It’s ironic, isn’t it?  In the age of the consumer being in control; at a time when we can easily avoid the interruption of unwanted advertising; we are opting in to be distracted on a monumental scale.  We follow scores of blogs in a Google reader. We scan and update our Twitter stream much of the day. We check Facebook, answer IMs, and in between, respond to an assault of emails — all by our own choosing.

Being connected to digital devices most of our waking hours can be overwhelming. But this feeling is not just uncomfortable, studies have shown that it is detrimental to our ability to focus, to make good decisions, to be productive and to be creative.

There’s a movement afoot to convince us to change the way we relate to digital media.

The message is that we need to step away from it to refresh, relax and recharge by unplugging on a regular basis.  The message is that we need to spend less time online.

The movement is being led by an unlikely group — the upper echelon of connected people — people at places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google. By the very creators of the tools of this onslaught.

In February, I attended the 2nd annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which brings people together to address the issue of how to do meaningful work, and to remain productive and creative in the face of hyperconnectivity. Speakers and proponents of the importance of taking planned breaks for the sake of doing more important work included Chris Sacca, a Twitter investor and advisor whom the Wall Street Journal called “possibly the most influential businessman in America;” Eric Schiermeyer, co-founder of Zynga; and Stuart Crabb and Michelle Gale, who at their respective companies of Facebook and Twitter are responsible for employee development. The conference sold out early and when it was livestreamed, thanks in part to its incredibly influential speakers, it was viewed over 200,000 times. This is a movement with a lot of momentum.

A memorable moment at the conference was when a panel of people spoke of the long hours and constant computer time being logged at places like Facebook and Twitter, and mention was made that “everyone at Twitter was doing the work of twenty people.”  Jon Kabat-Zinn, world-renowned mindfulness teacher, laid a simple, but obvious truth on us, that can be applied to the way we are connecting today in four words:

“This is not sustainable.”

In the same way that the bloated American diet crept up on us until medical professionals convinced a significant and growing number of people that it is not healthy to eat giant portions of food with sugared sodas and snack on potato chips and candy, we are seeing evidence — both scientific and anecdotal, of the hazards of becoming bloated with digital information.

The agencies, consultants, brands, bloggers and others whose day to day lives are deeply involved in social media will need to face this issue head-on.

We recognize the value of being connected to the rest of the world in real time.  There is unquestionable potential to do good socially, politically, intellectually, in business, and personally. Yet, the question of the many ways that being online so much will effect us is important to address.

Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker who founded the Webby awards, tried to address this issue in her film called “Connected.” While she loves technology and all of its possibilities, she started to question how a highly connected life was effecting her personal relationships.  In an interview with Brian Solis, she described how she and her family decided to unplug from all digital activity including phones one day each week for 24 hours.  More and more people are going to develop personal policies like this as they take account of the effects of being online.

So, what are we — people active in digital marketing — to do?

One thing is certain: This raises the bar on content creation.  If more and more people go on a digital diet, they are going to become connoisseurs of good content. We’re going to demand fewer “wasted calories” and “balanced diets” online.

Here are some suggestions for connecting in a world where people will be filtering more of the noise.

1.  Don’t reach as desperately for quantity. Focus more on quality, both as a consumer and a provider of information.  Avinash Kaushik just marked his 5-year anniversary as a blogger and showed graphically, how over time he wrote fewer and fewer posts per month (while making each one longer and more strategic) and his visitors per month climbed.

2. Just because there is unlimited space on the internet, doesn’t mean you should use it all.  It’s more work to say something of value in less time and space.  Look at Seth Godin, who has written powerful posts as short as a few words.

3. When you write a blog post don’t repeat what you’ve read hundreds of times. If you take a position or write about a topic in social media (although it has no doubt been discussed before,) make sure to add value to the conversation by putting your own, original spin on it. When you retweet, say why. No one will want to waste time on empty digital calories.

4.  Get outside of a narrow area of interest and learn from people who you don’t usually read.  Likewise, if you are curating, find related content outside of your niche.  For example, in marketing, consider following and reading people who write about leadership, neuroscience, psychology, storytelling, design or anthropology. Show your readers that you can widen their horizons by widening yours.

5.  Take breaks from the computer to spend time doing the activities that you personally find restorative, whether it is meditating, knitting, golfing, running or tai chi.  Do what your readers will be doing to be more creative and insightful.

6. Remember that a post works best if what it conveys is drawn from the life you are living.  Surround yourself online and off with connections who inspire and enlighten you–people who can help you grow, learn and create. Be that person for your circle of friends.

7. It’s always been true, but now and for a future where content is going to be consumed more selectively, only the most creative, inspiring, helpful and fascinating content (and its authors) will be embraced.

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    Hi lIana,

    Here’s another take on this.

    Twitter has satisfied a deep human need for quick info, especially ‘of the moment’ type info.
     
