A Royall Juggle

Weekly #12: Discovering Depth through Disconnect

Posted on: December 5, 2010

During introductions on the first day of this class, I expressed my hesitance with social media and digital connectedness because I recognized its negative impact. I’d seen friends at dinner checking their BlackBerrys instead of enjoying each other’s company, I’d noticed its affect on me at work when I stared at a screen all day and felt unfulfilled, and I’d even heard it from my mom when she told me she was stressed after joining Facebook because replying to her long lost friends’ messages added more things to her “to do list.” I’m definitely a believer in balancing old tools with the new to “ease the overload” – I still haven’t upgraded my basic flip phone, I keep a daily planner notebook with me at all times, and I print and store all of my photos in albums.

As I read Hamlet’s Blackberry over the Thanksgiving holiday, it was comforting to realize I’m not alone – lots of other really smart people think “being connected to the crowd” 24/7 isn’t the best way to live regardless of the constant new cool new gadgets, apps and sites are introduced. Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book offline (reading has been one of my favorite activities this semester because I cherish every minute I can get away from my computer), I find it ironic that now I have to go back online to blog about why I think spending too much time in front of a screen is unhealthy. BUT I’ll try not to be too bitter :).

The book examines the importance of balancing connectedness by exploring ways in which great philosophers, writers and inventors reacted to the “new technology” of their age, from the written word to the printing press. Each new advancement threw people’s life off balance for a while until they figured out the best way to integrate it while maintaining their overall happiness. An important lesson these great thinkers reminded me of:

Gaps and distance are essential to adding depth in life – the author of this book, William Powers, mentions how he enjoys the involuntary disconnectedness of flying. I couldn’t agree more. Once you get on an airplane, one of the first things you must do is turn off all electronic devices  — finally some time to unwind without feeling guilty that you aren’t responding to someone online  (I think it’s unfortunate that many airlines have wireless internet now). Since I’m pretty terrified of flying, I always take my journal along for the ride to get my mind off the turbulence. During one of my latest flights, I jotted down this thought, “Flying keeps me grounded.” I use the time I’m 30,000 feet in the air to focus inwardly, gain perspective on my life and the important people in it. There is something about writing all my thoughts down with pen and paper and not being able to wordsmith and edit that is exhilarating. I typically end each flight by writing down a few things I want to change or some goals that I want to focus on in the future. It’s my time to reevaluate priorities — somthing that can only occur when I take a break from the constant flow of digital information.

Flying is just one example of how I use distance and gaps to add depth to my life and relationships. With all the information overload you experience day-to-day, it’s important to take breaks from clicking and typing and the crowd that follows you online. It’s so easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing and thinking because it’s easily accessible through social tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.   The result is hours lost in your day that could be spend fostering the meaningful relationships. Life isn’t measured by the number of connections you have on a social network or amount of “likes” or comments you have on an online post (despite what Mark Zuckerberg might think); in the end it’s those deep conversations you have with people and the time spent, between connectedness, reflecting on those human experiences that give you true satisfaction.

That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy learning about all the social media tools this semester and think it’s extremely valuable to understand the purpose of the tools, why people use them, and how they can be used in moderation to enhance your personal and professional life. It’s undeniable that the field social media is fast-paced and changing the way the world works.  I plan to use the valuable takeaways from this class to encourage others to use social media, focusing on quality rather than quantity, to contribute to their overall happiness and success. As this article about the future of social media suggests, we are approaching a saturation point, and now it’s time to figure out the best way to filter through the clutter and help others do the same. This girl is doing a great job of proving the harm of social media and connectedness when taken to the extreme.

The first post I wrote on this blog, I talked about juggling all the different aspects of my life and learning how to use social media to help me do those things more productively. After taking this course, I realize it’s also about when NOT to use social media because it can also cause people to be overwhelmed, scattered and unproductive. Since I spent most of this week at work in front of a computer screen during the day and at home in front of a computer screen working on final assignments for school at night, I am honestly thrilled to have a break from the screen over the holidays. I will enjoy keeping up with the trends in social media through all the RSS feeds I’ve added to my iGoogle page throughout the semester and may start blogging again when I begin Advanced Digital Strategy in January, but until then you can count on me being disconnected – using the gap between semesters to reflect on what I learned.

Photo taken from flickr.com by ztephen used under Creative Commons license


1 Response to "Weekly #12: Discovering Depth through Disconnect"

Fantastic post, Amanda.

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