Every once in a while we have the opportunity to read or view something that stops us in our tracks. Scott Stratten’s recent Oakville TEDx talk, Keep going until you stop, qualifies (an absolute must see).

Scott’s talk prompted me to take a deeper look at a couple of things – our evolving relationship with technology and its impact on our ability to be genuinely engaged. The love affair with social media can be a doubled-edged sword, both an investment and a cost. Once you step on the social media conveyor it’s pretty easy to just keep going, hyper connected 24/7/365. But to what end? How many of us assess the value of the time we spend online? Are we really “connected” and adding value to meaningful relationships or just killing time waiting for that next post, tweet or update?

Let’s start by clearing the air – this post isn’t about social media being evil and I’m not “that guy”, telling you to change your ways, or else. I live in the glass house :) I get it – I’m a small business owner who depends on new marketing. But I do struggle with maintaining a digital balance (adding/extracting value vs. wasting time) and life balance (screen time vs. face time). Frankly, sometimes I feel like a bit of sucker when I get caught up in the game.

It could be said that we’ve developed some level of dependency on social media – I don’t like to go as far as referring to it as social media addiction (I think that trivializes some of the real battles people face). But there is no arguing that we’ve developed certain patterns of behaviour that could be cause for concern. Scott Stratten talks about the feeling of dread when he realizes he left his Blackberry in the car – for me it’s the sense of dropping the ball when I can’t get to Google Reader and share links on Twitter. What is it for you?

In the end, I think engagement is the most important barometer – it’s not just the Holy Grail of social media but of all personal and professional relationships. My goal will be to focus more on being truly engaged online/offline while cutting out some of the fluff – and not beating myself up too much for taking an occasional break from social media. How about you?

Lastly, here’s a great gut check about getting lost online from Chris Brogan:

“Ask yourself what the top 3 priorities are: for the day, for your role, for your business, for your home life. Look at these lists of three. Do they make sense? Is that what you’re spending your days doing? If not, you’re still lost.”

Technology is embedded in our lives and I get the sense that many of us struggle with engagement and balance. I’d love to get your opinions on this. Does the thought of taking a social media break scare the crap out of you? How do you stay really engaged? How do go about achieving a digital/life balance? The comments are yours.

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About Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is also the managing editor at Solopreneur.ca and is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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Comments Policy

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?

  • Kylie Paul

    I agree that the key to having a healthy relationship with social media is balance, something mine does not have. I think many of us (including myself) have become so attached to different forms of media that we go into panic mode with out it. I really liked what Greg said about how he realized he was often times on Facebook just to be on Facebook. This is something I've realized I do as well! Sometimes I will catch myself just sitting there with Facebook open with absolutely no reason to be logged on. With this realization I hope comes change. Although I love social media and could never abandon it completely, I need to do as you said and cut out the “fluff” and focus on engaging more both on and offline.

    Kylie Paul
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  • Sarah West12

    I think that it would not be hard for me to step away from social media. It is not something that I have to have but is something that sometimes depending on the day, consumes much of my time. I think staying connected is very important. In my mind I am always worried that maybe something has happened that I need to know about. Maybe someone has been in a car wreck, had a baby, gotten engaged or something else life changing has happened. When things like that happen we usually tell our closes friends and then post it as a status or something less personal but still informs the rest of the world, or at least our friends who will see our status on their news feed. I don’t usually care about all the other little things that people post unless it is something big than I just skim right over it. I think that me being this way means that I’m not as in need of social media as many other people are. I wonder how the U.S would do if everyone did not use social media for one day? To me that is somewhat of a scary thought but one to consider for sure.

    Thanks for the post.

    Sarah West
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

  • Jordan Griffis

    Taking a break from social media scares me. Big time. Which probably means I use social media too much because I'm definitely one of those people who is on facebook just to be on facebook or checks my twitter feed just because I'm not doing anything else.
    I guess the what I've taken from this is not so much to use less social media, but that if I'm going to give so much time to social media, I should be actively engaging with people and doing things, rather than scrolling aimlessly through my newsfeed with the TV on in the background.
    Jordan Griffis
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  • Gant Lee

    Wow, great post!

    Since a majority of the people have taken what I would like to say, I would like to contribute a good analogy. If George Lucas were to have made the prequel Star Wars movies right after he finished Return of the Jedi, then people would have been burnt out on it. Likewise, I feel as if too many tweets can burn out the interest of the account. If you do something well, then you don't want to waste all of your good ideas and strategies all at the beginning

    On the other hand though, I think it is important to have a consistent presence on the web. Your viewers need to know you're still there and that you haven't abandoned them.

    Social Media is like a drug. The right amount gives you a good feeling, and over-dosing can be real bad.

    Gant Lee
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications

  • Becca Brooks

    Gant, I like your drug analogy. As sad as it is, Facebook is my vice, and a source for information pointless and useful. For example, I had no idea that we would be experiencing a lunar eclipse late last night. But around 2 am when I started to notice all my friends' statuses were about it. So sure enough, I learned that the Sun, Earth and Moon were perfectly aligned through social media, not from my parents or just looking outside. Our generation relies on others for information, and the thought of taking a break from this scares me. Now, I'm not some dependent mooch who prowls around on the web all day to find something interesting, but I do rely on social media for a lot of my news. Taking a break sounds invigorating yet frightening.

    Becca Brooks
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  • http://www.CyberDivaVA.com Ana Lucia Novak

    Wow, I can totally relate to this article. Lately I've been spread thin supporting my clients with their own social media efforts and activities. I haven't been able to engage /connect on my own sites because I am literally “spent”. There is so much time spent on planning and preparing, online research, seeking and selecting specific followers to offer value to them…And then to create the content or service around their needs(which changes from week to week) Then there is the actual engagement. I spend alot of time reading feeds and RTing – and think that sometimes something has to give. I have felt a sense of dread and of guilt when I can't spend time connecting with my community, the way I truly want to connect (conversations). I am not a small talk person,Although small talk can drive a deeper conversation. We have 8-10 hours per day. For those of us whose offices are at home, our schedule is somewhat flexible vs. Corporate or business schedule (9-5) so it is easy to “lose track of time” online. I want my time to be focussed and heading in the right direction. Calls come in and it's easy for me to spend 1-3 hours with a prospect sharing and engaging on the subject of utilizing social media around their business. One thing is for sure, there is so much more to social media than tweeting and commenting. That is why I am finally building a team that can balance me out. It is OK to step back and take a short break. I push away the guilt and give myself permission to be free because when I get back into the game, I am refreshed, renewed, and often armed with fresh tactics and strategies. I tell myself that if I worked in corporate I would be on at 8:00am with lunch at noon, fit in workouts, and off at 5 or 6. I don't need to be on til 10pm or 2am (which as been part of a bad habit fir me these days) there are sunsets to watch, beaches to walk on, friends to see, and movies to watch! ;). Merry Christmas everyone