Question: Can you disengage from social networks?

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Late last summer Chris invited me to get on the luddite bandwaggon and drop Twitter and Facebook. Chris is a blogger and makes videos, so “luddite” is somewhat relative. But here am I, having a massive change of heart after promoting the use of online social networks to my local community of teachers.

Some time ago Karenne Sylvester created a thought-provoking survey on how much time her readers were spending online. Thinking through my own habits I was frankly shamed by how much time I was investing in reading other people’s blogs and comments. I really wanted to do the right thing by this new world of professional networking, but it left me with far too little time for the world around me. So I’ve decided to reduce my time online drastically in 2010, and see my friends more, read more, and get back to making music. That means a lot less time for engagement. I have alotted exactly one hour a day to online networking.

So, at the risk of alienating the lovely colleagues I have met or reconnected with online through social networks, I confess: Social networking is beginning to annoy me. Like anything you don’t have time for, it’s there, whining, tugging at my sleeves. I find myself reconfiguring my email settings to make smart mailboxes that collect all notifications from my various e-lists and drop them in a deep black hole, deleting them from my in-box range of vision. The mailboxes could let me catch up later, but I find that in the past month I haven’t, because it’s simply too time-consuming to be truly convenient. Should I skim through those emails one day, the discussions would be long over. And who wants yesterday’s papers? And these days, last week feels like last year.

Online smalltalk, if you are not engaging with your contacts, is just other people giving each other strokes, noisily. And not engaging means using the networks mainly for self-promotion, to post new articles, which is frowned upon. As I disengage on Twitter, people are starting to unfollow me. Unfriending on Facebook is sure to follow.

Social networking has given this blog a far more real and 3D community. Without my Twitter and Blog friends I’d be talking to myself here. So I’m fully aware that this networking fatigue is very ungrateful, and that I should be ashamed of myself. But I’ve got my priorities. Am I destroying something of great value by disengaging? Or am I rightsizing?

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34 Responses

  1. Good question, Anne.

    In answer to the title, yes I think you can – I used to be a very active member of a particular online community, from which I have a number of genuine real life friends now. However I withdrew from this community last year (though not from the actual friendships), and while it was hard work not to check back regularly I now feel that I’m free of it.

    And in general, I think these things go in cycles. You may find yourself coming back after a few weeks or months off and finding your networks afresh. Or you may not. Either way, you’ve nothing do be ashamed of.

    Enjoy your newfound time!

  2. Thank you, Andy! I can see how you would make friends and move on, as we do in the “real world”, too. It’s a bit tricky, though, online, because we are just developing our social manners here and it’s sometimes hard to “read” relationships. Thank heaven for events where we can meet up and check out where we are and want to be.

    Yes, I’m really enjoing my extra hour with the keyboard! And no more emails to friends in town. It’s onto the phone and then bike and get on over there.

    PS: I’ll add Karenne’s survey link asap.

  3. Hello Anne, a very good question! But no you don’t have to be ashamed of anything, you do what you think is right for you, and if it’s right for you, surely it’s right for the people around you, including your twitter chums! I like chatting and small talk, because it’s written small talk and I learn a lot of everyday English that way, and I love all the great teachers I could not have met otherwise without twitter. But I’m just new to it, and I know it won’t aways be that way. So don’t you worry too much, and enjoy your cycling! I’m so glad I met you.

  4. Nice one, Anne!

    I think you’ve put into words something that a lot of blogging tweeters (sounds like a euphemistic insult!) are thinking.

    There’s clearly a lot of blog re-thinking going on at the moment, maybe it’s something to do with then end of the Noughties and the advent of the Teenies.

    I also made an NY resolution to re-balance real-life and online-life. As a very small example, I was aware that Dede and I hadn’t kept up our ‘go see a movie every Friday’ thing during the latter part of 2009, so checked in my diary, and discovered the last visit to the cinema was on 2nd October.

    Is that somehow related to real-life/online balance? Not sure, but it’s something one can put right, so I will.

    But will I stop blogging and tweeting altogether? No, definitely not. But will definitely ‘get out more’.

    All the best for 2010.


  5. Dear Alice,
    It’s so motivating reading your blog and finding your comments here on mine. You really make it fun to connect online. And I know that Twitter notifications have made it all possible. I would never have discovered your blog without our tweets. Now it’s just a matter of being very selective to stay in touch and get the most out of the many possibilities!

