Ruminations - Part 5: An update on my Social Media Sabbatical

photographer on red fall color tundra in Alaska's Chugach Range, Powerline Pass

I’m trying a new, long form, blogging style in this post. I’ll be revisiting it often. I’m going to use it as a mental dump, a place to share some inner thoughts and discoveries. Although the topics that I’ll discuss here may not be purely or strictly ‘photographic’, they are deeper parts of me than I haven’t shared with the general public before. They do make me who I am today, as well as guide how I act in the future. Perhaps you will find some common ground with them, or something will resonate with you. If so, I hope you’ll chime in and leave a comment. 

Perhaps it is all TMI for you. That’s fine, I’ll have plenty of other blog posts with pictures of Alaska, tips, tricks, travel factoids, etc. that I think you’ll find fascinating. 
To each their own. 
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You can call me Emilio. Emilio Catastrophe.

It is Monday, August 19th, 2013. 48 days ago, I left social media. It has been very enlightening.

After 4,147,200 seconds away from Facebook and Google+, here are some of my 'findings'. Subjective as they may be.

  1. I am more productive. Not only have I not visited my standard social networking sites, but I've also turned off all notifications from them (I still receive an email anytime someone sends me a message in Facebook though, since I view that as email). I've written every single day. A friend and I were talking about that recently, and I was pleasantly surprised that, out of all the things I've accomplished this summer, the amount of writing has been my proudest achievement. Thankfully, I've received some very nice compliments regarding that writing, so I guess I'm striking a chord. I haven't taken more photographs (that's not entirely true, I've already taken more photos than I did all of last year - although much less than other, previous years), but I have created more impactful art. It resonates more with me, in my soul. I'm very happy about that. My quality to crap ratio has improved. I'm nearing completion of my new print marketing campaign. 'Campaign' may be a bit too grand of a description, but I'm excited about this new direction. I can't reveal the details yet, but once it is 'out in the field' and initiated, I'm planning to do a series of blog posts on the new marketing concept, geared towards photographers. I think it may interest some of you. My iPhone and iPad are not constantly burping at me, waiting for me to tap the screen to relieve all that pent-up urgency of finding out 'who liked/shared/+1'd' my post, or who commented back. Or, more typically, argued back. Which leads to point #...
  2. I am happier. Not just a little. A lot happier. A study run by the University of Michigan (and another run by two German Universities) has shown that Facebook (and, through 'guilt by association', other social media websites) is actually a depressive environment. I realize this may not be the case for everyone, but I am a self-admitted debater. A Grand Master. Don't argue with me about that self-imposed title, I'm too good of a debater. You can't possibly win (that's because I'm a Grand Master debater, weren't you paying attention?). Oddly enough, these debates rarely involve the thing I am most passionate about - photography. And, irony of ironies, the vast majority of those old debates were no-win situations. In my encounters, people (by and large) do not visit social media websites to learn, or enter with an open mind. Again - my findings, many people go there to flaunt, grandstand, brag to their peers, impress others, whine, or to vent. Regardless of what you call it, these descriptions all end up meaning one thing. "I'm looking for attention". It's the "Me, me, me" interaction generation, and by 'interaction', I mean "Look at me, look at me! Someone look at this amazing pile of awesome I just plopped in front of you! You can interact with me now...". And I'm just as much to blame as the rest of the world. It's the world's largest, always on, ever evolving Uno game. Everyone plays their card, waits for a reaction, then immediately slams a damn Draw-2 card on the table. Someone follows it with a Skip card and a Reverse, and we follow up with a Draw-4 card... A bigger game of one-ups-manship has never been played. What's worse? Everyone thinks they are ahead in points. Apparently social media is a game, and the only thing that matters is how well you play your cards. Consideration of others rarely is a factor. The worst debates I got involved in typically centered around religion (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! - Not "Carlos Danger"...) or politics. By the way, apparently my political sexting scandal pseudonym is "Emilio Catastrophe". I don't know that I could ever have a future in politics (or sexting scandals for that matter) or that I bear much  resemblance to an Emilio, but 'Catastrophe' might work. Religion and politics. Death and taxes. SSDD. Regardless - I've entered into a too many frays from the safety of my couch, thrown words around way too easily, offended others, and whether I recognized it at the time or not - embarrassed myself in the process. And for what? Draw-4.
