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Social media has made me boring

I’ve lived in many different places in my life, and spent a lot of time online. As a result, my friends are dispersed around the world. We see one another rarely, and stay in touch through short letters, text conversations and phone calls. Through these occasional communications, we learn about what is going on in each other’s lives. We share anecdotes about where we’ve been, what we’re thinking about, what we’ve done, read, heard and watched.

At least, that’s how it used to work.

Now, when I travel, it appears in my Facebook feed. When I do something interesting, I mention it on identi.ca and Twitter. When I read something I like, I share it on Google Reader. If I watch a video which reminds me of a friend, I send them a link. If I have an idea I think is worth sharing, I write about it on my blog.

The end result of all this is that when I catch up with friends who use social media, I don’t have much to say. They’ve already heard it all, and there is very little “catching up” to do. It’s awkward when I start to tell them about something which has happened to me, and they remind me that they’ve already heard about it.

I would have expected this to make me feel closer to people, but it doesn’t. It makes the relationship feel less intimate. Reading something on a feed is not the same as hearing about it first-hand, but even so, the first-hand account feels a bit redundant because it’s not new.

Is anyone else having the same experience?

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

August 18, 2009 at 12:17

Posted in Uncategorized

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34 Responses

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    • Yes, I agree. I no longer see friends as much since using Facebook and Twitter. It’s “easier” to tweet or post then to set up a date for dinner. Sad…

      Erica

      August 18, 2009 at 13:23

  1. Is anyone else having the same experience?

    Absolutely. Now that my fiancée is reading my identica feed I find that I often kill what would otherwise have been interesting conversations before they start.

    gmb

    August 18, 2009 at 12:31

  2. Think of the time you’ve freed up for playing Rock Band, though

    Jo Shields

    August 18, 2009 at 12:36

  3. Personally, even if I have heard about something, I like to hear other tell me, because they often insert their perception. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by mistake by what they omit/get wrong.

    It’s interesting to me what ideas a piece of shared information can trigger in a friend.

    On a related, I have gotten what is essentially a RTFM response from some people in on-line, social environments. The feeling is that I ask a question that I could get the answer to by looking it up on Google, when what I want is a human to interact with and explain it to me.

    STH

    August 18, 2009 at 12:49

  4. Agreed. Indeed back when blogging first became popular I spoke out against it dubbing it a grand experiment in self isolation. Now after having bit the bullet and used a blog, MySpace, Facebook, and the like I find myself in a similar situation. However, I have also noticed that these tools have narrowed my list of friends to people I meet that actually have enough interest to comment or to ask further questions. This is a surprisingly small number of people out of a large number of otherwise very vocal people in person. It seems as though the medium does not lend itself to the natural give and take of a conversation and this creates a sense of alienation or isolation. However, one might argue this also shows us who is shallow and who actually has real interest. I sometimes wonder if anyone is taking the time to study this as a social phenomenon and it’s effects on individuals and groups.

    Matthew McGuire

    August 18, 2009 at 13:50

  5. Indeed, this is happening to me but I do have the advantage of hanging out with friends I don’t interact with online, so I don’t have such a “bad” experience as you. Anyway, I still find that happening (now and for a while I only use IM to talk with clients or about work, not “online friends” because those are either on twitter or some blog) and it does seem like the “intimacy” goes away.

    Like STH mentioned, I don’t mind hearing someone talk about something I’ve seen or heard of, because it’s much different reading about it and talking about it. And there’s always human feedback :)

    Bruno Bernardino

    August 18, 2009 at 13:58

  6. I felt the same, it’s one thing that got me to delete my account, you know about what the others do, but never really talk to them… you start talking about something and the “yeah, I know makes you feel a bit self-repeating, very frustrating.

    tshirtman

    August 18, 2009 at 14:03

  7. There are three simple solutions: disconnect from the artificial/digital social networks, write personal emails to people you actually care about, and spend more time with “normal” people away from the screen.

    martin f. krafft

    August 18, 2009 at 14:17

    • I’m pondering the first option, but I think there are significant benefits which are worth considering. My post was a bit tongue in cheek, and meant to be provocative: this certainly isn’t the only effect of social media on my life.

