Here it is: I will be less social.
I've already gotten started over this past summer. It seems a paradox, that with more time on my hands I've engaged in social media less. But during the school year, when the frenetic demands of a professor's responsibility require my being almost constantly plugged in, monitoring and contributing to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. is a natural extension. But in the summer, a time when I enjoy being offline, outside, and more heavily into literature that exceeds 140 character bursts, I have found it easy to be absent from the surge of status updates, the legions of links, the torrent of tweets.
I have also found it delightful, refreshing, and increasingly, necessary.
A university administrator complimented me late last year by saying my extroverted nature made me well suited for additional administrative responsibilities. My first thought was that when administrators compliment you like this, it generally precedes more work. But more importantly, I wondered how it came to be that I am considered an extrovert.
There are two common misconceptions about extroverts and introverts. One is the definition, that extroverts like to be around other people and introverts like to be alone. Not true. In fact, it's not about liking other people or not, but the manner of drawing and renewing energy. Extroverts get charged up by social interaction, and introverts regain energy with time alone. The second misconception is that people are either one or the other, when the reality is that people fall at many points along an extraversion-intraversion continuum. In other words, people have bits of both characteristics to differing degrees.
It's interesting to me how this may play out on social media. The most active tweeters and updaters and commenters may be those closer to the extraversion end of the scale. This is something for PR professionals with social media responsibility to think about as you engage and segment your publics online.
As for me, I have determined I'm an interesting blend, a 'gregarious introvert.' I truly enjoy social interaction. But at the same time I need more time alone. Maybe I should make the lyrics to "Cool Change" by the Little River Band my mantra, or my ringtone.
It was an unintentional experiment this summer that led me to this conclusion about myself. I dove into a stack of books, both novels and academic tomes. I did projects in the yard. My daily runs were longer. I spent more time on a kayak or bike than in the office. I had more lengthy conversations with my wife (who, by the way, is one of the most social people I know but who so far has refused a Twitter or Facebook account). In all the above activities, I checked email and therefore social media less frequently.
The shocking outcome? I am the better for it. I felt both more calm and more energetic. I felt my thought processes improved.
Actually, this should not be a surprise. The benefits of solitude and deep cognitive activity have long been advocated. Here are a few examples:
- Henry David Thoreau, who went into the woods to "live deliberately" and alone and wrote about it in "Walden";
- Hannah Arndt's "Life of the Mind" in which she discusses thinking as a solitary dialogue;
- Anthony Storr's "Solitude" which makes the case that it is good and necessary for creative expression;
- Marshall McLuhan noted well before social media that "we shape our tools and our tools shape us." Perhaps this calls for stepping back a bit from social media to ensure we do more shaping than vice versa.
I notice now that I've been getting back into the swing of things that social media of course has many advantages in terms of information flow and maintaining distant relationships. But it also has a dangerous negative effect in its cacophony of childish voices. At the beach recently I saw children screaming "watch me!" and then they would do something entirely unremarkable and receive their parents' effusive yet obligatory praise. Too often, that's social media. I found much greater benefit being alone atop a dune, getting reacquainted with my inmost thoughts and true self. In view of the Lake Michigan horizon, the words of the ancient psalmist floated through the modern clutter: "be still, and know that I am God." Indeed, what don't we hear when we think we're "engaged"?
So, Happy New Year. After a brief summer break, you'll be seeing me more active again in blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and other forms of media and personal interaction. But I will also seek more balance and time offline. I'll be thinking deep thoughts, reading long texts, and recharging myself. I know I'll be better for it.