The week of my institution’s reading week (February 18 – 22) this year I decided that I would take them up on their offer and actually get down to some serious reading as I had more or less caught up on any substantial writing projects. My one major weakness, however, in the productivity wars is the use of social media. I asked my wife to change my passwords for Facebook and Twitter, which she gladly did for two reasons: 1) to help me reach my productivity goals and 2) to have a week of reprieve from my excellent and well-timed Facebook humour. This post is a roundup of what my week without social media looked like and whether or not I feel that I achieved what I had set out to do.
Late on Sunday 17 February, I gave up access to Facebook and Twitter and would not return until the following Monday 25 February (an unexpected bonus of choosing Monday is avoiding all the Academy Award posts). After having done this I noticed that I was thinking about all the likes, retweets, and mentions I would have waiting for me upon my return to social media. This is when I realized I had a problem. This was my first thought without access after mere minutes. The next thing I noticed was just how automatic it was for me to visit FB and Twitter. When I open my browser on my computer, the general procedure is to open Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and usually WordPress. Regardless of my reason for opening the browser, whether I am checking on a flight or looking to catch up on the latest sarcastic Vancouver quips, I always check these sites. I couldn’t believe how much I wanted access back. I wanted to see who was talking about what on Twitter and which of my friends on Facebook was oversharing, but I couldn’t. It was tough at first and I felt out of the loop in many respects. I thought it would be liberating not to be enslaved by my desire to see what everyone else was doing. I was half right, it turned out.
Naturally, I got over my need to know via social media. I didn’t cut off access to WordPress or Gmail because I don’t really consider these major social media platforms for me and they take up a relatively small portion of my online day anyhow. What I had done, however, was replace the goings on of social media with other websites on which I could waste just as much — if not more — time. I frequented Buzzfeed and UsedVictoria, the latter yielding a sweet cutting board with a drawer for only $25, and a bunch of other non-interactive websites that would prove just as anti-productivity as anything social media could offer. I’m looking at you, Netflix.
I had lofty goals when I began my week without social media. I was going to write letters using my fancy pens, paper, envelopes, and wax seal (I wrote one); I was going to take the dog for crazy long walks and uncover new parts of the city (the dog is still pissed about that one); I would get up each morning refreshed and feeling like my day would not be dictated by the internet (wrong on both counts); and, finally, I would be productive like nobody’s business (ah, no). I don’t feel as though I failed entirely in my quest to be more productive. Rather, what I did was learn a bit more about why I get distracted in the first place and the place social media play in that distraction, both as catalyst and mediator.
Obviously, I know that I spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter. The former not so much anymore, but I incessantly check it as though I lack object permanence. As for Twitter, that’s where I actually engage with people, most of whom, unlike Facebook, I’ve never met in real life. What I realized, however, is that, in the case of Twitter, I use it as a place to kill time but, more importantly, it is a storage tool. All the trifling thoughts I had during my week off had nowhere to go. I had planned on writing them all down in a little notebook I carry around (old school, right?) but there was no way I managed to finagle my notebook in order to capture more than a few. I found it difficult to commit what seemed like an insignificant thought to ink and paper only to then not obtain the feedback that usually comes with a presence in an online community of like-minded people. I also realized that this is what was lacking from my Facebook experience. The overlap between the people on my two accounts is quite low. This does not mean I don’t want to be friends with my fellow twitterers, but it does mean that I have few friends and family members with whom I share anything more than the fact we’ve met.
What I gave up in terms of productivity for my week away from social media I think I gained in learning a bit more about how and why I use it in the first place. I don’t think that social media make me more or less productive, but I do think that I can make use of them in order to try and integrate them into a plan that will help me to achieve productivity nirvana.* What I mean to say is that, well, I’m glad to be back. I missed you all terribly don’teverleavemeagainohmygod.
*I was really hoping that a Google Image Search for “productivity nirvana” would yield some sort of kickass grunge graphic, but, alas, it was not meant to be.