highlight reels.
In many ways, the pendulum of digital connection has swung out too far. We’re realizing just how much time we spend watching the lives of others scroll by and we’re exhausted by the demands of being “always on.”
How bad has it gotten? There’s been a recent push in the medical community to acknowledge Internet addiction as a recognized disease, and this viral video on our dependence on our screens has racked up more than 24 million views in less than a month. Yep, it’s that bad. We let things get out of control, and we’re searching for a solution.
For many, the quick answer to combatting digital exhaustion is to call it quits from social networking before our brains sink too far into the shallows. A long list of people have temporarily left the social sphere, while a handful of trailblazers like Paul Miller and Baritunde Thurston have disconnected completely — and lived to tell about it. I salute these quitters and dream of a world in which I could also drop off the grid and return to a time when my phone didn’t feel like an extra appendage.
But is quitting the digital world a realistic option? No way.
As Paul Miller states after a yearlong Internet hiatus, “the Internet is where people are.” In today’s networked world, shutting yourself off means disconnecting from real people that aren’t willing (or able) to return to pre-networked life with you. In thinking you can leave your digital life behind, you’re placating yourself with a temporary and unsustainable solution to a real problem.
So if quitting isn’t the answer, how do we cure the social media hangover that many of us are feeling today? The solution isn’t to purge social media from our lives because of some negative side effects with current technology. Instead, the next time you feel like calling it quits, I suggest the following.
First, get some f^#&ing self-control
Think of social media like a nice bottle of whiskey. You don’t down the whole bottle alone in your basement. That’s bad. You break it out and have a glass with friends to help fuel conversation and connection. That’s good.
Having trouble moderating your use of social technology? Try these simple tricks:
- Put your phone down or away (or off) when you’re eating, talking, or spending time in the “real world” with others
- Avoid continuous partial attention and focus on one thing at a time
- Instead of treating every experience as an opportunity to add to your digital highlight reel, be present and enjoy the moment
- Give yourself space everyday — away from the buzzing and bleeping — for face-to-face conversations and private thought
In other words, use social software thoughtfully, both as a consumer and creator of digital content — just because you can live tweet everything that happens to you in real time doesn’t mean that you should. Make your devices work for you instead of being a slave to the constant demands of your device and networks.
Second, demand and seek out better social technology
Instead of continually complaining about how social media is bad in its current form, why don’t more people ask for better or different kinds of social software? I’ve spent my entire career in the tech start-up world, and I truly believe that technology exists to make our lives better. But I also know that our social software and networks need to do a better job of serving our full range of social needs.
Think of modern social networking like television — if every channel played nothing but reality shows, would you give up TV forever, or would you demand and search for better programming? We need more “PBS Frontline” to help balance out the Kardashians. “Amish Mafia” doesn’t make me want to cut the cord; it makes me want to change the channel. But unfortunately (or fortunately if you are an entrepreneur), we are still desperately in need of more options to “change the channel” in the social networking world.
So come on free market– give us some different/better/more social software options that help us to use social media in beneficial ways.
This isn’t to say that innovation isn’t happening now. SnapChat, for example, tackled the permanence of our digital record by creating an ephemeral image-sharing app. Now my daughters can send silly pictures of themselves to their friends without worrying about future employers seeing them. That’s a better option for certain situations. Facebook is offering more advanced filtering systems for hiding content we don’t care about or tuning out friends that over share. More goodness.
But are these the ground breaking innovations we all need to help cure our digital hangover?
One group that seems completely overlooked in today’s social media landscape is our face-to-face friends and family. We have lots of great tools like Facebook to make our digital friends who aren’t nearby a priority. LinkedIn does a fantastic job of making our professional network a priority and focus.
But what about our face-to-face friends and family? Don’t they deserve a dedicated place? As David Roberts wrote in an article on how deep social connections contribute to our happiness:
“We have all sorts of infrastructure and institutions available for people who want to learn how to get a better job or make more money. But we have lamentably little for people who want to know how to foster more and better relationships, how to find meaning and a sense of accomplishment.”
If our social connections are the key to happiness, as Roberts suggests, why don’t we have better tools for strengthening our most important face to face relationships in addition to maintaining hundreds or even thousands of purely digital connections? We need technology that helps us make quality time with friends and family in the real world a priority.
It’s time to stop talking about quitting social media and start demanding social software that encourages us to connect with one another on a deeper level and lead richer lives. My team and I are working hard to make social software do more for us. So come on, free market. Let’s continue to make our new world better.
Who’s with me?