      I definitely write less substantial emails than I used to, as a rule. I used to enjoy writing longish emails to friends about everything I’d been up to. These days, I’d much rather pick up the phone, and my friends seem to feel the same way, as I don’t receive many such emails any more either.

      As for the third option, there are fewer and fewer “normal” people all the time. :-) Those people you run into “away from the screen” are living more and more online, just as you and I are.

      Matt Zimmerman

      August 18, 2009 at 19:21

  8. Same observations, but different conclusion : I find catching up boring. So a tool that gives everyone a baseline of information on everyone else shields us from repeating the same stories to each of our friends, and suffering repetition of other people’s stories. Then when we meet our friends we can focus on experiencing something together instead of recounting past experiences.

    Jean-Marc Liotier

    August 18, 2009 at 14:18

  9. I certainly found it with Facebook (one of the reasons I no longer use it). With twitter/identi.ca, though, I tend to end up having more in-depth conversations with people in person (or on IRC, or on the phone), which the length limitations of microblogging make impractical.

    bma

    August 18, 2009 at 14:27

  10. Actually, yes. I have had this. However, I don’t share _everything_ online and there’s always something else to chat about with my friends while I’m actually right there with them. :-)

    Coralie

    August 18, 2009 at 14:40

  11. Quite the opposite, I think. Sure, it makes certain in-person conversations moot, but on the other hand it keeps me much better informed about what’s going on in my friends lives than I ever was before, because I hear about things that will no longer seem relevant to bring up weeks or months later when I see my friend again. Also, it frees us from the necessity of playing catch-up on each other’s lives, so that we can have more meaningful dialog. FB and the like are a major win, all around.

    Wolfger

    August 18, 2009 at 15:07

  12. Personally, I try to use my social-networks to gear people up for my stories when we meet in person. Twitter, Identi, etc. only allow you a few sentences afterall. So I treat them like a section for teasers and “trailers” if you will, of the cool things I’ve read/seen/done. That way, when I meet people in person, I can regale them with the tale in it’s full glory.

    The Epyon Avenger

    August 18, 2009 at 15:23

  13. I think it’s a matter of limits. I started the same trend a few years ago with Orkut (Orkut is king here in Brazil), identi.ca, blog, etc. I gave it almost all up and decided to focus on specific issues. I don’t blog about what I’m doing in general but I decided to have a blog about food in my city which is something me and my wife will share and is missing here. I gave up Orkut and noticed that my real friends always know how to find me if they need to contact me. I gave up identi.ca because I don’t feel like making a the world knows when I’m hungry. In short: I didn’t gave up all the social media, I just cut down to things that I feel are important and relevant. Maybe tomorrow I feel that tweeter is relevant to me. So far, I don’t.

    Adilson Oliveira

    August 18, 2009 at 15:25

  14. Hehe I having this “problem” since 2003, and no need to identi.ca/twitter/facebook. Just a blog.

    Hey, yesterday I did hack… eh, yeah, you already know. The blog. Ok, nevermind :(

    It makes hang out for a coffee/beer less interesting, certainly.

    Juanjo

    August 18, 2009 at 15:45

  15. I would tend to agree with you. The solution is don’t status post things like “woohoo, landed in Hawaii”, but only post trivial things, like “I stubbed my toe”.

    Right? :D

    Kevin DuBois

    August 18, 2009 at 16:06

  16. Yeah, I’ve had this problem, but it’s made me rethink what good conversations are. They’re not just elaborate ways of communicating content – we now have the internet for that – so they’re now more about talking about the things you can’t communicate through content, like thoughts and feelings and philosophies.

    Joey

    August 18, 2009 at 16:28

  17. I combine Martin’s (madduck’s) choices, essentially only using blogs, identi.ca, and other social media for FOSS efforts. I realize quality time away from online presences.

    Daniel T Chen

    August 18, 2009 at 17:57

  18. I don’t see where you’re coming from, really.

    If I have a great experience and dent 140 characters about it, write up a blog post, and put a couple pictures, does that really exhaust the things I’d like to tell a close friend about that experience?

    Absolutely not. When I get together with my friends we’ve got tons of things to talk about that aren’t easily shared on the Internet.

    Because I follow my friends’ social pages, I know when one of them has done something really cool and probably wants to talk about it on the phone or over dinner.

