“Me Time” Found: Restoring personal balance in a social age


For my article this month, I can’t tell you about Facebook’s new timeline or Google+’s photo privacy tools. I can’t tell you about the latest YouTube sensation or trending Twitter topic. I don’t even know where my friends were located in the past 24 hours: I never saw their check-ins. I think I forgot a few birthdays. (Gulp.)

Why did I become socially ignorant? I chose to disengage from social media for two weeks in order to approach it more strategically in my personal life.

 

What do you do everyday?

My path to social ignorance was sparked by a friend’s question, “What do you do everyday—besides work?”

“Let’s see, I go running sometimes, I take the dog outside, and …” I hesitated. I had free time after work. What was I doing during that time? Surely, I was reading something interesting or starting a new art project, but nothing came to mind.

After this conversation, I mapped out how I spent my time every day of the year. My list included work, eating, exercising, and walking the dog. I was spending about 25 hours per week on social network sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla, Google+, Instagram, and Tumblr. Despite my love for using social media to connect with others, I realized that I needed to give some of that time back to myself.

 

What is life like without social media?

I didn’t go cold turkey. Instead, I allowed myself to visit a social site once a week for up to 10 minutes. That brief amount of time left no room for reading updates or composing witty Tweets. Instead, 10 minutes gave me just enough time to cover the essentials: upcoming events, births, and birthdays.

Instead of spending hours of precious “me time” on social networking sites each day after work, I found my hobbies and interests again. I read. I drew. I dabbled in Photoshop. I wrote snippets of poetry. I cooked dinner. It was a Renaissance!

Despite my sense of fulfillment, I also felt out of touch and irresponsible for not tending to my social flock. My friends expected me to know what was going on in their lives. When I asked one friend about her vacation, she said, “I posted photos on Facebook. Did you see them?”

Abandoning social media was a lot like ignoring phone calls from a close friend. My friends—near and far—had grown accustomed to interacting with me through those channels. Rather than calling one another once and a while, my friends and I comment, retweet, and share through social media on a daily basis. My unannounced departure led them to believe that I was being socially aloof.

Although my break from social network sites had given me time to explore old hobbies, it did not provide the balance that I sought between my personal and social life. The break taught me that I needed more than 10 minutes per week and less than 25 hours a week to stay happily engaged in the conversation.

 

Do social networks function as communication tools or experiences?

After two weeks of social ignorance, I had plenty to Tweet about. I also missed hearing from my friends and family. I wanted to connect with my community. Doesn’t that notion go back to the essence of social media?

For me, social networks began as a tool that allowed me to quickly communicate, create, and collaborate with others. The introduction of new features, feeds, games, and video chats suggest that social networking sites can be far more than tools: they can be the space where life is experienced. When I find myself craving my offline life and hobbies again, I’ll know that it’s time to seek balance.

 

  • Is a life lived on a social network a fulfilling one?
  • What is the right amount of time to spend socializing online?
  • How do we strike balance with our offline activities and relationships?

[Image credit: “Different.” Retrieved on September 22, 2011, from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1034103]