Social Disconnection: Choosing the Online Networks that Suit My Needs without Causing Excessive Distraction

The decision to disconnect from some social networking sites is what I call social disconnection. The commitments–time, social capital, and energy–of social media can take away from real life work and personal commitments. Furthermore, there are addictive qualities to some of these networks that require energy to resist and this can create other kinds of anxiety beyond your own use of these social networks. Social disconnection is about finding the networks that suit each of us best instead of connecting to the most popular or as many as possible.

Social disconnection for me is about finding the right balance and types of social networking to support my personal and professional relationships. My thoughts in this post concern my experiences and are in no way meant as a prescription for others to simply disconnect themselves from social media. I believe that we all have to find the networks where we feel comfortable, contributing, and supported.

Over the years, I have tried out different forms of social media including earlier forms like AIM, Friendster, and MySpace. Most recently, I had accounts on Google+, Facebook, Academia.edu, Flickr, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Over the past few weeks, I have culled this list to only three: Twitter, Flickr, and LinkedIn. I have included my thoughts below on why I deleted accounts on some sites and maintain accounts on others.

I began my social disconnection project by unplugging from Google+, because it was the most low stakes account to delete. Google+ was a virtual ghost town from my perspective (perhaps if I had Google Glass my perspective would be different). I rarely saw any updates from people in my Circles. Furthermore, the Google+ UI elements in Gmail and YouTube were a nagging distraction to me. I have now exited the ghost town and the irritating Google+ update indicators of nothingness are gone from my Google property experiences [instructions for downgrading from Google+ here].

Next, I disconnected from Facebook. This was more difficult for a number of reasons. First, I joined Facebook at the beginning of fall semester of 2005 and shortly thereafter my friend Tessa “broke my Wall virginity” on September 4, 2005. Two other friends at Tech had convinced me to signup for an account on TheFaceBook.com, because it was cool and everyone else was doing it. In the beginning, it was an interesting experiment in keeping connected and staying in the know, but as time passed and more people joined Facebook, it increasingly became more annoying and distracting. There is the troubling semiotics of the “Like” button. There are many daily Facebook tasks of social convention. There are the time-consuming conversations (sometimes very rewarding while at others very draining) and going no where debates. There are the unending supply of accomplishments of others that make me feel like I have my foot on the gas but my tires don’t get traction. While these things might seem like trifles, they weighed on me in big and small ways. I would spend time thinking of the right way to respond to someone. I would research things to make sure that I could contribute to a conversation meaningfully. I would want to say the right thing, but agonize over how to say it. While I tried to curtail the time that I spent on these things or change my news feed settings to better suit my update needs, I couldn’t strike the right balance to keep Facebook from eating up too much time and energy. Finally, I held on to my Facebook account through my time as SFRA Publicity Director and SFRA Vice President. With those responsibilities removed, I didn’t see as strong a reason to stay connected through Facebook. So, I downloaded my data and deleted my account [instructions for permanently deleting your Facebook account are here].

Then, I disconnected from Academia.edu. I never spent a lot of time on Academia.edu, but I always felt uneasy with this social network for sharing your work with others in your field. While I like the idea of open sharing of research and tracking the use of your research, I know that these things cannot happen for free. While the site was founded by Richard Price, about as academic an academic you can be with a PhD in Philosophy, it is a business funded by venture capitalists. It will only continue to exist if it makes money, and I wonder what role the data supplied by academics sharing all of their published and unpublished work on the site will play in the eventual ramp-up of monetization as the site continues to mature. Even though it has a grandfathered “edu” domain name, it is not an educational institution and it is not affiliated with any. Then, there’s the issue of time commitment. To use academia.edu effectively, you need to build your profile and upload your research. This takes time and energy away from working on publishable papers–still the hallmark of getting hired. While I see that the possibilities of communication and collaboration are great in a system like that provided by Academia.edu, the time and effort investment has an uncertain return on investment. The site has a lot of potential, but it has an uncertain future. I deleted my account following these instructions.

I don’t mean to sound like a social networking recluse, but I am concerned about how much time and energy I expend on these sites. I believe that by social disconnection from some sites I can remain focused on my work and better use the remaining social networking sites that I remain connected to. These include Twitter, Flickr, and LinkedIn.

I chose to stay with Twitter for sharing information with others and creating reminders of data for myself, because it is a public platform. Facebook and Academia.edu are largely private networks–you have to have an account to access them. While you can use Twitter privately, I have almost continuously used it as a public platform since I signed up. For me, it is easier to keep up with information relevant to my work and follow my friends on Twitter than on Facebook. However, if I ever change my mind, it is relatively easy to deactivate my account by following these instructions.

I have been using Flickr for a long time to share and backup my photos online. In the past, I have paid for a Pro account, but Yahoo’s changes to Flickr’s storage space have opened up even more options for using their service. I have also connected Flickr to my WordPress blog so that I can easily post updates with photos/sets from Flickr, which in turn is publicized on Twitter. However, it is easy enough to delete my Flickr account by following these instructions if things change.

LinkedIn is a site that I have only been using since late last year, and I have not been using it nearly as much as I feel that I should be. Unlike the other social networks that I have used and those that I continue to use, LinkedIn focuses on business and professional relationships. It might come in handy when seeking work. For folks in the humanities, it is particularly important to consider keeping an up-to-date profile and building appropriate connections to others through the site in addition to keeping a version of your multipage CV as a one-page resume. For these reasons, I am keeping myself plugged into LinkedIn. However, it is easy enough to delete a LinkedIn account by doing this.

My choices were governed by what I can and cannot do on a daily basis. They are not motivated by my colleagues, friends, or family on these different networks. If you want to connect with me, you know how.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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One comment on “Social Disconnection: Choosing the Online Networks that Suit My Needs without Causing Excessive Distraction
  1. simonhamer says:

    Reblogged this on Simon Hamer and commented:
    This is a fascinating journey into the stress that a lack of time can have on your social media usage. One thing that is clear from this poster is that it is well worth your while to have profiles on several different sites if you wish to network effectively online.
    Why ?
    Answer :- If you are only sites that they are not, then you cannot build a relationship online with them.
    I have several trusted friends who are neither on Facebook or Google+, and more importantly have zero intention of ever joining those sites. They have told me…. repeatedly !

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Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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