Chris Brogan wrote a very interesting post recently about the pressure to remain visible once you join the online world. His perspective on it was that it’s a pressure to remain busy, but I think it actually highlighted a potential significant problem in our current society, and it may have uncovered why there is so much drama and bullying on online platforms.
The fact is, social media has evolved into a drug for a lot of people.
The good news is that unlike drugs like crack and heroin, we can adjust our minds so that we control social media and make it a positive aspect of our lives. Crack and heroin addicts may say they can do the same thing, but in fact they are merely heading for a downward spiral.
When I first started out on Twitter, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I can’t say it was a bad trip but it definitely gave me headaches. No matter what I said, I wouldn’t get a response. My sense of self was compromised to a degree. I’d look at what was being retweeted by my 67 followers and it was fluff a lot of the time. “I went running today” would get 27 retweets.My (I thought) prime blog posts would not get even a cricket’s attention. I tried to be funny. I tried to be profound. I couldn’t get any reaction. When my replies page would show one new entry, I’d throw a party.
I almost quit Twitter at that point. I figured it was either a stupid platform or that I was just missing something, like I never figured out that cheat to win Mario Brothers. But then I saw people using this hashtag called #blogchat. Since my blog was paralleling my Twitter experience, I thought I’d jump in. And that is when I got my first social media high.
Suddenly, I was getting more responses than I could keep up with. People were talking to me. And even more astonishing, after 3 months on Twitter, I got more followers that night than I had gotten in total up to that point. I was now legit. And I wanted more.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was the first step in social media becoming a drug rather than a hobby.
As time went on, I started joining more chats. I started getting really nice comments on my blog. You would think that under normal conditions that would have been a sense of accomplishment, right? But if you’ve been exposed to social media, you know how it works. You see lists come out of the top blogs in xyz category, and you want to be there. You hear that someone got their one-millionth comment or their 30,000th follower and you want to be there. There is always another high you can shoot for. Enough, well, it’s never enough.
Drug addicts on hard drugs like heroin and crack get sucked in to their way of life because the body becomes immune to the power of the high. You have to keep taking more and more to get just back to normal. Otherwise you feel sort of vacant and you start to doubt yourself. You start to lose track of your real life because this desire to get to your high becomes all-empowering.
I have come to understand that if we are not careful, social media can do the exact same thing.
Whether we desire it or not, social media becomes so powerful that we actually start to weave our sense of self-worth into how we’re doing. The pressure is immense and never-ending, but even more, it is always building. There are always people performing better than you, and as you get more successful, there are more people who simply are verbalizing their own doubts about you. Your real world can begin to shrink down into how many comments you’re getting, how many followers that other person has, and how your blog’s traffic is doing. You find that even if you are sick or tired or on vacation, you need to keep blogging or tweeting so that you can get that high. If your blog post doesn’t do well, then you want to pop right back, but now you feel even lower than you did before.
This is where social media, if you’re not careful, can become extraordinarily dangerous. You can begin to doubt that people really do appreciate and like you. You feel that if you go a day without blogging or tweeting, all of your hard work will come tumbling down. And then what? What did you do before all of this? Where was your sense of self-worth before you got retweeted a lot?
I fear that because of these qualities, for people who are going through hard times or whose self-confidence is low, social media can be extremely dangerous.
Luckily for me, I realized this cycle of existence before it took over any part of my life. I found myself paralleling all I was doing online with the brief period in which I played Farmville. I would wake up a few minutes early so I could harvest my fake crops and plant new ones. Then I could harvest those when I got home from work. What in the heck was that all about? My blogging and tweeting were becoming the same way. I found myself wanting to write a week ahead. I found myself getting really competitive about everything. Most of all, I found myself feeling that I HAD to keep pushing as hard as I was. And why?
I was beginning to get addicted to all that social media offers.
I backed away for a time and saw that actually, if I gave myself freedom just to do things when I wanted to, the whole experience became a lot more fun. If I let go of the pressure to get that high, like the big post or the huge number of retweets, my initial joy in social media could return.
If you are feeling like you need to blog everyday, you’re in danger. Real danger. You must stop and ask yourself why you are feeling that push. Is it because you really want to write everyday, or is it because you are looking for that next big post? That next high? Are you participating in 5 chats a day because you just enjoy the conversation, or are you trying to beat so-and-so’s Klout score? Are you really wanting to tweet or are you just trying to get to that landmark number of followers?
If you do not answer these questions honestly to yourself, I firmly believe that you can become reliant on social media as much as drug addicts become reliant on their drugs. And I don’t want to see you go down that path. Social media, as so many have said, is a tool, but it is not a tool of self-worth. It is merely a new kind of telephone that happens to have different kinds of numbers attached.
Your search for self-worth will not end successfully here. If you are not willing to accept success and accomplishment, there is no level of online success and accomplishment that will convince you that you’re worthy of good things. All you are looking for is within or in the offline (real) world.
Enjoy social media. Hone your craft. Meet new people. But when you find yourself searching for that next high, whatever it is – a new Klout score, appearing on a list, a huge viral blog post – take 2-3 days off. Read, watch movies, chill with offline people. Because that relentless drive is what can bring you into territory that you don’t want to travel to, and there’s no real reason to go there.
Be careful. And if you find that thinking about these things scares you or makes you realize you might have some other stuff going on in your life, do not shy away from seeking help. Real help.
First Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/5970377597/ via Creative Commons
Second Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leehaywood/4295460613/ via Creative Commons
Third Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/imarlon/5869890155/ via Creative Commons