    Dear Ken,
    I know exactly what you mean. Helmut and I sometimes sit there, each of us engrossed in a laptop, silently putting off what we were going to do together. But making music together is so much fun…

    A wonderful 2010, with just the right balance, to all !!

  6. Hi Anne

    This is an excellent reflective post and great food for thought. In fact tonight, I experienced what you expressed so poignantly above.

    “Helmut and I sometimes sit there, each of us engrossed in a laptop, silently putting off what we were going to do together. But making music together is so much fun…”

    Substitute the above for “Karl and I sometimes sit there, each of us engrossed in a laptop, silently putting off what we were going to do together”. But chatting about our imminent chicks is so much more fun……..”

    Tonight, at approximately 10pm, I was so engrossed in my Moodle course and my Images4Education course and my Blog Sidebar, and my GoogleWave posts and my Twitter Stream and my……… that I hardly noticed the lovely, chilled Montepulciano D’Abruzzo glass of wine that Karl gently put on my work bench without saying a word, possibly for fear of disrupting my intense concentration, until I read your post. Then it suddenly HIT me. Am I neglecting my “real” life for my online life? It is making me think.

    Take care


  7. pic/slide whatever it was, coming soon… i think you’re thinking of something I did for the elt blogger’s carnival, but yes, you’re right: so much flew by last year I don’t remember all (hence the new wiki concept)…and where to find it!

    Na ja, I agree with you in part and will be doing same (or differently) I guess, without question: less twitter – more writing tho’ (and perhaps even going back to some of my creative work… just before Christmas I wrote a poem to my unborn art, was so pleased but then never went back to edit…)


  8. Dear Chris,
    ^^ See you on your blog 🙂

    Dear Janet,
    Your intense concentration is a very good sign. Those are excellent areas to be developing your professional skills in.

    So, speaking for myself now, I think “quality time spent online” is something very different from “time spent online”. I often bum around from blog to blog and link to link, just lapping it all up and enjoying what people write, surfing round and thinking about all sorts of different things but not really putting it together with any depth of focus. I guess that’s what I’m looking for: Greater focus.
    BTW, I’m working in Moodle, too, and will be checking out your blog to see if you’re up to the same sort of thing…

    Dear Karenne,
    More writing sounds good! Your blog is creative work, I especially enjoy reading it when you dig deeper. “Yes” to more downtime 🙂

    You’ve put in months of work promoting teacher networks. All of the different teacher “chatrooms” (FB, Nings including yours, Moodles, blogs) are connected through Twitter, so we need to spend at least some time there. But, yes: less!

    On the other hand – and this is what worries me: Mingling is an important part of networking. You can’t power-mingle. So it’s a trade-off.

  9. Anne,
    Thrilled to have met you via your blog and social networks, and sure that minus tweets and friendship, the friendship (and all your other friendships) won’t disappear or go away.
    It may take me a little longer to find your new posts without twitter, but I’m on overload and can’t keep up with tweets everyday either. I’ll be using my bookmarks to return, and if you can bear with the lag, that’ll suit me better too. So I say go write nice stuff!

  10. I gave this some thought for the New Year too. Actually I wanted to get back to my blogging, which was flagging a bit because of involvement in Twitter and Facebook. I think an hour a day is perfectly reasonable and what we need to remember about ALL of these online platforms is that they are what we want to make them.
    When we are starting to feel too much pressure to “keep up,” it’s time to examine what we’re putting into them and what we’re getting out of them.

    I’ve enjoyed our Twitter contacts, I will not unfriend you but will make sure I have a link to your blog somewhere! Enjoy making music!

  11. Dear Anne,

    We COULD have spent the best part of the last ten years chatting to each other here, on Twitter, there and everywhere, just to wake up one day and realize that life has just slipped by with our real relationships feeling neglected, or not there any longer.

    I’m equally guilty of ‘bumming’ around, lapping it all up with no rhyme or reason, just learning, catching up – must be because I feel there is some gap there in my learning, otherwise why such a rush?

    I must resist the temptation – it’s easier not to jump on the bicycle, not to go out….


    But Vicky “told me” about this post on Twitter.

    Maybe I should get my act together better with RSS feeds etc.

    But you are right. A lot of us are feeling that way. Am lucky it’s only been going on for a few months.

    And some friendships may remain and grow. Surely, that is some value to my life which wasn’t there before?