    But…

    It’s also created another hunger to deep information that provides substantial details in ways that micro blogging doesn’t.

    My prediction is that blogs as we know them will start to fade soon as we’ve reached saturation point but sites with deep knowledge bases will trive.

    PS – think Panda will accelerate this process.

    Ivan

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for your thoughts.  I do think Twitter has a special allure in our ADD society but I also believe there will continue to be a demand for longer forms of content like blogging. Otherwise, when we need to link to more of the story from Twitter, where will we go?

      Ilana

      • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

        Hi Ilana,

        …where will we go?

        I feel there is a great unfollow around the corner as the novelty wears off and… a move towards more ‘exclusive’ social networks with life streaming software making it more compelling. 

        Ivan 

        • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

          Ivan,

          It’s interesting that so many industries have been disrupted by the new digital realities and now it seems that we will soon be looking at a disruption of our own in social media. 

          Ilana

  • http://twitter.com/davelucas Dave Lucas

    Hahaha! Laughing as I read this, but the sad part is, it is SO true! People’s drive to maintain a presence on Social Media is taking time away from other, far more important activities. It’s information overkill, and a darned good reason to AUTOMATE whatever tweeting, blogging etc. one feels compelled to participate in!

  • http://www.ioncorporation.com/blog markivey

    Excellent piece, and I think you nailed something. People are so hungry to be connected and chattering that we’re creating a tower of babble…everyone talking, not sure who’s listening (or as you say, if we have the bandwidth to listen to even a fraction of the noise). While social media creates enormous opportunities and unleashes new creativity from people who would have never been heard, it also creates new management challenges for users, content creators, companies,etc. We try to advise companies to create a very specific, narrowly defined niche–and then fill it with unique, quality content. Quality over quantity. I know it sounds elementary but few co’s (or people) really do it..On a personal level, downtime is more important than ever- “batch” your online activities so you’re not spending 24/7 online. Knowing when to disconnect is a new skill set in itself..My two cents…

    • Ilana221

      Mark,

      I like you wording of “batching” your time. Otherwise, it turns into constant interruption.

      Ilana

  • Anonymous

    It seems like it had just started to become the age of
    social media not too long ago, so the fact that it’s already the age of
    anti-social media seems incredible…

    ~Renee
    http://mymediainfo.com/

  • http://twitter.com/brandonchicago Brandon Andersen

    In this interconnected world where we communicate with more and more people every day, it’s really important to not stray too far away from the deeper relationships that really matter to us.  It’s great to have thousands of followers or fans, but there’s also something to be said about enjoying lunch with a close friend.  Keep it all in perspective.

  • http://www.wrightcreativity.com Kirsten Wright

    I think that with anything, it’s the best in moderation. We can go overboard on any method of communication or marketing. The key is to know the reason behind it and not just the tool.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    I have been thinking that Social media is going to be big and this post reveals that its going to be changed sonner or later. Great analysis.

  • http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog FreshNetworks

    Jon from FreshNetworks here, thanks for the great post Ilana.

    I really would hope that there isn’t an “age of anti-social media”, but I agree that a move to moderate and selective is likely. Finding a balance between life online and in the real world is critical for avoiding information overload.

    Mark’s comment about finding a niche and using quality over quantity is spot-on, users will become increasingly discerning of where they devote their time – so make sure what you say is worth listening to!

    – Jon

  • http://www.getstoried.com/ Michael Margolis

    Love this topic Ilana. As you point out we’ve created technology that outstrips our cultural capacity to use it intelligently. Still I think social media can be a tool for powerful self-definition, reinvention, and finding one’s voice. It’s all about storytelling. Thanks for including the link in your article to my free 88-page ebook Believe Me: a storytelling manifesto for changemakers. http://www.believemethebook.com

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your comment Michael.  Your talk at the 140 Conference was one of the most memorable and inspiring I’ve heard. Defining your brand or yourself in an “about me” page is the essence of differentiation and the essence of marketing.

  • http://twitter.com/amylshelton Amy L. Shelton

    There is a great book related to this topic called, “Technology Addition & the Search for Authenticity in Virtual Life” by Dr. Nicole Radziwill. It is a quick and insightful read.

    • Ilana221

      Thanks for sharing that Amy.

  • Rex Harris

    wow, this is an article written at the right time, I hope people take to heart what you are saying here.  We need to put the social back in social media.

  • Anonymous

    Sitting in a lounge chair, just about to disconnect from the Web for the week to read “John’s Wife” by Robert Coover, this blog was an encouraging way to end my week.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your note Erick. I think I’ll find a book and do the same.

  • Kamal Soan

    Wonderful article, as a student it gives me immense knowledge and pleasure to have stumbled upon this article through LinkedIn. I really liked the idea of disconnecting from the digital interaction terming it the “Digital Diet”…worth practicing…!!!

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