    So… if somehow “social media” is making you feel less connected to your friends, my feeling is that you’re doing it wrong.

    Ryan Prior

    August 18, 2009 at 18:34

    • No, it certainly doesn’t exhaust the things you’d like to say about it. It does change what you say, though, and seems to have some unexpected side effects.

      It’s not that we don’t have anything to talk about; it’s more that it disrupts the flow of our conversations. It’s hard to explain, but there is a certain energy which comes out of telling something for the first time, which helps keep it feeling more alive.

      Matt Zimmerman

      August 18, 2009 at 19:16

  19. For several years now. I will sometimes greet people with “I haven’t been reading LiveJournal, so tell me in actual words what you’ve been up to …”

    David Gerard

    August 18, 2009 at 18:54

  20. Facebook (and similar) promote superficial interaction. That would be bad enough, were it not for their additional theft of data and violations of your privacy. That would be bad enough too, were it not for the distractions it creates from issues that are important and that need attention.

    Randall Ross

    August 18, 2009 at 19:07

  21. [...] of my blog readers sent me a link to Matt Zimmerman's post "Social media has made me boring", which got me thinking because I have almost the complete opposite [...]

  22. Absolutely. The additional fact that makes it annoying for me is that I hate repeating myself, so I’m in a sort of double bind there. They will have either read it or I can’t be bothered to repeat myself.

    Suffice to say that some conversations don’t go far beyond “How are you?”, which is rather sad.

    towo

    August 21, 2009 at 12:07

    • I find the phrase “How have you been, anyway? Assume I haven’t been keeping up with the social networks, ‘cos I haven’t …” to be useful in this context – whether you have or not!

      David Gerard

      August 21, 2009 at 12:17

  23. I dont feel that way. Even though they’ve heard about what’s new with me through social media. That info can be used as a good starting point to catch up. leading to more discoveries and quality moments. If someone asked me something which he already knew through facebook, I really dont mind repeating myself coz I value relationship over efficiency.

    Randall

    August 23, 2009 at 12:24

  24. I quite agree.

    It’s becoming a substitute for the good old sit down and talk in so many cases. You wouldn’t think it’d be possible to be lonely at university, but it is, because you’re surrounded by people who communicate primarily through facebook…

    I like some forms of social media. Expect to see stuff. Especially blogs, because I can write in detail, like a letter but to everyone. That way people following my blog can have a good read of something valuable, much like a letter.

    Facebook and Twitter? Naah. As mentioned above they are superficial and trivial. I hate facebook becoming an announcement of my life. I use twitter to follow announcements, i.e. I mostly follow interesting users that don’t have blogs. Basically I use it as RSS.

    I’m currently trying to find a use for facebook. I’ve found a downloader for FB albums, so I can use it to steal photos taken by other people that I like. I’ve also decided to register for flickr, so I can share photos, screenshots etc rather than using twitpic all the time, and fb can import these. So facebook is going to act as my content dump, I think.

    I’ve recently followed the allfacebook privacy guide and constrained everything on there. So if you write on my wall you’ll never see it, only I will. Etc. As for my profile, its next to empty.

    If I have to live with these social networks, they’re going to work for me. End of.

    Antony

    August 23, 2009 at 13:19

  25. +1. It’s a feeling I’ve wanted to share, so now I’m justing making reference to your post around :)

    tiagovaz

    August 23, 2009 at 15:29

  26. [...] sein müs­sen. Und die Tat­sa­che allein, daß man alle stän­dig auf dem lau­fen­den hält, ganz eigene Pro­bleme mit sich [...]

  27. I do feel closer to people because of social media. There are many old friends who I don’t pick up the phone to call, yet I think of them often and fondly. A quick “poke” reminds me that there are others who feel the same way. I also find that when I’m having dinner with some of my FB friends, I can ask details on something they may have posted–and the information exchange is more direct. There’s also a lot to be said about just enjoying other people’s company–a need FB doesn’t fulfill.

    On a final note, I get tired of explaining myself to people who are not socially connected. The “Where are you today and what did you do?” questions from my boyfriend get frustrating–I just want to tell him to read my feed!

    MaryBeth

    September 21, 2009 at 17:52


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