    And if they were there just for me to showcase their “interactions”, well, who needs those relationships anyway…

  12. In case it’s of interest, I read something somewhere about regrets. In surveys, when young people talk about regrets, they tend to mention things they regret they have done. Older people, mention things they regret not doing.

  13. Anne!

    This was a great post, but be careful! Since I resolved to re-prioritize my life, I haven’t ‘had time’ for a single blog post. (There’s one coming, with material that I’m making for ‘real’ students.) It’s easy to lose the ‘online’ world if you don’t, you know, live in it. (Like college, it seems to fade faster than you’d think.)

    But, that said, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m doing a lot of things now, that I never had time for when I was making my online life a priority. . . I’m better in shape (though not ‘there,’ yet) I write my short stories, I’m reading more, I have a lot more time to make my son smile. . .

    I don’t regret rightsizing and, unfortunately, I’m one of those people who believe that ‘what’s right for me is right for everybody.’ So, congrats!

    Please, try to post sometime later and let us know how you feel about the experiment.

  14. Dear Vicky, dear Betty, dear Marisa,

    It’s been marvellous meeting you and this network of intensely rewarding contacts. We sort of need a new word for our social networking friends, don’t we? It’s a very new quality of communication that has emerged, and I wouldn’t want to go back to the time before. Marisa, like you I feel this is obviously responding to a need, otherwise we wouldn’t have rushed in.

    So it really must be rightsizing and employing effective tools to avoid overload. I’ve already answered the essential question “to twitter or not to twitter?” with a resounding “yes to twitter!” as it’s currently the hinge for all the other networks. But less time there means more time for blogging and actual reading. I’m with you, Betty! Just keep posting your blogposts on Twitter!

    I think delayed response is fine, Vicky, there’s frankly no other way to keep up! I’m spending more time with Google Reader these days than with Twitter. I feed all of the blogs I read in there. In Google Reader I can then go through several posts at a time and zone in on what that blogger is thinking. This seems more productive, letting me concentrate and form clearer ideas than bouncing around conversations.

    About showcasing relationships, Marisa, that’s tricky. We were brought up to have good manners, right? Here we are, just finding our feet here online. Have you ever lain awake at night worrying “did I thank everyone who retweeted my tweets?” Or whether you’ve retweeted enough tweets to show that you do appreciate your PLN? There’s a new syndrome out there, let’s call it SNNS – the Social Networking Neurosis Syndrome 😉

    Thanks everyone for not biting my head off over this. It’s a measure of the friendships that we have indeed developed using just the networks I seem to be dissing here. Hope it has become apparent that I’m not abandoning ship.

    Have a lovely day and week, everyone!!

  15. Vicki : in French there are two words : “remords” are bad things we have done (or things we see as “bad”) and “regrets” are the things that we haven’t done and regret not doing. There is also a saying “il vaut mieux avoir des remords que des regrets”, better have “remords” than “regrets”.

  16. I wonder if anyone on my social network could identify (without googling) the following quote:
    “Well son, the funny thing about regret is: It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done.”

    I think that would cement my PLN forever and force me to stick around on social networking sites for the rest of my days 🙂

  17. Hi Anne,

    You’ve thanked everyone for not biting your head off for saying what you think, but I think the truth is that I feel very thankful to you for ‘coming out’. I’m feeling the same as you and I’ve dropped Twitter time considerably. But do feel a strange type of guilt. But nowhere near the guilt or regret I feel at the end of day when I don’t know where it’s gone and WHY I haven’t done all those things that really need doing. Let alone LIFE!

    Someone recently was discussing HD TV and saying if you want something that looks 3D and real, stick your head outside the door! Sometimes I feel stupid for forgetting to do that.

    Social networking really is addictive and although it can be very rewarding – professionally, mentally and socially – we have to remember who’s boss in this life.

    Thank you.

  18. I dropped a site I had been spending too much time at. I also periodically cull my blog subscriptions. My attitude is this: if it feels like I’m doing it simply because I have to do it, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it. That goes for blogging too, which is why sometimes my posts are less frequent than at other times. Social media need to supplement and enrich our lives, not take over them.

    One reason I like twitter is that it doesn’t obligate me to do anything more than I feel like. I don’t follow someone just because they are following me, though I check them out, to see if I might want to. I also don’t feel obligated to keep up with everything in my twitter stream, if life is moving too fast for me to do that. Of course, I have kept the number of people I follow much smaller than you, even when you add up my private identity and my two professional identities. But you have to do what is right for you. (FYI, I keep track of these separate identities with a neat little app called tweetie.)

