My wife regularly uses the phrase, “You’re such a geek!” when I buy some new toy or enthuse about a comic or something. She maintains that she didn’t know how geeky I was when she married me, but this seems unlikely, as I’ve not really become any geekier over the years. However, I have occasionally wondered whether certain aspects of my life are a little too geeky overall.
“Too geeky” might not quite be the best way of putting it… “too connected” might perhaps be a better phrase, though in my case there is some overlap between the two. I started to wonder this when I thought for a moment about what happens when I first wake up in the morning. I often used to check Facebook as soon as I woke up, but stopped doing that after realising that maybe it was a bit obsessive. However, now my phone automatically turns its WiFi on at seven o’clock (the wonders of Tasker) and then buzzes my wrist with any updates/emails I might have received overnight (the wonders of smartwatches)… not only am I highly connected, but my connectedness (is that a word?) is now entirely automated.
So, how can you tell if you’re spending too much time on the internet and social media? I expect there are many ways and that they will apply differently to different people, but here are a few observations from my own life.
Are your social media accounts active or passive?
What I mean by this is, do your accounts allow you to engage with people or serve some specific purpose, or do you simply use them to nosey into other people’s lives? I have a number of social media accounts (Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, Twitter again and LinkedIn) and I would argue that all of them serve a legitimate function. Occasionally, I read stories of people giving up Facebook completely and not missing it, but I don’t believe this would be the right move for me… Facebook allows me to share pictures of my son with various family members who rarely see him and it would be a shame if I couldn’t do this. Similarly, my other accounts have specific uses that justify their existence (even the two Twitter accounts serve their own individual purposes). As long as this is the case, I don’t see a problem, but as soon as an account becomes all reading and no writing, it’s time for me to close it down.
Personal Resolution: Ensure that my accounts are actively used and not just passively monitored.
Do you use the internet when others are around?
I used to be terrible at this, sitting on my iPad and ignoring my wife (who, in fairness, was often sitting on her iPad and ignoring me back) or checking my phone first thing in the morning before even giving my wife a kiss. Recently, I have chopped this back enormously and cut it out entirely around my son, which can only be a good thing. This is not to say that I never go on the internet around other people; if I have a legitimate need (to look something up or respond to something important) then I’ll do it. It’s also not to say that I never do things on my own while my wife is around (I’d never get any reading done if that was the case). However, I do try to use the acid test, “Could I be talking to my wife/child right now?”… if the answer is yes, the internet stays off.
Personal resolution: Keep ensuring that social media checking is done when my wife and child are otherwise occupied.
How much information do you actually take away from your time on Facebook/Twitter?
I have some friends on Facebook who constantly post links to the most fascinating of things; I have some friends on Facebook who constantly post what they had for tea; realistically, most people do a bit of both. (Full disclosure: I’ve occasionally mentioned what I’ve had for tea, but only when it has been something truly epic, usually with photographic evidence.) This means that for every ten minutes I spend on Facebook, about five on them are completely wasted, as the information goes in one ear and out of the other without having any effect (by which I mean, raising a smile, introducing me to something new, informing me of some life event that I should know about, etc…). This isn’t a terrible ratio, but could probably be improved. However, if you spend ten minutes on Facebook and only see one thing that you actually take away, maybe that’s a sign of wasted time. Some people have friend “culls”, but I consider this a bit mean (I tend to put something up most days, so an observent person would spot the defriending fairly swiftly). Instead, I generally just block people from my feed when they don’t ever post anything interesting, as this isn’t noticable by the blockee and I’d have no problem with people doing the same to me.
Personal resolution: Trim my Facebook and Twitter feeds to remove anyone who consistently fails to tell me anything that actually sticks in my mind.
Overall, it has to be a personal decision as to whether you’re spending too much time online. I have a friend who spends hours on Tumblr, but this is pretty much a hobby for her; she enjoys browsing Tumblr in the same way I enjoy reading books. On the other hand, I have a lot of interests (plus, a wife and child) and any time I spend on Facebook/Twitter is time that I am not spending reading/writing/gaming/talking/playing, so it makes sense for me to minimise that time as much as possible (while still maintaining the connections that I do get something out of). I’m not suggesting for one moment that people cut their ties to Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc completely, but if you could give yourself an extra 15 minutes a day, I think that’s worth a bit of a trim… unless it’s this blog, of course… no wait, don’t cut m-