Lately, I’ve figured out that a lot of people are finding themselves slaves to technology – or rather, to social media. I hear of people spending six hours a day (a quarter of their lives!) on Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or whatever.
I hear of people ‘disconnecting’, and deleting their accounts from everything, in order to regain control of their lives.
It’s a classic case of social media becoming the master, not the servant.
Now, that’s really, really sad. These people have not made a statement of strength: they have said that they do not have the ability to keep their own use of social media under control, so they only way they can prevent it taking over is to turn their back on it, including the advantages it offers. I would hesitate to call these people ‘weak’, because it’s such a value-laden word, and knowing your weaknesses and acting accordingly is its own type of strength, but they are certainly worthy of pity.
I can appreciate that it’s very easy to get into this position, and to think, like an alcoholic, that the only way to free yourself from technology-tyranny is to opt out completely, to go teetotal.
So I shall offer a few observations, or recommendations, on how to reap the advantages and rewards of social media without spending your whole life on Facebook.
1. Think, what does each social medium do for you? Really? What would your life lack if you deleted your account, and would you miss it?
Don’t think about it from your current state; think of it how you would like to be. If you have lots of real long-distance friends or relatives, then don’t give up your Skype or Facebook – it can be a cheap and convenient way of keeping in touch. But if the only people you interact with on Facebook are people you see or speak to in Real Life every day, then what does Facebook add?
I don’t have a Pinterest account because I’m not interested in collecting pictures, and I don’t have a StumbleUpon account because I’m quite good at searching the internet on my own for anything I might require. I have a Facebook account because it’s a useful way of contacting people, or of being contacted.
Do any of your social media subscriptions duplicate each other? If so, delete the one that’s least useful.
If you are in a servant-position, and you’re finding it difficult to evaluate what you need and what you don’t, then taking a couple of weeks of complete abstinence might help you get some perspective, help you realise which bits you really missed and which bits you hardly noticed were gone. But re-activating subscriptions that you really do find useful isn’t giving in, or being weak: it’s asserting your mastery, your determination not to deprive yourself of the advantages.
2. Don’t leave Facebook (or anything else, as relevant) running in the background when you’re working on the computer.
If you don’t get notified of people’s minute-by-minute status updates, you won’t feel you have to go and look at their pages, or comment. You can deal with that stuff more efficiently by allocating a short time each day to keep with anyone you need to keep up with.
3. Don’t be available.
The easiest method of not spending your time instant-messaging people instead of doing things you’d rather be doing is not to be available. Likewise, if you don’t want your mobile phone to ring while you’re at the cinema, switch it off. If you’ve got a smartphone, there should be an airplane setting where you can keep it on to use all the useful stuff without actually receiving calls. Remember, you have a right to privacy. Not being constantly available to everyone in the world is not rude.
Also, remember: If it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message. If it’s not, they shouldn’t have been bothering you in the first place.
4. Don’t start playing online games/get loads of free apps just because they’re free.
These things always end up consuming more time than you think. Think, what are you really getting out of spending all that time playing Angry Birds? Everybody needs a bit of relaxation, but it’s not relaxation if you’re finding the temptation for just one more round too strong, or you’re playing minesweeper instead of getting on with your work, or interacting with, you know, Real People.
5. Keep your social network under control.
Do you really need to stay in contact with everyone you meet your whole life, from the kid who was in the next crib to you in the labour ward onwards? The bigger your social network, the more effort you have to put into maintaining it. With Facebook, it gets worse, because the site sends you notifications when your ‘friends’ update statuses and things. (Can you turn this off? If so, do it. For people you’re really interested in, you can go and look and see how they’re doing.) Ditch contact details for people you met once and are never likely to meet (or want to contact) again. Keep only those people you value, and who value you. This doesn’t mean just your best-best-best-ever friends and first-degree relatives; it means, that guy you met in a bar eight years ago and haven’t spoken to since – ditch him. He’s just cluttering up your system. It’s not an insult; it’s an acknowledgement that you can’t be ‘social’ with the whole world.
