I’ll start off by saying that I was very late when entering social media. It wasn’t until 2010 (April 9th to be precise – I looked it up!) that I joined Facebook. I had resisted the urge to have a social media presence till then. My logic was quite simple about this… I didn’t feel the need to publish every detail of my life on a shared online medium. This is a bit of a paradox, since I have had a homepage since 1995 (starting off with my presence on the now defunct Geocities, before finally getting my own domain name in 2001).
During the early days of the Internet and running your own domain, there were a few key differences from the Internet and social media today. Back then…
- I took full responsibility of the content that I chose to share online.
- The content was only put online when I chose to manually create an HTML page (or a database entry).
- People could reach out to me via guestbooks and feedback forms, and I could respond to those messages that I chose to at my own pace without being bothered during times when I would rather be doing something else.
Being somewhat introverted, I am not big on socializing. Don’t get me wrong, I like meeting people as much as the next person. However, I do like my quiet time, and there are occasions when I would rather spend time alone reflecting on life, or thinking up solutions to simple problems or challenges that I am faced with.
So why did I join Facebook in the first place?
There were a couple of factors that led to this.
- I had moved to another country, and didn’t anyone there. It was a trying time in my life. I’d used Facebook as a tool to stay in touch with the people whom I knew and were far geographically away. This helped me through this difficult time.
- It was a great way to see pictures and share videos among long lost friends.
So what changed?
The Internet as we know it has changed in the last few years at a scary pace. All of a sudden, social media platforms were popping up all over the place. Mainstream websites encouraged engagement by associating your participation with a Facebook profile. Some of them went further to where you could log into a website using Facebook credentials. It was all too easy!
Enter the smartphone
Then the stakes just got higher.
Social Media wasn’t just there for you to log onto via your PC. It was with you all the time in your pocket. It would allow you to document every single thing in your life that appealed to you and share it with the world… all with the convenience of a finger swipe across the screen of a device that lay in the palm of your hand.
It still seemed pretty cool, and for a while, I participated, sharing stories of when I climbed a mountain or checked in at an airport. It became easy for me to let the people whom I cared about know where I was in case in ran into any strife.
Somewhere along the way, the lines of convenience began to be eroded with the information that I was parting with.
You see, social media platforms operate by knowing as much as about the user as they can. The engineers running these platforms build algorithms to serve you with the content that they deem is what you will want to see.
The initial annoyance
I’ve always resisted parting with what I consider too much information on any social media platform. What began to bother me was that every time I logged into Facebook, questions about my date of birth and religious and political views would however subtly, be in my face. They sat there in the corner with suggestions about how my profile could be better if I answered a few of these questions. That subliminal suggestion of how I needed to provide these details remained in my peripheral vision, and it began to annoy me.
I persisted. I pretended that it wasn’t there. I felt that as long as I didn’t provide them with the details, everything would be fine. Then came the updates to the mobile apps.
OK… now we have a problem
One fine day, I noticed that the Facebook app update had a clause that stated that the app needed to be able to read my text messages, and listen to my calls (I do read the terms of service.).
At this stage, it was officially creepy. I’d decided that I had had enough and promptly uninstalled the app from all my mobile devices (in the plural… I used to have a few as a result of my job back then).
But hang on… there was something amiss here. There are some devices from where you cannot uninstall the app! Now that left me particularly peeved! You see, as a customer, when I purchase a device and/or software product, I believe that I have paid the manufacturer to compensate them with the right to use the said device or software as I see fit to meet my needs as bound by their terms of service. Their needs from me (i.e. harvesting my information) are not of my concern. So why can I not uninstall the offending app from my smartphone, I wonder? Having done the research, I am yet to find the answer to this.
With that said, it set me thinking…
Why do I not need a social media account?
Before I could effectively answer why I needed a social media account, I first needed to asses what I didn’t need a social media account for. This is what I came up with.
I do not need a social media account to stay in touch with loved ones.
Really, I don’t.
