Today's post is about a dilemma most of us geeks in the modern age must confront: keeping our virtual lives balanced with our offline lives. I don't even like the phrase "in real life" because my digital activities are just as real as my analog ones; but I use it for lack of a better one.
During this Spring Break I decided to turn off my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Over the last few years my time spent on both of those social networks has increased while the impact or payoff from using them has not. I believe my contributions to such networks should be either uplifting or useful to both others and myself. I like to share resources, news, and support with others. I like to foster connections that benefit both me and the other users. I simply found that the "drinking from a firehose" nature of following ed tech colleagues, ELL coaches, health/fitness gurus, gadget geeks, travel deals, etc., became more than I could keep up with. I wasn't forming many lasting or mutually beneficial connections and I was spending a significant number of hours per week checking tweets and posts. I had even tried limiting my Facebook friends to only non-work-related individuals, yet social circles inevitably get wider, and the number of posts that called for my attention got more and more time-consuming. For all the interesting, funny, and helpful links, photos, stories, and resources my network and I shared, I had the gnawing feeling that no one would notice if I kept it up or not. Much of it felt like shouting into a void. Hardly any of those online connections were maturing into offline or even telephone relationships. There's some value in purely virtual acquaintances, no doubt, but it occurred to me that my time and energy are my prime assets--was I spending them wisely?
Because much of my work requires me to be online, If I'm not careful to monitor myself and use Herculean self-discipline, the work and the play time in front of the screen begin to overlap and meld. That's fun, until you feel as though you work 18 hours a day and are unnaturally tethered to your digital devices. I had to ask myself: are my activities adding value or sucking the life out of me? Are these networks inspiring me to actually get offline, live, move, and love others? Am I becoming more thoughtful, focused, and wise because of them or am I becoming more scattered mentally and stagnant physically? I wasn't pleased with my answers to these questions.
I don't consider being overly busy a virtue and these social networks were eating away at time I could be spending on work, play, or building meaningful friendships and professional associations. I'm at a time in my life where I need to invest my time and energies where they will matter most and produce a return. Don't get me wrong: I believe that in all my interactions with people I should try first to be of service and to give more than I receive. Although I found I didn't have enough time to contribute enough meaningful material, I was gradually getting in the habit of spending time contributing fluff, quips, gripes, and jokes. That wasn't value-added for me or my followers and friends. So it was time for a break.
I also did some spring cleaning and culled my RSS Feeder of blogs and podcasts that aren't truly fun or useful to me. That needs to be done every so often because I tend to subscribe to new blogs or podcasts to see what they're like and because I love to learn new things; however, the list gets big quickly and becomes overwhelming.
I'm not swearing off social media. I'm not fasting from the digital age. I will still text and watch a little TV. I still teach 6 computer classes a day. I still belong to a number of professional online communities, read or skim about 50 blogs, and subscribe to about 20 podcasts. I still believe in social media as a great way to stay connected--I will miss my friends and family's day-to-day posts on Facebook. I will miss some of the up-to-the minute professional development that came from the teaching community on Twitter (especially missmarista's tales of the UAE and wmchamberlain's insights). There just has to be a balance. When it comes to our virtual lives, let's not forget the "M" word: moderation.
My goal for the next few months is to do a better job of picking up the phone and making some voice calls, planning more face-to-face meetups, writing some snail mail, hitting the gym and the bike trails, and most of all: turning off the screens and getting a life! You can ask me how that's going. In fact, let's go discuss it over a nice walk!