6. When you use technology, make it work for a living.
Can you use technology to save you time? If you have to keep updated in a particular area, can you subscribe to a news service that will find all the important news and deliver it to you so you don’t have to go looking? If you don’t have to read everything every day, at least you can then look at the headlines and only read what you need. And you’ll know it’s there if you need to find it again later.
Use an electronic to-do list program that will help you keep track of everything, including your deadlines. Life gets much more controllable when you’ve got it all pinned down in a list where tasks can’t writhe around and multiply without your permission. Deadlines never come pouncing out of the undergrowth at you, stressing you out. You can see them coming and beat them before they even get to you.
7. Don’t work harder; work smarter.
Constructive laziness, that is the key. Can you get the same result with less work?
Blogging, for example. I try to write a post every day. But if I have two ideas in one day, I don’t necessarily publish them both that day. The first idea will get published, but the second idea gets written up while I have the time, but set to publish itself at a pre-set time the following day. Then, if ‘tomorrow’ is busy, I’m still good – I’ve kept my blog alive but I haven’t had to take time out of an already crazy day to do it. You also save time and increase quality this way; the good posts get written, but you don’t feel you have to write something not-so-good because you need to post something but inspiration hasn’t happened.
What, you didn’t think I get up before 6am every day to do Thought for the Day did you? Nah, that generally gets written the night before. On the days I’m up at 5.30am, I need to get out of the house quick to get to work, so I still don’t have time.
Can you use technology to make your life easier, or, better yet, to do some of your work for you?
8. Keep reviewing.
Time can be spent as easily – or more easily – than money. We know to watch our money expenditures, but it’s easy to see time as free. Time is a resource; you need to spend it wisely. Take the time ( 🙂 ) every now and then to re-evaluate your use of technology. Can you ditch any of it? Are any bad habits creeping in? Conversely, has something new been developed that you can use to your advantage?
9. Set a good example.
I don’t have kids, but I vividly remember my childhood, and being fifteen (years, not months) before I had my first tape-player. And one tape. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat which I played over and over again until everyone was sick of it. I didn’t have a TV in my room, either, and I was about the same age when I dared to turn the TV on without parental permission. I grew up reading books rather than watching TV, and with a lot of hobbies involving real things like crafts and playing musical instruments.
OK, that was then and this is now. The internet, and web-2, are part of life. It would be wrong to cut children off from this, not only because they need to know all this stuff to be able to keep up with their friends at school, but also because it’ll be vital for later life. But if Mummy and Daddy aren’t in control of their own use of the internet and social media, how will children learn to keep their own balance?
10. Remember you are an individual.
Different people have different needs when it comes to technology and connectedness. If your friend has an account with every type of social media going, and spends hours on the internet, that’s not necessarily because she can’t control it (although it might be); it might be because her job needs her to be that connected, and every minute spent on social media is a minute well spent. Authors spring to mind – they need publicity; they can’t afford to only communicate with good friends. On the other hand, if your other friend doesn’t own a computer and only has a mobile phone in case she breaks down in the car, it’s not necessarily because she’s either mega-in-control or a techno-luddite. Maybe her social connectedness is all done on the land-line and in person and Facebook and so on wouldn’t add anything.
Different people have different needs; you need to evaluate your own technology and social media needs against your own life. What’s right for someone else might not be right for you.
So, there we are, ten ways to be the master, not the servant. Social media are here to stay, and the world is only going to get more connected. We cannot afford to just bury our heads in the sand, and declare that it’s all too much and we can’t cope. Now is an exciting time in that respect; social media are expanding incredibly fast, and we’re having to figure out new ways of working, new ways of living. We have to learn to take control and keep it, find ways of taking full advantage of the new opportunities without falling into any of the traps.
But we can do it. We are the masters of our fate.