I actually reach out to the people that I care about. Having grown up in the pre-Internet era, my friends, family and I stayed in touch with long-time old friends by writing to one another. There’s a charm in receiving the single photograph in an envelope accompanied by a hand-written note. General etiquette demanded that you respond within a reasonable time.
While e-mail has killed the art of hand-written letters, it has allowed us to stay in touch with friends and still share images with a lot more speed. The reality is that my friends do not have the time to look through 20 pictures from my lunch with a group folks whom they may not know. They do however have the time to look at the odd picture of me in a new place, and reflect on how I have changed. It is the personal relationship that I share with them that prompts a meaningful response and keeps the friendship together.
I find that I can stay in touch with my friends just fine by dropping them the odd email, calling them, or even sending them a postcard (yes, I am old fashioned). I did not need social media to do this.
I do not need social media to remember birthdays and anniversaries.
Really, I don’t.
This is just me, but I actually remember the birthdays of the people that I care about.
And just as a safety net, I have them programmed into my calendar, which gives me a pop-up on the morning of their birthdays and anniversaries which prompts me to write a personalized note them in the event that I have forgotten. The ones whom I am really, really close to get a handwritten card in the mail, or a phone call, or both. I would rather not extend empty greetings just because I happen to see someone else wishing them on my feed.
I do not need social media to make a long time relationship last for a lifetime.
Here is the reality: everything has an expiry date, and that includes the best of friendships. Having gone to primary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate school and graduate school in different parts of the world, I made some great friends. Most of them have done well in life, and have settled down, started families, and have their own thing going on. The space between us (with me living on a different continent from them) results in us not being able to relate to each others’ lives over time, and results in a natural process of growing apart.
This is not to suggest that I have fallen out with them. I believe that the true test of any relationship is your ability to let go of one another so that you can live your lives to the fullest. It is a matter of respecting that life goes on, and that you both have the right to make the most of it without looking, judging or reflecting on things or situations that you may not fully understand. And in the off chance that you happen to be in the same vicinity, a phone call or an email is all that it takes to organize a catch-up so that we can relive old times, reflect and share a laugh over now.
I do not need a social media account to document my life.
Four things key things rang out to me.
- Documenting ones life takes time – something that I am in very poor supply of. (Remember that thing called “Second Life” where people lived an alternate life in a virtual world? I barely have enough time for my real first life, leave alone a virtual second one).
- My life is pretty boring. There is little purpose behind documenting my life online, and even less for people to read it.
- Rather than spending time documenting life, it is perhaps a better idea for me to be living my life and enjoying it.
- Last, but not the least, if I want to share things about my life with the people that I care about, I will call them, or write to them. I did not need to be putting it onto a platform which will mine that information and use it to market products to me.
I do not need a social media account to get my news.
I am somewhat old fashioned.
Plus I have a set of bookmarks that are my regular reading list for the news that I am interested in.
Having this in social media just ends up mixing the news content with non-news content which makes it annoying for me to read, and assimilate. Maybe that’s just me, but I believe that there is a time for serious content, and a time for light content… and mixing the two ends up frustrating me.
Facebook has news updates in the corner, right next to the ads, which puts me off.
So in a nutshell, I was pretty clear about what I didn’t need a social media account for. Having gotten that out of the way, I proceeded to consider…
What do I need Social Media for?
Here are some of the common things that I do find it useful for.
Keeping up with my favourite bands and performance
I like going to concerts.
Living in When I lived in Australia, we didn’t don’t often get treated to the best bands that tour North America and Europe. When they did do come to town, they sold sell out very quickly. Social Media allowed me to receive updates on when they are going to be in town.
Interacting with people over a common interest
In my case, that is photography. The well-established photographers have their own websites. A lot of photography enthusiasts who are up and coming do not. Irrespective of this, they use social media to share images that they create. It also allows me a platform to share my images and short films with a large audience.
