4 January 2012

What is the Point of Social Media?

Oh how the world has changed in just a few short years.

In January 2009 I had an old fashioned mobile phone and sent a few texts. I sent the odd email too. I used Amazon and Ocado, but did little else online on my old PC. I had no idea what a blog was. My children were 16 months and 4 months old. I was a stay at home mum and I spent my days chasing my tail. We walked to the shops most days, with Presley in a pushchair and Cash in a sling. I sat with my babies as I fed and played with them.

Skip forward to January 2012 and some things are still the same. I use my old-fashioned mobile phone to send a few texts. I send the odd personal email. I shop online, not just at Amazon and Ocado, but elsewhere on the internet for toys, clothes, electrical appliances and things I don’t really need from Lakeland. I'm still a stay at home mum. My children are now 4 and 3 years old and attend nursery for 15 hours per week. We walk to the shops and the park. I sit with my children at mealtimes and play referee when they fight over toys.

The big change in my life is social media. I have a smartphone and a laptop. I’m a member of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, many forums and Blogger. I have over 500 blogs in my Google Reader.  I play Words With Friends.

I could, if I chose to, spend all day every day flitting around in my online life. Is social media a hobby, that can be put aside, or is it something more?

How did we keep in touch with our real-life friends before Facebook? Now we read their status updates and click ‘like’ or comment with a ‘dislike’ as appropriate, but are we really in touch with them or is Facebook a poor substitute for friendship? When did we last chat on the phone or meet up in person? And don’t get me started on Facebook’s appaling privacy record…

I sometimes find it bizarre that people tweet about the most personal of events. They ‘live-tweet’ births, deaths, accidents and relationship break-ups. It just seems a bit… needy to me. Are we all just attention-seekers looking for some kind of validation by telling the world that we’ve just thrown up, or that there are only thirteen sleeps until our holiday or that we’ve written an unmissable blog post?

Does a tree really fall in a forest if there’s no one there to Twitpic it and tweet ‘Timber LOL’?

Of course Twitter can be wonderful if you need advice. I have made some genuine real-life friends through Twitter and hopefully I have other friends there that I haven’t met yet, but I often feel like I’m wasting my precious spare time tweeting and chatting when I could be writing or learning to sew or even – yes, really – cleaning the house. Perhaps I don’t value these friendships as much as I should? I see other online friends chatting happily together every day and I feel left out. I wonder if I need to participate more. I wonder if they see me as their friend even though I don’t tweet daily. Can you have real friends in social media without that time commitment or is it a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’?

I am incredibly nosy, that’s why I love reading blogs and looking at people’s photographs. I tend to lurk online more than participate (sometimes I simply don't have anything interesting to say) and I notice that some people seem to be online all day every day. Even Christmas Day. Surely this is the one day of the year when the online world should pale into insignificance as you spend time with your family. Live. Be in the moment. Step outside the social media bubble. Catch up with your online buddies another time.

I did an experiment over the holidays. I didn’t post anywhere online for 9 whole days. I spent time with my family. It was possibly made more special and private because I didn’t tweet about it. If I had told you that I made the best Christmas lunch ever (which I did), would you really care? I don’t think so. It would have been amusing to tweet that my mum bought me a meat thermometer for Christmas. You could have replied ‘I think she’s worried about the turkey ROFL’, but it would have taken both of us away from our children. I want to remember the look of wonder on Presley’s face when he came into our bedroom with his stocking on Christmas morning. He was too excited to speak. I’d have missed that if I had my phone in front of my face, jabbing away typing ‘7am and I’m the only one awake LMAO’.

I guess, as with most things in life, balance is everything. I sometimes think that life was simpler before social media. Perhaps I’m just being anti-social.

What do you think? Do we spend far too long online or is our real life online now? How do you get the balance right for you?



  1. I don't get the balance right to be honest. But then Social Media keeps me sane so I am all for it!

  2. I had five days without social interaction, although that was down to not packing an adaptor rather than a conscious decision. I agree with Dawn: it keeps me sane. I loved the unadulterated time with my family but now that school is back and life is rolling, I am happy to be back online. Although the headaches are annoying!!

  3. Sandy, I love your knack of blogging what I'm thinking, just when I'm thinking it.

    This Christmas, I felt really very uncomfortable reading some of what was posted on social media. That's not a judgement on anyone else, it's just about me realising perhaps where some of my boundaries are, and that I do feel there are things that shouldn't be put out there for everyone to see.

    I do feel that social media has given people a platform. It's massively empowering and this is the first generation that will create its own historical record, rather than the record being created by the rich and powerful, as it has for the past 2,000 years. That's amazing.

    But human nature being what it is, many of us do fall into the temptation of using social media to seek status, reassurance, validation - because getting those things on social media is so much easier and more instant than building them in real life.