  3. I implemented Safari and Chrome (browser) extensions that do not physically allow me to visit Facebook or Google+. If I were to try typing it in to my browser window (or click a link leading there), a message pops on my screen and asks, "Shouldn't you be working?" Indeed. I should be working. When I started this experiment, I was concerned that I might, a) experience what is known in the intellectual community as a 'brain fart' (more formally known as a cerebral outgassing or cranial flatulence event), forget my experiment in the middle of the night and check my Facebook status or b) be tempted to check in on things and knowingly break my self-imposed sabbatical rules. But the surprising part (for me anyway), was a complete lack of desire to check in at all. Not once. More than a little liberating. I think that the aforementioned efficiency and productivity have worked well as a suitable substitute to the addiction that can be social media.
  4. I've given a lot of consideration to what I might do once I my sabbatical ends, on September 15th. My first thought is to make this a permanent vacation from Social Media. I'm a firm believer that people do not actually go to Facebook to buy things, be marketed to, or to review ads. They are there to do the things in point #2 (flaunt, grandstand, brag to their peers, impress others, whine, or to vent). Oh, and of course to post cat pictures, GIFs, and to curse the evil, black panther, socialist president from Kenya... As much as I despise what goes on with Facebook, I have to factor in the business potential available in social media. I say potential because, although I have nearly 25,000 'followers' on Google+, I have seen absolutely no financial gain with that astronomical amount (I know many people are far more popular, but it is a big # for me). Actual interaction levels are very low. Though 25,000 people may have decided to see my content in their stream, only a few hundred have ever commented on, +1'd, or shared my posts. Fewer still have done so repetitively. This is why people that brag about having so many followers/fans/'friends' on social media are not necessarily more popular. I'll take quality interaction with ten people over no interaction with 25,000 any day of the week. With that in mind, I will likely maintain my Facebook business page, and perhaps my Google+ account. It is a good way to reach clients, and I recognize that - in today's world - social media 'advertising' (and lets be honest, that is all it is) is a necessary evil. I am also re-trying Path as another way of staying in touch with close friends and family. Path is the anti-Facebook (or anti-Google+, choose your poison). In a social media world, numbers of followers/fans/sycophants is (supposedly) key. Path reverses that trend by actually limiting the number of people you follow/interact with. Using their verbiage: "Path is the smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love." Just as long as you don't love more than 150 people. I don't, so I'm fine with that. There are no ads (yay!) and no requests to play Candy Crush or Farkle (yay, yay!). It puts the personal back into social networking.
  5. Much (not all) of Social Media (/marketing) is this: It is shouting from a podium the same time that 4,000 other people are shouting from theirs, and hoping that someone (anyone!) hears your message and just maybe interacts with you. As a 'user', it is typically frantic. "Read me NOW!" You have 65 notifications (friend requests, comments, likes, +1s, etc.). Take care of them, because in another 3 minutes, you'll have even more. No matter how many people call this exchange of milliseconds 'interaction' or 'engagement', much of it is simply scanning. For me, much of my previous social media experience have felt a lot like fast food. Everyone is in a rush, it is hastily prepared, poorly presented, and although the food may seem satisfying at first, you quickly realize the lack of nutritional value, you need a Tums afterwards, and it leaves you with a rotten feeling in your stomach. Oh - and if you do too much of it, you get fat. It's all greasy, finger food. Find a good blog or another source of reading though, and you may take a liking to this - more of a fine dining experience. It is all substance. It enriches your life, rather than leaving you feeling hollow - kind of like reality tv.

I still have 28 days to go, until my scheduled return to social media. I hope this blog has offered some substance for you. See you on Wednesday.

Here are links to Ruminations – Part 1Ruminations – Part 2Ruminations – Part 3, and Ruminations - Part 4.