For the Plugged-In, Too Many Choices
Aug 10, 2011
When Jessica H. Lawrence left her job with the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council in Redlands, Calif., to pursue a new life in New York City, she arrived in late January without a job, an apartment or someone to keep her warm through the winter nights.
But in less than six months, she found all three — and all because of Twitter.
The job came after a friend’s tweet inspired her to attend NY Tech Meetup, where she applied for a job and became the managing director.
She found her apartment after sending a Twitter message to the founder of the Midnight Brunch supper club. That scored her an invitation and — after meeting the owners of the brownstone where the meal was held — the cellar apartment, too.
As for the boyfriend, a founder of the Noble Rot wine club, she discovered him when she began following the Rot’s Twitter feed. Next week, they’re moving into an apartment in Williamsburg.
“So you can see why I have this undying love for Twitter,” said Ms. Lawrence, 32. Yet her devotion to one social network is not an act of sentimentality — it’s part of a careful strategy for combating social media burnout. In a time when anyone with Internet access is expected to be engaged on multiple networking sites and keep a day job, Ms. Lawrence decided to focus on a singular site rather than to spread herself thin among a half-dozen.
The relentless pressure to partake of the newest networks was underscored in June with the debut of Google+, Google’s social networking site. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular online activity, ahead of sending e-mails, searching the Internet and playing games.
Put another way: one in every four-and-a-half minutes spent on the Web is spent on a social networking site or blog. And last year the average visitor spent 66 percent more time on such sites than in 2009, when early adopters were already feeling digitally fatigued.
“I’m on tech overload,” said Ms. Lawrence, who has Facebook and LinkedIn accounts yet barely uses them anymore. “I already feel like I’m experiencing slow death by e-mail.” While she loves technology and has been experimenting with Google+ since it was introduced, “I’m having a really hard time justifying adding yet another social tool to my tool `kit,” she said.
But any attempt by weary networkers to scale back is complicated by the proliferation of Web sites like Klout and PeerIndex that are busily computing users’ influence scores to rank them in an online hierarchy. (On Klout, each user is assigned a score from 1 to 100. If you’re in the high teens, you’re average; if you’re in the 40s you have a healthy following; if you score 100, you’re Justin Bieber).
Depending on the person you ask, this is either awesome or terrifying. In the future, brands and even potential employers could conceivably make decisions about you based on your score. (Some brands, like Virgin America and the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, have experimented with Klout.)
The most active and organized users of social networks have daily routines for grooming their digital identities. Generally, these routines rely on automation and syndication. For instance, Web sites like Ping.fm, OnlyWire and Hellotxt enable users to post the same content across multiple networking sites with a click or two of a mouse. Other sites, like Buffer, SocialOomph and TwitResponse, allow users to write postings months in advance and schedule them for publication at a later date.
“Automation, both in terms of when content goes out and the syndication, that’s what keeps me from going insane,” said Josh Kaufman, the author of “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.” “Otherwise it would just be too much to manage.”
Mr. Kaufman’s Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are tied to his Twitter page, so when he posts an update on Twitter, it appears on all three accounts. “And when I can figure out how to make it syndicate to Google+, I’ll do that, too,” he said, though he initially resisted Google+. “Do I really need another thing to keep track of?” he said he had wondered.
The answer was no, but so far Mr. Kaufman, 29, of Fort Collins, Colo., has kept his social media routine to less than 30 minutes each morning (well, except for the day he spent pruning the list of people he followed on Twitter to 85, down from an indigestible 1,500).
That said, he keeps his social networking dashboards open on his computer all day to absorb their hiccups of information. Because he works alone, he likes the “water cooler effect” of his friends’ feeds: the ease with which he can say hello to someone far away, if only for a moment.
When he has to focus, he relies on Freedom, a productivity application that blocks the Internet for up to eight hours. Alternatively, he configures his computer so that when he tries to point his browser to, say, Google+, the computer takes him to a page on the desktop instead.
“If you use your willpower once to change the environment,” he said, “there’s no discipline required.”
Some users think all this networking is leading to alienation.
“I like to spend the time with someone in a restaurant than spend the time on Foursquare telling people I’m in the restaurant,” said Graham Hill, 40, the founder of the Web site TreeHugger and the design contest LifeEdited. Speaking from a cabin in Canada without Internet service, he said he uses Twitter and Facebook and is poking around Google+, though he strives to be efficient.
For instance, he will read a book on his Kindle, upload inspiring quotes and ideas to his Amazon account, then edit them into Twitter posts, which he schedules to be posted over the course of several weeks via the monitoring service HootSuite.com.
Some day, he hopes to hire someone to edit and post content for him so he can spend more time offline.
“The in-between times are important,” he said, referring to life’s idle moments, like standing in line at the bank or taking a taxi, “times when you should be checking in with yourself instead of trying to be somewhere you’re not.”
Plenty of people have taken a social media detox, or opted out only to opt back in again. Ms. Lawrence said she evaluates all networking sites by asking herself a single question: “Will it enhance my life?”
Every networking site has its own culture, said Brian Solis, a principal at Altimeter Group, a technology research firm, and the author of “The End of Business as Usual.” But each culture is not right for each and every person.
“Value is in the eye of the beholder,” said Mr. Solis, adding that a small percentage of readers of his networking sites said they were suffering from social network fatigue. Then again, they usually get a second wind.
“Everyone is still talking about filing e-mail bankruptcy,” he said. “At the end of the day, you still use it.”