    But..but...but... it's not as satisfying. If I have a resolution for 2012 with regards to social media, it's to try and maintain my personal boundaries where I'm happy for them to be. It's to make more time to invest in real friendships, real families - because as lovely as my online friends are (and they are fantastic, they really are) the other stuff is more important to me.

    Lovely post. Sorry if this reply was shockingly inarticulate. You've summed it up so much better than me, basically.

  4. I love this line:
    "Does a tree really fall in a forest if there’s no one there to Twitpic it and tweet ‘Timber LOL’?"

    Social Media is part of evolution and our online lives but at least we have a choice of what to do with it. It's not compulsory and that is what people are missing.

  5. I have to admit I despaired with Facebook on Christmas - countless pictures of 'Santa's haul', seeing who would win the 'who has the biggest pile/who's spent the most money' competition.

    I love social media as a whole, and as a new blogger I am probably being more active on it than I would like to build relationships. But I don't think I need it, nor use it to validate my life like some so obviously do.

  6. I didn't make a conscious decision to be on-line less/more over the holidays. I find that I like to post pictures of my days on Facebook because it keeps me connected to my family back in the US. I can spend days off twitter w/ just the random instragram pic posted to keep my toe in. I don't want to judge others so I won't say it's wrong, whatever works for them but then please don't moan on twitter that your kids are irritating you/can wait until their back at school. Maybe they just want some attention from the mom w/ her nose so far up her smartphone they'd have a hard time recognising her... oops there I go judging again

  7. I didn't really post or tweet as much over the holidays and had a great time with my children whilst off work. I did still tweet about Christmas day, etc but it didn't interfere with my time. I think it is about finding the balance. I tend to tweet, etc once my boys are in bed it doesn't take up a lot of time, it depends on how much you get into it. I love twitter and have met so many friends who I have more in common with than my existing friends whom I seemed to have outgrown once I had kids. They don't understand. Great post. x

  8. I absolutely love this post sandy! Actually I reduced my online activities during Christmas, I wanted to watch my children live and participate to their life, games and fun for the same reasons you describe and This is my big resolution for this year.

  9. Alison (deerbaby)4 January 2012 at 16:47

    Great post Sandy. I feel much the same! I do love Instagram which I've recently joined but I've gone off Twitter a bit. When you're not on there much, I find it hard to just strike up chatting again. A lot of it I think would be better suited to texts perhaps. I forcibly removed myself from it when I found it was taking up too much time - and that was my own fault, no one was making me - but it is addictive. At its best, it's great human connection and interaction. At its worst, it's bound up with an insatiable need for validation.

  10. As a shy person, I find it really hard to make local friends, so twitter is a lifeline for me. Sometimes I reveal far too much of me, which I too reliased over Christmas and plan to make some changes this coming year. But....... I would rather moan on twitter than in RL, I would rather share my grief in twitter than bang on about in to the same people day in and day out at home. I am still trying to find a new balance without my mum, who was my best friend and confidant.

  11. Lovely post Sandy, really great. I'm with you every step of the way. I love blogging, like twitter sometimes but feel very left out and isolated at others, don't have facebook and am already worried at the extent to which social media sucks away my precious spare time. x

  12. This is a great, thoughtful post, Sandy.

    I love blogging. I began as an outlet and, as a result, have met some wonderful people. Some I would consider close friends (even though I haven't met them).

    I like Tweeting - mainly because I use it as a way of talking to myself - or venting. It's rare that I actually engage in a full on conversation via Twitter. And I'm always hesitant to jump into an ongoing conversation - even if it interests me - because I feel like that would be rude (even though they are posting the conversation for the world to see).

    As for Facebook, I hate it. I don't think people are their true selves on there. I don't know - it just irritates me.

    Are we too immersed in it - at times, yes. But as with all things moderation is the key....and some people are addicted.

  13. You are absolutely right. The key is finding the right balance. You've also raised some important issues there about connecting with real friends and how social media can take us away from opur children. I am certainly guilty of replying to tweets while talking to my daughter, and I'd hate it if she ever did that to me.

    I do think social media is great, both for meeting new people and for helping many of us to work from home. As I run a number of social media accounts for businesses I've found this has actually helped as I see it as mt 9-5 job, which means I do log off at the end of the working day. It is so easy to get sucked into social media and lose hours on it. Occasionally I do need to check myself, log off and relax a bit. But if my internet ever went down I'd feel totally disconnected from the rest of the world!

  14. The Moiderer, we all have different needs. I'd be on Twitter a lot more if I could!

    Domestic Goddesque, sorry about the headaches. It all comes down to balance; spend some time with your family, then spend some time online.

    Sally, great minds and all that.. I hadn't thought about the sociological aspect. We all have different ideas about sharing and over-sharing. I want to be the best mother I can be and if that means reducing the amount of time I spent looking at a screen then so be it.

    Nickie, ha, I'm sooo proud of that line! That is a brilliant point about social media not being compulsory, but (as we discussed elsewhere) I hate to miss out!