  19. A note to Alice here:
    I didn’t know that! Thanks so much for that Alice. So when Edith Piaf sang “Non, je ne regrette rien” she was singing about remords?
    Love, Vicki

  20. Dear Anne,
    Firstly I am writing this quite soon after you posted not 6 months after like last time lol.. It was indeed interesting reading your post, I seem to have started my blog when things were quite quiet, same goes with Twitter etc., and it was all so lovely and new, that said somehow it has all become too much and very synthetic IMHO, and just like offline after a while you get to sort the good from the bad so to speak. On a positive note I have met (virtually) some very sincere, nice people. Finally, perhaps I ought to answer your question, definitely yes, or else you would probably go insane, perhaps I already have 😉

  21. A note to Vicki (and to everybody who is interested, sorry Anne to invade your blog, I hope it does not look impolite, if it is just erase me).
    You got me thinking about Edith Piaf! the thing is that “regretter” is a verb, but there is no verb for “remords”, only “avoir des remords”, but for the song, “non non je n’ai pas de remords” would have sung a bit odd!!
    So she actually says “no I don’t wish I hadn’t done the things I’ve done”, so you are right, she speaks about remords, *but* she also talks about “regrets” , i.e. : she doesn’t wish she could have done things she did not do : that is absolutely NO regrets at all, lucky woman!

  22. Dear Toby,
    The college comparison is very apt. It’s a special environment, isn’t it? But I think the difference is that we are all grownups, and aren’t trying to pass any tests, so I do think we can be in charge of our time.

    Dear Joanna,
    And your comparison to HD TV is certainly very apt in relation to our physical life experience. But I do think that online networks have a heck of a lot going for them. So much enthisiasm and brainpower and get-up-and-go. I remember when I gave up my museum career to become a trainer I felt like I’d stepped out into a world where things were really happening. Without wanting to sound disrespectful, when I stepped out of my local professional community and met the sharing people online I also had that kind of epiphany. So I know that we are very privileged to be able to make use of these connections.

    Dear Mark,
    The only problem is that culling subscriptions takes a lot more time and effort than adding them. I hate giving up any of the connections I’ve made, since when I just wade in and check them out I generally find something new and interesting wherever I go. Give them up? I put it off. Social networking is a challenge that can turn you into a virtual “messy” 😉

    Dear Aniya,
    Insanity is very relative 😉 I’m not sure the offline world is any different in that respect. We live in a supremely busy world, and it’s a huge treat when we find quiet places to explore. It’s like being the first skier on the mountain in the morning. Or hearing the first bird. Magic!

    Dear Alice + Vicki + Andy,
    Wouldn’t it be lovely to have no regrets, either way? I’m afraid I’m no Piaf. But she is an amazing role model.

    This week, thanks to your warm response, I’ve not been sticking to my one hour a day online rule. Frankly, I’m not sorry. 😉
    Thanks, everyone!!!!!!!

  23. I can completely identify with all of this.

    I’ve also been consciously trying to cut back on the amount of time I spend on Twitter, surfing the net and reading blogs, etc, recently.

    It’s not that I don’t enjoy social networking, because I genuinely do; it’s just that at the moment, there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to keep up with the emails, messages and such that land in my various inboxes, and get on with the work I have to do. Something has to give.

    I think setting an hour a day is a pretty good yardstick, so go for it, Anne! From what you’ve said so far, I’d say it seems to be working for you 🙂

  24. All a very interesting debate. Just to add to it, I have made one very good ” real life” friend through blogging. She only lives two hours or so away, and blogging has been worth it if only for that! I also have made a few true friends whom I have never met, but hope to someday.

    I’m not sure if such strong contacts are made through Twitter…maybe? I guess I don’t know yet.

  25. Nice irony – how much of your hour a day do the comments on this take up?

    Seems like rightsizing to me. I long for my books. I haven’t read in an age. I’ve cheerfully lost all sense of priorities but I know it can’t last.

  26. Dear Dominic, dear Sue,

    The extra time this time round is wisely spent, I think. Like enjoying wine, I find social networking better when you rethink it and cultivate it and turn it into a good habit. We’re in this for the long run, so exactly, Sue, something’s got to give.

    You’ve got to go back to your books, Dominic! I’ve given up TV/ series, pity, but can’t be helped.

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