Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Should You Take A Social Media Break?

Over the past decade, many articles and books that lament our dwindling attention spans and propensity for multi-tasking have appeared on the scholarly landscape. Popular examples of this genre include Nicolas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet has been doing to our brains, Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other and William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry: Building A Good Life In The Digital Age.

Criticism of the internet, mobile devices, and social media often include the following points:

  •  Hopping from task to task on mobile devices has lessened our attention span. This makes it more difficult to do challenging cognitive tasks that require deep concentration.

  • Staying online for large parts of the day has impaired our ability to communicate effectively with each other in real life. Not only that, it encourages multi-tasking, which is stressful and inefficient, while giving you the illusion of accomplishing more. 

  • Internet and social media content is designed to grab your attention for a few seconds before you move on to the next thing. It favors surface arguments and unchecked facts rather than deep knowledge of a subject.

The second point above is often cited as a reason for people to go on what's called a "digital detox", where they stay completely off-line, including mobile phones. Some might ditch mobile phones but use laptops or desktops as part of their job. Some of these people eliminate only their use of social media for a pre-determined period of time, such a week, a month, or longer. This is often referred to as going on a social media "break", "vacation", or "detox."

The phrase social media break pulls up over 111,000,000 results on Google. Benefits are said to include more free time, and improved relationships with others.  According to Pew Internet Research, in 2015 almost 65% of American adults said they used social media (versus a mere 7% in 2005).

Here's a quick mini-quiz to see if you qualify for a social media break.

     1.  You find out that your electricity is going to be out, starting in 1 hour, for the next day  and a half. Your first thought?

       a.  Are my family members/friends OK?

       b.  What am I going to do about food/heat/air-conditioning?

       c.  Well, that's inconvenient but I guess I'll survive.

       d. No (social media network of your choice)? My life is over.

     2.  You make a new friend. When you ask to friend or follow them on your favorite social media platform, they gently inform you that they are not on any social networks. None, nada, zero, zip, zilch. Your reaction?

       a.  "...."

       b.  That's not funny.

       c. Wow, that's kinda cool. Good for you.

       d.  I could never do that.

If you picked "D" for either 1 or 2, you might be in need of a social media sabbatical.  You can always start small by eliminating one social media network for a day. You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Texas Social Media Research Institute (TSMRI) is a group of faculty, staff, and students at Tarleton State University with a mission of conducting social media research; sharing social media best practices; and providing social media education for students, non-profit organizations, state agencies, school districts, and higher education institutions.

Contact us:
Texas Social Media Research Institute
Follow Us on Twitter - @TSMRI
Call Us - 254-307-8211
Join Us for Our #TXSocialMedia Weekly Twitter Chats on Thursday Nights at 8pm CDT

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