    The Babywife, you have to find the right balance for you. As a new blogger who wants to find their audience you will spend a lot of time online (I know I did), but eventually you will ease off - if you want to! :)

  15. Lindy, I try so hard not to judge... but that grinds my gears too (LOVE that expression!). All your children really want is your time.

    Susan, I totally agree about finding like-minded friends on Twitter. My life would be so different if I'd never joined Twitter or started this blog. x

    Perfectly Happy Mum, thank you. I love your goals for 2012 too x

    Alison, as Nickie says, it's not compulsory but it can be addictive. I love this line in your comment: "At its best, it's great human connection and interaction. At its worst, it's bound up with an insatiable need for validation.". How true.

    The Mad House, hey, whatever gets you through the day. I totally get the need for the outpouring of grief. You've got my number if you ever need a chat x

  16. Pants With Names, sometimes when I go on Twitter I feel like everyone else is at a party and I'm stood on the edge of a group nervously wanting to enjoy myself! My plan (that I devised last night) is to just turn the laptop off some evenings and pick up my sewing or a book. I'll let you know how I get on!

    Gigi, it's funny with Twitter that it is so public, but we still feel we can't join in with a conversation! You're right about moderation though.

    Rosie, it is great to be connected and for some it is essential for work, but I guess there's a time and a place. I need to be more disciplined and just switch off more. You'll all be there when I come back, won't you?!

  17. I think it is definitely all about the balance! I too was chocked by how many people were all over FB and Twitter during the Christmas period but actually felt sorry for them as they maybe don't have anyone to share Christmas with.

    As a lot of my friends live abroad FB is an absolute lifeline for me but I find myself sharing less and less. I also find myself spending much less time on Twitter. Having said that I do think I have found some true friends through blogging and Twitter and when I was a poor old single Mother they completely kept me sane!!

    Happy New Year xxx

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  19. I apparently can't spell check or spell *shocked* ;-) xx

  20. I agree its important to find the balance or we may look up one day form our laptops and wonder where did our real family go.

    Im a fairly new blogger so finding im spending alot of time at the moment trying to get my head round all the tech. Im finding it helpful at the moment meeting other mums on line when you need a bit of support and hugs from other mums but that should never replace hugs from real people.
    Lovely post really well written
    cat x

  21. I think things like Klout are bad news for tweeters. They feel pressured to keep up with them or to get a better score. I have been much happier since I decided to have a lookie see and not worry about the score.

    Online v offline is difficult though as for some mums, online is the only time they ever talk to another adult.

  22. the internet has been a huge part of my life for all of my adult years! I met my dear other half in an aol chat room **shock horror** when I was a mere 16 year old.. when I moved out of my parents and in with him I found I lost touch with all my Real life friends who all stayed at home and then they popped off to uni whilst i was setting up a business and having my first baby.. so the internet became a godsend I got to know some of my best friends through the internet and without them I dont know what I would have done, then I took a nose dive and ducked out of internet activity for a little while, kept in touch with some of my online friends but certainly cut out a huge chunk of them, then I started my blog and now I kind of sit on the side lines with things like facebook and twitter I find twitter intimidating I feel like I don't know anyone so don't join in really, facebook I have a good set of personal friends but I find myself using it less and less and less but then I still spend far too much time in front of my laptop and I'm not 100% sure what exsactly wastes all my time!?
    I agree with you tho it is all about finding a balance and I do think that maybe now my lack of chatting online is due to me just being older and mor anti sociable!

  23. Wondered why there was nothing from you over Xmas, it all becomes clear now, glad it went well for you :)

  24. Lovely Sandy just caught up with yourfrom the carnival. I wonder a lot about it all too. I love blogging but tweetings not really my thing for the social side, though I do dm chat with a few people people I like 1:1 best. love seeing what all my old boyfriedns are up to opn facebook though!!!

  25. Gosh that makes it sound like their wer quite a few doesnt it! I am 40 .

  26. Emma, a very belated happy new year to you too! I can understand why people cling to their online life. When I was in a new area with two babies it was a lifeline for me. It is all about balance though x

    Cat, thank you. You're right, I sometimes look up from the laptop and wonder what I'm doing. Your blog is looking fab. I'm your newest subscriber. If you need any help with anything please just ask x

    Scottish Mum, I think Klout is pointless, I never check my score. I agree that sometimes the only way to have an adult conversation is online.

    Sarah, I can spend hours at my laptop and couldn't tell you what took up my time (although lately I suspect it is Pinterest!). I met my OH online too so I totally get why it is so important. The best thing about the internet is that you can chose when to join in. I don't go on Twitter much, but when I do I just jump in. If people reply that's great, if not, well, you haven'y lost anything x

    Liz, woo, you noticed! ;)

    Becky, you know I've never thought to look for old flames on FB. You know what I'll be doing for the rest of the day now!! ;)


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