Going through my Tweetdeck columns it all of a sudden hit me I had been missing the very amusing tweets of Paul Carr lately. He is a writer for TechCrunch who has his second book coming out shortly and was always an active social media participant, through mainly Twitter and Facebook. The first step in my search led to an empty Twitter account. Moving along, a post on TechCrunch explained the whole story: he quit Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare, Blippy, Yammer, Dopplr and ended with Twitter. Paul Carr is off the sauce.
In an interesting personal story, he explains how he used to be addicted to social media and now he is a free man. No longer does he feel the urge to reach for his mobile phone whenever entering a restaurant. He closed all accounts and left his 10,000 followers to have social fun without him… And just look at the comments on the Paul Carr TechCrunch pieces: a combined number of over 200, mostly positive and in agreement. Furthermore, the pieces were shared on Twitter over 2,000 times and Liked on Facebook over 400 times, which brings some irony to the whole thing.
More and more stories like this seem to emerge lately. At first, it were just the notoriuous critics like Andrew Keen and Seth Godin. But as they state themselves, their vision is gaining traction. Paul Carr’s namesake Nicholas G. Carr, author of ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brain‘, argues that regular Internet usage may have the effect of diminishing the capacity for concentration and contemplation, and that this in turn leads to numerous societal and economic issues. Seth Godin likewise wrote in a recent piece about the dangers of constant distraction and the inability to fully focus on adding value in between the noise. He points to emerging tools like Freedom, which give the user the ability to turn off the noise for a specific time.
They made me think about my own experiences. I think after a few years of really diving in, and only then, all should ask themselves the question what it has brought them. First, I have to agree with Seth Godin. The omnipresent social media make it easy to loose track of valuable time. Before you know it, you spent half an hour on your Facebook news feed but “what have you shipped?”. Similar to Paul Carr, cartoonist Hugh MacLeod deleted his Twitter account to spend more time on his core business (only to restore it many emails later). With more possibilities comes more responsibility. I’ve installed Freedom and I have to say that in all its simplicity, it works wonders. Especially when I am working on my MBA thesis, which needs undivided attention for a longer period of time, this does the trick.
So all in moderation works for me here. Still, the question of ROI remains. Some social media services seem not to be worth even the smallest investment, like location-based social media services like Foursquare. The mayor games are fun for a little while but get boring quick. Starts to feel like punching the clock every time you get to work. The added value of checking in and seeing what your friends recommend? Honestly, only worked for me once or twice in the past two years. And in my experience, when things get serious, games like Foursquare lose. Would you rather do that check-in at work to have a chance of taking back the crown than to do a quick call to that loved one who needs it?
Has social media reached its limits in the current form? Does it need to reinvent itself to continue to add value? I almost feel myself becoming the social media critic I always fought so hard against. One difference: I still believe in social media and what it can become. But I feel change has got to come.
What’s your experience? Are you a heavy user? If you look back at the past years, was it worth the investment?