Keeping up with the industry in my line of work on which skill sets are in demand for the next role that I am looking for
This is where something like LinkedIn comes in handy, where I can regularly receive content that I consider useful for consideration in day-to-day assessment of career choices. I typically wouldn’t use Facebook for this.
Keeping up with local events in town
My local city council have Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts where they announce local events. Melbourne is particularly good with this, as it always has something or the other going on in the city that is worth visiting. And a lot of the events are free. You get the latest news directly delivered to you.
So now that I have ascertained what I needed social media for, and what I didn’t need it for, it was time to decide…
Which social media services do I needed, and how was I going to use them
- To stay in touch with people that I care about, I have chosen to revert back to email, phone calls, letters, postcards and even personal visits. For me to be truly social, I decided to embrace the notion of investing the universal life currency of time into the relationships that I value. I feel that it is the most genuine way to nurture the relationships that I have. So from now on, there will never be another personal update from me on social media.
- To share the knowledge that I have gained from life experiences, and being technically savvy, I am reverting back to my own website. I am not inclined to make a living out of sharing life’s little lessons so that other folks may avoid angst. By correctly coding my web pages with the appropriate keywords and meta-tags and ensuring that it is search engine optimised, the information that I share ought to make its way to people who are looking for it. And if a reader finds the content useful, they are always in a position to share it via their social media channels.
- To share videos and short films that I create, I will continue to maintain presences on YouTube (which is a Google service) and Vimeo. Both services make it easy for me to integrate content into my website.
- To share my best photographs, I have decided to go with 500px. It is a photography focussed community with devoid of Internet Memes and Cats. It also allows me to interact with other serious photographers, and will allow me to automatically integrate my content to other social media platforms. (Yes, there is also Flickr… it’s not my cup of tea).
- To maintain a professional presence, I will continue to maintain a LinkedIn profile with the very basic details. Recruiters, hiring companies and entrepreneurs who are interested in my skill sets, they can get in touch with me directly via LinkedIn.
So what about my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter accounts?
That is going to require a bit of clean-up.
I never manually post to my Twitter account. I’m no celebrity, and I never really caught onto the concept of posting a comment on the InternetÂ which in all likelihood will never be read. I reckon auto-posting from my website to a Twitter accountÂ after a post has been carefully constructed, with best efforts having gone in to ensure that it is relevant, responsible,Â respectful, and representative is the only purpose that Twitter would have for me to reach an audience. On the flip side, it does help me stay up to date with my favourite bands – so I guess I will be following them… on my terms.
Killed! The account has been deactivated, and will never be resurrected. End of story!
It has been retired permanently. While Facebook have mined whatever personal information of mine that they have, it will at least not be visible for the rest of the world to see.
Being a newer social network, this one has worked quite well for me. A lot of this is as a result of me being very careful about whom I follow. This one will stay put (for the time being), as it allows me to share relevant content with a relevant audience without being besieged by content and Internet Memes that I am not interested in. It also gives me enough updates of the bands that I follow so that I can catch a concert in town.
My rules for social media mobile use
I will never again install a social media mobile app on my mobile phone or tablet. The reality is that I can wait to get my social media fix when I get online. It really isn’t that important for me to have it on my mobile, and for it to be a distraction throughout the day. It is perhaps more beneficial for social media companies than it is for me to have their apps on my mobile device.
I will also never share personal information on social media again. I know that the more I share means that the service can be tailored more to meet what I might be interested in. That’s ok… the less than perfect social media experience will not decrease the quality of my life. Real socialising happens in the real world.
So what does it mean for you and me?
For my friends with whom I share a mutual connection, we’ll stay in touch via email, phone calls, or better still, in real life. It is my commitment to making time so that we can continue to stay in touch. I can understand that it might mean that you might not be able to make time to write regularly – and that’s ok. You have a more important place in my life than merely being part of a social media feed. There will be real birthday, anniversary and holiday cards and phone calls from a real human being who took the time to remember and drop something in the mail that you can hold in your hands.
The reality is that social media is here to stay.
I choose to control how I use it, and not let it control my life.