I was considering titling this post “Social Media: Gift or Curse?” but I thought that sounded a bit overly-dramatic, so I went with a statement of simple fact: What I learned from a month of staying off all my social media.
Some people love it, some people don’t care.
Some people are gurus and linked in and synced up, and others wouldn’t know what to do with it if it danced naked in front of them.
Some people are on it every day, some people don’t use it as all.
And every gradient shade of grey between.
What is its purpose? Is it vital? Just because it exists, does it make it right? Should we live without it? Could we live without it? What impact does it have on our lives? I’d wager these are questions most people don’t ask.
I have mixed feelings on these matters. On a personal front, I believe the net effect of a growing volume of virtual reality is detrimental to reality reality (see “The Reality Bug”, Pendragon series, D.J. Machale.)
However, as an independent author, I would say social media is important. It’s a way (possibly amongst the best ways, and certainly the most far-reaching way) we can get word out of our amazing books, without having to beg and grovel to traditional publishers, who, I may remind you, have turned away the likes of J. K. Rowling 12 times and told her “not to quit her day job”, so they obviously don’t know everything.
I’m a pragmatist, and I prefer to take a middle-of-the-road view-point: I think like most things, social media has pros and cons. Pro: last month, I connected with an author in Italy, via twitter (that particular line in my bio is accurate, which is not to say the other bits are inaccurate, but some people may find the information in my author bio hard to believe – but it’s all true, I swear). Con: one can waste a lot of time on things that don’t really contribute to one’s life. In your twilight years, are you really going to look back and say “You know, I’m really glad I spent those hours looking at memes and satisfying my curiosity about those click-bait articles?”. This could just be me, but I don’t think so.
I do try to ration and schedule my social media time, and almost all of that allotted time is spent on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is mostly for personal things – I do have an author page, but it’s honestly more an extension of my twitter account. Reversely, Twitter is where I let my #writerslife out, with everything from #amwriting, to #writersproblems and #books. More recently, I’ve added to my social media presence by joining the Instagram community*, as authordragonbeck, and again this is a professional #indieauthor account (it took me a while to get the hang of the whole hashtag thing, but as you can see, I’ve become a master).
In the month of July, I participated in the #authorconfession and #MythCampNano games on Twitter. For this, I had to be on my Social Media every day, as the entire point of the thing is to connect and interact, and obviously to answer each day’s question. In order to balance that, I did an experiment and gave up social media – meaning Facebook and Twitter – for the month of August (for the sticklers who noticed that I posted blogs during this time, featuring the fruits of my Ink Slingers Guild writing exercise – yes, I wrote and posted blogs. However, wordpress allows one to post to Twitter, which in turn is linked to Facebook, without having to actually going onto either of those platforms, so I’m not counting that against myself).
This is a record of my findings of Social Media Abstinence:
No one died as a direct result. The world continued to turn. The sun did not go out (although there was an eclipse). The zombie apocalypse didn’t start (or if it did, I didn’t notice).
I experienced definite withdrawal symptoms. The first three days were the worst, with jittery cravings to “just quickly check”. The days after that were better. After a week, I no longer felt compelled to log into Facebook just to see if anything exciting had happened that I should know about. At the second week, it was a vague half-thought that passed as quickly as it came.
I relaxed. At some point in the middle of my experiment, I recalled I’d heard (some time ago) that if you were feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, just don’t watch the TV or read the newspaper for two weeks and see how you felt afterwards. As I don’t watch TV or read a newspaper, I didn’t think that applied to me. I have now reevaluated that consideration. Getting away from the drama is very calming. I highly recommend it.
On the 20th of August, just shy of three weeks into my experiment, Facebook texted me letting me know that a friend had shared a link, and letting me know that I could “see it here”. For the last 3 years, Facebook had never texted me to say anything, yet over the course of the next week, Facebook sent me messages each day, letting me know “so-and-so commented…” and “so-and-so updated…” and “so-and-so shared…” I guess Facebook missed me more than I missed it.
I noticed an interesting phenomenon: I only thought about checking Facebook or Twitter a) when I had completed one task, and hadn’t yet decided which task to do next (boredom) or when I had quite a few tasks that needed to be done, and I couldn’t decide which to do first (dispersal) or when I had picked my next task, but there was some reason I couldn’t begin that task for 5 or 10 minutes (waiting).
I read more.
I organized my bookshelf, and did my filing.
I played my guitar for the first time in over 3 years. I have no calluses left on my fingers, but I can still do a G-major chord.
I still had friends. I still saw them. We had tea. It was nice.
I got the second edition of my first novel done and the editing/proofing of my fourth novel done distraction free (i.e. no need to log in to let the world know “Finished a chapter so I’m going to get a cup of #coffee to reward myself #writerslife #editing #lovecoffee” and fifteen minutes later “Chapter six and I feel like my eyes are bleeding out of my head #writerslife #writersproblem #amediting #amwriting”) and this was soo much faster and more efficient. (Note to self: remember to repeat this when rewriting/editing/proofing any novel, please and thank you.)
Finally, after 31 days of my little experiment, came the big moment when I re-entered the matrix for the first time in a month. What was I going to find? Would anyone remember me? Would I remember anyone? Did I even know what my password was anymore? Was the answer to all life still 42? I still can’t answer that last one, but this is what greeted me:
Yes, I had missed things (like a boat-christening ceremony, which sounded like fun). And a couple other events. But not much – there were only 2 notifications per day. So would I do anything differently? I think not.
Conclusion: social media is revolutionary for independent authors (and other artists and artisans), but don’t let it take over your life. What’s in front of one is more important, and I don’t mean a phone screen. Take a break every once in a while. Take an extended break. Go outside. Talk to someone face to face. Play chess (on an actual board). Buy someone flowers. Learn how to greet someone in Klingon. Actually greet someone in Klingon and see what reaction you get. Or keep scrolling and liking and posting those selfies. This is not a sermon, this is just a statement of my thoughts based on my experience.
And I admit, as the fourth book in my fantasy series is about to be released, I am now going to dive back into social media with open arms, starting with all the amazing things that happened last month (coming soon to a blog post near you). And I am once again participating in #authorconfession!
So, what do you think? What are the pros of social media? What are the cons of social media? What tips do you have for minimizing distractions and getting more done?
*For those clever enough to catch that most of my Instagram pictures were actually uploaded during the end of July/beginning of August, which was partially during my social media black-out, there’s an explanation which doesn’t render my experiment invalid: I don’t have the Instagram app on my phone, and thusly I was unable to upload my (awesome) collection of writerly pictures. So, I emailed them to my sister, who logged on to my account on her phone, and uploaded them for me with the captions and hashtags which I had put together. It was my birthday present, and may have been bending the rules, but I don’t think it was outright cheating, as I wasn’t technically on social media 😉 I’ve been told my content is pretty cool, and you can check it out here: https://www.instagram.com/authordragonbeck